Initially I would like to clarify that veganism is not merely an idiosyncratic dietary requirement; it is a way of constantly thinking and living to ensure the exclusion of animal cruelty and exploitation. I have found that by living with a strict vegan ideology as my primary source of guidance and motivation, I have been provided with a sense of self-satisfaction and pride that I have struggled to attain in my life before now. Usually people want to become vegan for a selection of reasons: animal welfare, environmental sustainability, or personal health benefits. Personally I believe that animal welfare should be the driving force behind becoming vegan. The other benefits that I have mentioned, whilst naturally favourable, are more geared towards the preservation of the human race. The human race provides quite enough focus to its own preservation, whereas animals are massively hindered in their right to life and freedom. I am undoubting in my belief that I am indisputably doing something worthy and good. I am literally saving lives on a daily basis. Statistics would suggest that your average vegan saves the lives of roughly 200 sentient beings each year. Now I am sure that there are many people out there who would be quick to disregard at this figure and tell me how insignificant it is in comparison to the amount of animals that are slaughtered during the same twelve month period. I am of course horrifically and acutely aware of the gargantuan amount of animals that are abused and murdered by humans each year. Humans really do seem unnaturally committed to the habit of gorging themselves constantly with almost unbelievable amounts of animal produce on a seemingly never-ending basis. However, in this particular situation figures are irrelevant. It matters not if I save one life or one million. A life is a life. I am proud that I choose not to add to the existing suffering, and pride in oneself is not an easy emotion to acquire.
With this in mind I would like to clarify that although I have recognised an increased sense of pride and self-satisfaction, these are not the most sought after emotional characteristics. Pride can quickly become an inflated sense of personal status or worth; whereas self-satisfaction usually manifests itself as annoying smugness to most others. These emotions should and – in my case hopefully - do remain insular. It is more beneficial to stay humble and commit your time to promoting the necessity of change to others, than it is to promote your own superiority as a vegan, even if you do believe in it. The pride and self-satisfaction that one acquires from their vegan lifestyle should provide the passion and dedication needed to constantly and unwaveringly promote the necessity of veganism and the use of animal-free alternatives. It should also build the confidence and desire needed to teach others that the exploitation of animals is unjust and can never be permitted, which will hopefully lead them towards eventual change and a vegan lifestyle of their own.
Of course the inviolability of all sentient beings is the most imperative objective result of a vegan lifestyle. Emotions such as satisfaction, pride or delight that one gains from the awareness that they are assisting in this process are simply the subjective benefits. I would assume and hope that these are common benefits, and that I am not alone in these feelings; however there is another aspect of veganism that I find extremely rewarding, but will admit may be entirely exclusive to me. I am not religious and I would assume I never will be. We live in a secular age; an age in which I can ask ‘without religion, how am I to achieve spirituality?’ Now spirituality is of course a subjective experience that has historically been linked to those of faith. One of the biggest issues that secularism poses is that we do not have a single ready-made answer to provide to someone if they suddenly suffer an extraordinary change in their conscious life which is deemed meaningful and positive. Today I feel that I commit to meaningful actions on a daily basis. Furthermore, since becoming vegan, I have continued to realise more and more the damage and suffering caused by humans, not to each other, but to all other species, those that we should be sharing this earth with. We humans consider ourselves superior due to our supposed greater intelligence and a preconception that we are the most evolved species on the planet, yet this is such a biased opinion. Through evolution our species was nothing more than fortunate to develop a larger cranial capacity than our competitors, resulting in a larger, more developed brain. We quite simply have advantages over other species. When it comes to intelligence we only favour achievements and innovations that allow our own species to continue to dominate. We marvel at our own brilliance without stopping to consider just how superior we really are. Indeed we humans have achieved many things, but we cannot forget that we have slaughtered hundreds of millions of our own kind to make these advances, and are now beginning to witness quite clearly that we are destroying the planet that was ours to nurture. I have realised that the superiority of the human race is an illusion, and by expanding my moral circle to include all other creatures I have finally been able to sense that there is something greater than the concrete world that I can see. To feel connected to something outside of one’s objective situation is a sublime, blissful experience. Veganism has undoubtedly been the primary force behind the re-formation of my personality. I did not need to discover a belief in God or interact with any form of religion to achieve this spirituality. I am not dismissing in any way those who do find spirituality through religion, more I am trying to show that in the past I have been jealous of those who were able to attain some level of spirituality. I do not like to call myself an atheist, as it is a label that suggests a certainty that there is no God. This is something that I do not know, nor can I ever find out. In this sense, if I am to be labelled, I am agnostic. As an agnostic I have still been able to achieve personal growth and – as a result – spirituality through a vegan lifestyle; therefore veganism is my religion. This is not such an unusual concept. Admittedly veganism has no ‘deity’; no mythical figure to answer our prayers, yet it is still a demanding and rewarding spiritual path that serves to positively transform ourselves and our society as a whole. As a vegan I have to constantly justify my beliefs to those ‘non-believers’, who see me nothing more than a radical. All I want is people to respect my beliefs, and in return I will attempt to promote kindness and equality, without forcing my beliefs upon others. We as vegans follow and live by a set of rules - or commandments if you will - that are designed to achieve universal happiness and equality for all species, and are strictly followed by other like-minded people around the world. Yes, quite certainly veganism is my religion. If you are not yet vegan and reading this, please do not think I have digressed into spouting of overly dramatic ideas. I am merely trying to emphasise that veganism is so much more than people may assume. No matter how zealous and enthusiastic this all may sound, I am sure that other vegans will agree with me on some level.
Up until to this point I have wanted to clarify the positive benefits that I have acquired from my vegan lifestyle, in order to show that it is providing me with so much more than I could have expected. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have only been vegan for a relatively short period of my life. I try to accept that I was once someone who did not consider the suffering of animals in relation to my diet, as alien as that now seems. It is not a pleasant thought, knowing that I have contributed to the deaths of so many, which may explain why I have taken to veganism with such determination, to ensure that I will never resort back to my previous habits. I made the transition from omnivore to vegan extremely quickly, and I am 100% confident that I will never purposefully consume an animal product again. Yet this is not the case for everyone. I quite often speak to individuals who agree with the principles of veganism but find it difficult to commit to the lifestyle. I am not speaking of those who are unflinchingly opposed to veganism as a lifestyle choice. I shall never understand this way of thinking, and have to accept that some individuals simply do not care and will not be changed. I am talking about those who have compassion; those who feel sadness when they think of an innocent animal being subjected to cruelty but are entirely clueless when it comes to changes that are needed. These people are the majority, and they are a group that I, for the greater part of my existence, have belonged to. As a vegan I do of course find it difficult to comprehend how someone can willingly commit to animal cruelty and exploitation, and will on occasion admittedly become somewhat narrow-minded when I talk to people about the subject. It is only natural to harbour feelings so strong that they force you to forget how to rationalise and empathise with others. I have to remember that I was exactly the same up until recently. With all this in mind I think that after emphasising the positive aspects of my vegan lifestyle, it is pertinent to address why it took me so long to even consider veganism, but also to show that once the decision is made the change can happen overnight. Hopefully it will show why the majority of others struggle to turn away from their omnivore diet, yet also highlight how easy it can be.
Although I am now clearly and fundamentally opposed to any lifestyle that promotes or is comfortable with an ideology that condones the consumption of animal produce, I understand quite absolutely why people may live this way without any apprehension of its consequence. I believe that this is due to the unavoidable facts of our existence, for if we believe in the reality of true free will or not, there are aspects of our existence that are unavoidable and unchangeable. For example, I was born in Birmingham: a large industrial city in the heart of England, home to factories and concrete, and an accent that inspires little but melancholia. I am the product of working class parents, who are themselves the products of a similar environment, and so on, and so on. My ancestors have been soldiers, labourers, coal miners, factory workers, shop assistants and milkmen. We have all left education at the earliest possible opportunity to enter employment. We are the proletariat, and my family tree really is devoid of any branches that stretch themselves far away from this socioeconomic status. This is not in any way a unique situation, yet the chain is a difficult one to brake. Parents of one socioeconomic status can of course gain social mobility through, for example, the acquisition of wealth; however their children will still be raised in an environment that at its core holds onto the values and habits that have been passed from generation to generation. The values and habits that were passed down to me from my family were in no way going to provide me with the ability to consider animals as more than lesser species.
We exist in a world where animals are used as commodities, and we are introduced to this from the moment we can comprehend the difference between an animal and a human. For reasons unknown, it seems to be a predilection within childhood development to emphasise that animals belong in controlled environments such as farms or zoos. We all learned at an early age that ‘Old Macdonald had a farm ee-i-ee-i-o’, a catchy little song that sticks in your mind for the rest of your life. What did Old Macdonald have on his farm? A cow, a sheep, a pig, and a chicken; a quartet of the most commoditised creatures to have ever existed. We are schooled from birth to recognise that these animals belong on farms, that they are livestock. As we grow this fails to change. As a child, and then teenager, forming my personality slowly as I grew up in middle-England, I was naturally a part of a western-consumerist society. From an early age I was not asked to consider that eating animal produce was an option, I was forced to believe that it was an entirely necessary process for a healthy lifestyle. For generations we have had the benefits of bovine milk forced upon us, through advertisements and marketing campaigns. For over twenty years the famous ‘Got Milk?’ advertising campaign has promoted bovine milk as a wonder tonic with almost magical hair, muscle and bone strengthening qualities. For years we have seen countless celebrities with milky white residue on their upper lips, smiling for the camera as they use their milk moustaches to penetrate the minds of impressionable children. The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign is now one of the most influential in advertising history. Children are never asked to question how unusual it is that they are being asked to drink the milk of another species; a complex blend of lipids, proteins and secreted fat globules designed by nature for neonatal calves to metabolize as an energy source quickly, in order to grow into an independent adolescent cow over a very short period of time. What they are actually told through marketing campaigns is that milk provides calcium. It will give you strong white teeth and strong unbreakable bones; therefore you must drink milk. I spent many years actually believing that I had to drink milk, for it was imperative to my good health. I was told many things like this. Fish provide omega-3; therefore you must eat fish. Meat provides protein; therefore you must eat a variety of animals of your choice. Eggs provide...err...something? Who cares, for you must eat eggs! Once you have been indoctrinated into a belief system it is easy for the trappings of a consumerism to get you. You cannot escape the constant saturation of products through advertisement campaigns that effectively become propaganda for the producers of such products, who naturally have a vested interest in ensuring that their produce is thought of as magical and life enhancing. Any products, whether that be food, clothing, or any other containing animal produce, will not be questioned when we have been led to believe that consuming them is healthy and normal.
These conditions: our socioeconomic status, our time and place of birth, family, environment, education system, wider society, even our previous choices, are just a selection of the intractable terms of our existence. They cannot be altered. We have to accept them; however this is not to say that they have to determine everything about us. In philosophical terms these facts – or our facticity – signify all of the undeniable details in the background of reality in which human freedom exists. My facticity has been a burden that, up to a few months ago, I was totally unaware of. It has made it easy, in fact almost natural and unquestionable, for me to consume animal produce and to see animals only for their worth in relation to humans. Unfortunately this is common for the majority of people. Potentially, only a child born to vegan parents, raised in a vegan environment, would be free from a facticity that would make the exploitation of animals a natural practice. This is not impossible, for any vegan couples or single parents that reproduce will naturally have a prerogative to raise their children to live by the same ideological and ethical standards that they themselves believe in. However, everyone else would accept that animal exploitation is standard practice; a fact of existence. To become a vegan, and most importantly to stay a vegan, one needs to take an objectifying third-person stance towards their own being, to see that these aspects of our facticity are defining and determining who we are, and then act accordingly. It is the stance we take against our facticity that truly makes us the person that we are.
Up until I underwent my swift transition to veganism I always relied heavily on animal produce, and will openly admit that in my life animals were for a long time considered lesser species. The choices that I made in the past make me feel ashamed; yet in some ways I do not blame myself. As a child I was provided meat and dairy to consume, and I did, naturally and without question. It was nothing out of the ordinary for my parents to raise me on a diet heavily reliant on animal produce, and I do not blame them in the slightest, for they knew no better and had no inclination of an alternative lifestyle. My parents never revelled in the spectacle of animal exploitation; they simply worked all the hours they could in order to provide food and clothes for three children. I will always be grateful that they taught me right from wrong, as it is they who made me a moral creature. This meant that from the moment I was introduced to the realities of animal exploitation, and realised what I was contributing to, I was able to stop my habits and change my lifestyle.
To become vegan and not return to meat or dairy is imperative. There is no secret method to doing this successfully. I did not require an extended amount of time to wean myself off the lifestyle that I had lived for so long. Referring back to an earlier point that I made, we have to take a stance against our facticity by not accepting what we may have previously been led to accept or believe. I was an omnivore and self-professed animal lover. I understood that animals had to die for me to consume, and was fine with it as I thought it a natural part of life, yet I could never have killed an animal for sustenance. At some point I decided that ‘I could not kill an animal myself, therefore I do not deserve to eat them’. Since turning vegan I have hated this mantra for its stupidity and self-congratulatory tone, as it sounds as if I was expecting to be congratulated and applauded for my courage and kindness. For a few months I lived a lie. I tried to become vegetarian, and was often successful for days and weeks at a time. Yet I would always revert back to meat or fish. Usually I would buy something through force of habit before remembering that I was supposed to be refraining from animal flesh. By then it was too late, so I would eat it anyway. This became a perpetual cycle of half-heartedness, as I continued to go through phases of vegetarianism that were spliced with irregular episodes of carnivorousness. Luckily for me I had close friends who had been living outside of the UK for a few years, and they were on their way back, filled to the brim with vegan sensibilities, recipes and information. Through them I met other vegans. I was introduced to the idea that no animal should be a commodity for humans. I was introduced to the idea that any unnecessary suffering of an animal is unacceptable, and if I truly agreed with this statement then I quite simply had to turn vegan. I was introduced to the facts that showed me that humans do not need to eat, wear or consume animal produce to sustain their ongoing survival. I watched videos and documentaries that made me feel ashamed at my previous lack of commitment, whilst making me feel physically sick at the thought of consuming meat, fish or dairy ever again. Most importantly all of these things together helped me to attain a realisation that animals are neither commodities nor consumables, and therefore cannot be food or clothes. This is the key to sustaining a vegan lifestyle. No matter how much you detest the idea of animal exploitation, if you still look at eggs or cheese or anything that contains any form of animal produce and still wish that you could eat or wear them, you will struggle to become fully committed and your vegan lifestyle may be fleeting. I struggled to become vegetarian due to the fact that, although I was forcing myself to not eat meat, I was still recognising animals as a food source and therefore a commodity. This is why I would never be an advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle. In today’s world it is easy to be a vegetarian. If you are looking for sustenance, simply visit any shop or market and you shall succeed in finding plenty of products devoid of flesh to gorge yourself on. Take yourself to a restaurant, pretty much any restaurant, and you will see clearly emphasised with a tiny green ‘V’ the options that are suitable for you. In fact it has become so easy, that a vegetarian can venture out to a restaurant with a whole group of meat eating omnivores and have no difficulties at all. Yet this lifestyle still accepts that animals can be used as a commodity. To become vegan I had to skip vegetarianism by understand that in no way can an animal be used for food. I had to objectively look at the things that I had been eating. I realised and swiftly understood that bovine excretion should not be drunk, and that its solidified and fermented form is not a food. I realised that the unfertilized ova of a hen, once expelled from the vaginal vent during menstruation, is also not a food. I was awakened to the fact that the stripped and treated skin and hide of a dead sentient creature could never be considered an item of clothing; more a ghoulish reminder of the poor animal from which it was forcibly and violently extracted. I no longer smell bacon associate it with sustenance. In fact it actually makes me hungry for smoked tofu. It’s funny how things change.
I find speaking to people who want to become vegan quite a common occurrence. I hope that you have read my words and can see that even someone like me, an oblivious and idiotic man who spent his whole adult life eating and wearing animals, can discover veganism and easily make the transition. I also hope that I have highlighted just how life-changing and rewarding this change can be.