Each morning I cycle past a butchers shop and see an array of fragmented body parts, cut up so that they become pork chops, burgers and cutlets instead of pigs, cows, and lambs. It's a sad sight to behold. I look back to road and cycle on, imagining how great a future without eating animals might be.
The systematic abuse of animals is normalised, encouraged, celebrated, and heavily marketed to us. Animals desperately need us to care about them but the pressure to consume them is overwhelming. The culture of consuming animals is ingrained into our lives in ways that many of us don't notice and yet somehow, there is a small portion of us who understand this cruelty, and decide to take a stand against it. To define our resistance and help spread understanding of it, many of us use the word 'vegan'.
'...i'm a vegan!'
I remember when I first told my family that I was vegan. They were kind of shocked. 'But you don't look like a vegan' said my dad. 'I suppose you are going to go and live in the forest in a tent now!' he joked. Focusing on the personalities of vegans rather than the concept of veganism is quite common. Becoming vegan doesn't mean becoming Morrissey or turning into a raw til 4 health goddess (thank goodness!). In fact, it's short sighted to define veganism by the actions and lifestyle of specific individuals. I don't need to do yoga, drink kombucha, or run an animal sanctuary to call myself vegan and I don't expect that of others either. The best way to be vegan is to stay true to yourself, infusing your veganism with your own culture, interests and community.
When we define ourselves as vegan, we show our families, friends, colleagues, local businesses, doctors, teachers and anyone else who we happen to come into contact with that vegans actually exist in real life, and we change peoples prejudices and opinions on who vegans are and what veganism is as we stand as an example of how it can fit into many lifestyles, cultures and traditions.
sometimes the words don't fit
Differences in human experience are vast and complex. Some people are outgoing and some are shy. Some people enjoy wealth and others struggle to pay the bills. Some of us suffer with our health and others don't have to worry about theirs. Some of us face racism, sexism, homophobia or other discrimination and others don't. Some people have access to specialist vegan food stores, and some people have never tasted a vego bar (you poor things). Unfortunately life is unfair like that. All of us are fighting our own battles and are trying to do our best within the various situations we find ourselves in. Telling people that they will find it easy to go vegan because you did is ignorant of these often invisible factors which differentiate our lives.
THE ANIMALS DON'T CARE WHAT YOU Call yourself.
People define themselves in ways that they are personally comfortable with. There are often situations where we may not use a label which puts us at a disadvantage, makes others feel uncomfortable or is likely to be met with negativity, prejudice or aggression. Whilst it is sad that the word 'vegan' is seen as contentious, it's crucial to listen to the reasons why people who are vegan by definition shy away from using the word. By putting ourselves in their shoes we can work on making veganism more accessible to everyone and clear the stigma associated with it.
We all want a better world for animals. Whether we call ourselves vegan, vegetarian, plant based, or whatever, we are stronger together and we have a greater impact when we can work across our differences. Let's focus our time on doing our best to make the world better for animals instead of worrying too much about whether others define us as vegan.
You are enough.
When we think of the horrible ways that humans treat the wonderful animals that we share the earth with, choosing to eat a felafel burger instead of steak can feel like a minuscule contribution to their liberation. However we have to remember that in a world where selfishness is rewarded and kindness is mocked as a weakness, all victories for animals are valuable. Showing compassion for animals in small ways challenges the normalisation of their oppression. The knock on effect of buying that felafel may encourage your friend to buy a felafel the week later. The restaurant may notice that they are selling lots of felafel and expand their veggie options. More people will try the veggie options and then ask for this kind of food at other restaurants and so on and so forth.
As we said in part 1 and 2 of this series, being vegan is a journey, not a destination. It just means making some changes here and there, being kind, and being practical to your own circumstances. Some days it feels really good to be a vegan: finding a new place in the city that makes an excellent vegan burger or seeing an amazing video of a rescue animal that found happiness. Other days, being vegan can be frustrating. Focus on the good days. The world is slowly but surely becoming a better place for animals.
Today will be a good day.
This article is the third and final part in a series of articles exploring the meaning of the word 'vegan'. Part one explores the grey areas of veganism and part two explores how the definition is clarified in a consumer context. We hope you enjoyed reading it.