Since we’ve been traveling, a lot of people have asked me why I’m vegan. Here are some of my reasons. Veganism has changed the way I see the world and has become an integral part of who I am. I’ve included a list of resources at the end of this post that will hopefully be a good start in your own research, should you decide to go deeper into the ideas behind veganism. I at least ask that you don’t keep yourself willingly apathetic. Thank you.
1. I subscribe to the politics of Animal Liberation, so this is the foundation that my veganism is based on:
“Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy, inequality, and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary, baseless, and fallacious. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies, including speciesism.” – Steve Best
2. I love animals, so I don’t eat them. That is basic logic that even small children understand. I wouldn’t eat my dog, and, because there is no difference between the animals we love and the animals we eat, I wouldn’t eat other animals either. Forming bonds with companion animals has had a huge impact on me. Most people would agree that needlessly harming an animal is wrong. We do not need to consume animals. Therefore, by that logic, eating meat, which involves harming animals, would be wrong. We do not need to eat animals or their byproducts to survive. This is simply one example of the moral schizophrenia we have when it comes to non-human animals. We are outraged by people eating dog meat, hunting, seal clubbing, whaling, testing on monkeys etc., but are perfectly happy to do similar things to other animals, as if there is really a defensible difference.
We are not lions, and we do not live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. First of all, which hunter-gatherer ancestors are you talking about? African hunter-gatherers lived and ate very differently to Asian hunter-gatherers. Secondly, we do not participate in incest, we drive cars and ride bicycles, shop in stores, and do (and don’t do) many other things our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t do. Sure, there are communities like the Inuit, who eat mostly meat, but these modern hunter-gatherer tribes are such a small-to-no impact group that they are almost irrelevant to the argument. If you are reading this, I am willing to bet that you are not a member of one of these tribes.
Besides my obvious objection to viewing animals as resources, the cruelty inherent in meat production is quite obvious, and “free range”, “happy meat”, “humane meat”, “grass fed”, “organic meat” or “pasture raised meat” mean nothing; they are empty phrases. What does the “happy” knife look like? Animals raised on “humane” farms still experience terror, still have their throats slit, and are still separated from parents and siblings at birth. All these words do is make us feel better about eating animals, and when it comes down to it, the issue we have really concerns our conscience more that it does the animals themselves. I don’t want to see more comfortable living conditions and better treatment, I want a radical mindset change about the way we think about animals. I do not want bigger, cleaner cages, I want no cages. I do not want free range or “humane” animal agriculture, I want a total dissolution of animal agriculture.
We do not need to eat eggs, and we need cow’s milk about as much as we need kangaroo milk. Once again, the quality of life of the animal is not my principle concern; it is the idea that animals are resources. But it should not be forgotten that the lives of egg-laying chickens and dairy cows are similar to the lives of animals raised for meat, and they are often worse. You only need to do a simple Google search for “factory farming” to find out all you need to know. Of course, these industries too have their “humane” farms, but essentially, the same things happen. Male chicks do not produce eggs, so they are separated from their mothers and killed after being born. Male calves do not produce milk, and so are killed or sent to veal farms when they are born. Both male and female cows are separated from their mothers as babies, as they would drink their mothers milk, which we have claimed as ours. Mothers do not give up their young willingly, and footage of this separation is heartbreaking to see. Do not believe the lie that cows need to be milked. Cow’s milk is for baby cows (the same with every other animal), and they do a perfectly adequate job of drinking what is naturally theirs. In place of cow’s milk, why not try rice milk, hemp milk, soy milk, or any of the various nut milks such as almond or hazelnut? Honey is food for bees, made by bees. It is their property, and once again, we do not need to take it. Generally, harvesting honey ends up with many bees being crushed by the frames, who are subdued with smoke, and have their honey replaced with a syrup alternative that deprives them of their natural food. Do not believe the lie that beekeeping is good for bee populations e.g. selective breeding has weakened the species as a whole. Read more here.
Our right to taste is not more important than their right to live. Meat smells and tastes good. There, I said it. There are other things that taste great too though, and taste is not a good enough reason for us to cause the suffering and death of other animals. It is not about “giving things up”, it is an ethical resistance; a refusal to participate in injustice, cruelty, and violence; a refusal to take what was never ours to take.
3. Veganism is not a diet. It is so much more than that. To me, it is closer to a mindset or philosophy; a different way to think about the world and its inhabitants. It necessarily includes the philosophy of animal liberation, otherwise, it is just a plant-based diet. It is not only concerned with the exploitation of animals in the food industry, but in every industry, in every instance. This obviously includes, but is not limited to, animals used in experimentation, vivisection (perhaps the most disgusting, sadistic form of exploitation humans have ever thought of), clothing (wool, silk, leather, fur), non-food ingredients and entertainment. I was vegetarian for 8 years before I went vegan. One problem was that vegetarianism had me focused on diet, and not thinking about all the other ways that animals are exploited.
4. Veganism does not claim to be 100% cruelty free, but it is at least non-voluntary participation in the exploitation of animals. I am aware of the fact that things like car and bicycle tires, plastic packets etc. contain animal products. I am aware that cigarettes and razor blades are tested on animals. I am aware that many animals die in crop harvesting (a weak argument against veganism, as the majority of crops are grown to feed farm animals). Anyone who claims that they aren’t responsible for any suffering or cruelty is lying, and veganism has never made this claim. To quote Donald Watson, who coined the term “veganism” (literally, the beginning and end of vegetarianism) in 1944: “[…] a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
5. It is not about me. Many people have mentioned to me that veganism is, or would be, really difficult. If you focus on yourself, it is. If you focus on the victims of animal exploitation, it isn’t. The hardest part is dealing with other people. If we think that eating meat is a personal decision, we are forgetting someone. The most interested party i.e. the one being eaten, has no say in the matter, and that is a problem.
6. Speciesism is as indefensible as racism. Speciesism is discrimination based on species membership. Membership of Homo Sapiens cannot be morally significant in itself. Other animals have interests too, and these simply cannot be ignored. If we think that all you have to do to have rights is to be a part of the human species, then what could we say to the racist who says that you have to be a part of the Caucasian race to have rights? Once we agree that race, in itself, is not morally significant, how can species be? You could argue that it is because we use language, or are self aware, or can use tools, or because we can understand concepts like justice. But consider whether this is really not true for other animals. I think that you will find exceptions. In the same light, there are many humans whom these reasons to not apply to i.e. babies, or the severely mentally disabled. Should we treat them like we treat non human animals? Why don’t we test cosmetics on them? How can we justify testing on a chimpanzee, yet not on a mentally retarded person operating at a much lower intellectual level? The answer is simple: because they are not human. This is speciesism. There is no ethical reason to say that one species is more important than another.
It is the similarities, not the differences between us and other animals that matters. Just as we have progressed beyond the era of slavery, racism and colonialism, so it is time to move beyond the era of speciesism.
“The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham
7. Animals are not “lower” than us. They are not our resources. They do not exist for us. We do not have the right to decide what they point of their lives are. The roots of Western thought come from Ancient Greece (specifically Aristotle) and from Judeo-Christianity. Aristotle believed that nature is a hierarchy; the weak exist for the strong, the ones with the least reasoning ability exist for those with the most i.e. plants exists for animals, animals exist for us. I reject the idea that nature has a hierarchy. Ecosystems are circular, not triangular. It is worth mentioning that Aristotle also considered “barbarian” tribes to be less rational than the Greeks and therefore good slaves. It is considered normal to reject the idea that some humans are “lesser” that other humans, yet we still hold these views when it comes to non-humans. Genesis, in the Bible, is responsible for a lot of the superiority we feel, as it tells us that God made man in his own image, that we have dominion over the Earth and its inhabitants, and instructs us to subdue the Earth. What an ego boost! I reject this myth too. Of course, this is not the rule with all Christians, as I know a few who regard these instructions as ones speaking more of a stewardship or care taking. But you would be hard pressed to argue that animals meant anything at all in Christianity for its first 1800 years e.g. Paul rejecting the thought that God might care about oxen, or Jesus sending demons into pigs and driving them into the sea, interpreted by Augustine as being evident of our lack of duty towards animals.
Here, it would be worthwhile to mention the concept of Equal Consideration. Of course it would be ridiculous to think of equality in terms of things like freedom of speech, or the right to vote etc. Obviously, what a chicken wants is very different to what a human being wants e.g. the freedom to dust bathe vs. the freedom to travel internationally. Equal consideration is the concept that, when humans and non-human animals have similar interests e.g. the desire to avoid physical pain, which is an interest humans share equally with other animals, those desires should be considered equally, not excluding a being just because it is not a member of our species.
8. Animal liberation and human liberation are the same thing. The ideas come from the same place. We are also animals after all. Black, female, or gay liberation all comes from the same school of thought; liberating the oppressed from things like patriarchy, racial supremacy, heteronormativity… from species supremacy. Animal liberation liberates us too.
9. For the environment. The number one contributor to climate change is animal agriculture, due to a number of factors, such as methane emissions, groundwater pollution, chemical and waste runoff into rivers and streams, deforestation, and habitat loss. We use far more crops and water to raise animals for food than if we were to simply consume the crops and water ourselves. The amount of water used to produce meat is staggering when compared to the amount of water needed to produce plants. There is nothing sustainable about eating meat, and I do not understand “environmentalists” who do.
10. It is something that I can actually do on a personal, everyday level. It is the foundation on which I base my stance on animal liberation. Many people disregard veganism because they believe there are more important things to worry about e.g. starving children, or the elderly (granted, many of those people are not doing anything about those things themselves), but I have to disagree for a number of reasons. Firstly, veganism has forced me to consider beings other than myself, which of course flows through to other human beings, who are also included in the concept of animal liberation. Therefore, I think more about labour exploitation, about sweatshop workers, racism, sexism, homophobia etc. It is a natural progression and interlinking of thought. Secondly, veganism does not take up time in which you could be doing other things. Cooking vegetables does not take longer than cooking meat. Wearing faux leather does not take more time than wearing leather. You can be vegan and still care just as much about anything else. Thirdly, animal liberation is also human liberation. You cannot consider yourself free until all are free, and this should include non-human animals. Lastly, I would argue that non-human animals are currently the most oppressed victims on the planet, and need all the attention they can get. Doing nothing is still doing something.
Of course I am aware that it is unlikely that the whole world will go vegan, but it is also unlikely that racism, sexism and homophobia will ever completely vanish, but that is not a good reason to practice those things.
Photo: Brian Fulda
11. It is affordable. This is a weak reason, I know, but so many people have told me that being vegan is expensive. Veganism is as affordable as you want it to be. My diet mostly consists of fruit, vegetables, beans and grains – things that are inexpensive and readily available. Our weekly grocery bill decreased when we cut out meat. For toiletries, you will find many affordable options, or you can simply make your own.
12. I reject gender roles. South Africa is, like many countries, a heavy meat consumption culture. It is also a very patriarchal culture. As such, I have been told by many people that “real men eat meat”, “real men hunt” etc. What complete bullshit. I reject those narrow gender roles and want no part of it. If “being a man” entails consuming or harming other species for no good reason, I would rather not identify as a man.
13. For health. I put this point last because it matters the least to me. I am not saying that I don’t care about my health, but it is the last concern I have. It was interesting to find out that plant-based protein is more readily absorbed by our bodies that animal-based proteins, as our bodies have to use energy to break down the acidity. I find that I do live and eat pretty healthily by default, and I would choose to eat whole, organic food if it was available, but when it comes down to it, I am vegan for the animals, not for health. Even if you somehow managed to prove to me that eating animals is healthier than not, I would still be vegan. That being said, it is more than possible to exist as a vegan and be perfectly healthy, as proved by many e.g. 75 year old bodybuilder Jim Morris, tennis champion Venus Williams, or Carl Lewis.
Many vegans will have different reasons as to why they are vegan, and many will disagree on some of my points, but I hope that this gives some clarity into why I am vegan. There are many other reasons not mentioned that you will find in your further research, such as exploitation of immigrant workers, or despicable tactics the meat industry uses to market their products to children. If you are still skeptical, I ask you to think deeply about the relationship you have with your pet/s, to consider the differences and similarities between them, yourself and other animals, and to personally visit a commercial animal farm and/or abattoir. I grew up in a majority commercial animal agricultural area of South Africa, and have seen things first hand that definitely contributed to me going vegan.
You may be asking yourself, “but when am I doing enough?” The answer is never. You should never feel like you have done enough to widen your circle of compassion and empathy to encompass other living beings. It is a constant journey and exploration. I believe that we should be able to do what we want, as long as our free will does not hinder the free will of another. I choose to extend “another” to other animals too. Go vegan; for the animals, for the planet, for yourself.
“The position we [vegans] hold is often said to be ‘extreme’ and those of us who hold it are said to be ‘extremists’. The unspoken suggestions are that extreme positions cannot be right, and that extremists must be wrong. But I am an extremist when it comes to rape — I am against it all the time. I am an extremist when it comes to child abuse — I am against it all the time. I am an extremist when it comes to sexual discrimination, racial discrimination — I am against it all the time. I am an extremist when it comes to abuse to the elderly — I am against it all the time. The plain fact is, moral truth often is extreme, and must be, for when the injustice is absolute, then one must oppose it — absolutely.” – Tom Regan
Animal Liberation – Peter Singer
In Defense of Animals – Peter Singer
The Politics of Total Liberation – Steven Best
The Case for Animal Rights – Tom Regan
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows – Melanie Joy
Animal Machines – Ruth Harrison
Animal Factories – Jim Mason and Peter Singer
Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Moore
The Animal Manifesto – Marc Bekoff
With a Fly’s Eye, Whale’s Wit, and Women’s Heart; Animals and Women – Theresa Corrigan
Prisoned Chickens Poisoned Eggs – Karen Davis
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon; The Emotional World of Farm Animals – Jeffrey Masson
Being Vegan – Stepaniak
Why Animals Matter – Erin E. Williams
The Sexual Politics of Meat – Carol J. Adams
Sistah Vegan – A. Breeze Harper
Riding on the Power of Others – Ren Hurst
The Ghosts in Our Machine
Meet Your Meat
Forks Over Knives
AVO (African Vegan Outreach)
South African Vegan Society
Animal Liberation Front
Food Not Bombs