People are often curious or confused about what it means to be vegan, so I wanted to write-up a short introduction to why people become vegan.
What does it mean to be vegan?
Veganism (also known as “Animal Liberation”) is a movement rooted in the idea that animals are “someone” rather than “something” and it seeks to change people’s attitudes and behavior toward animals such that they are no longer treated as mere property.
More than a Plant-Based Diet
Diet is a major component of veganism, rejecting all foods containing animal derivatives, since animals are not seen as food sources. People often adopt a plant-based diet for its health benefits, but vegan extends to other areas of one’s lifestyle as well. For instance, vegans reject cosmetics and other household products that are tested on animals or contain animal ingredients. They reject clothing made of wool, leather, silk, fur, and any other material derived from animals. They also reject all forms of entertainment that exploit animals such as circuses, zoos, horse carriages, bullfights, dog races, and fishing.
Do vegans get adequate nutrition?
Yes, in fact vegans are on average healthier than non-vegans! Also many of the world’s top athletes are vegan, including Germany’s strongest man. Vegans (and in many cases also non-vegans) can sometimes be deficient in vitamin B12, which can easily be supplemented through fortified nut milks, nutritional yeast, or by taking a B-Complex vitamin tablet. Every other nutrient we need is found abundantly in plants. A simple google search of “vegan sources of ______” will provide you with all the information you need to find numerous plant-sources for iron, protein, calcium, or any other nutrient you are looking to learn about. Whole-food plant-based diets are praised by nutritionists as one of the healthiest diets in the world and have repeatedly shown to have a very low incidence of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and various forms of cancer and other diseases. But health benefits are only a bonus. The primary concern is the animals.
Are Vegans all hippies though?
In the sense that they all promote love (for animals) – yes – but vegans exist in nearly all walks of life. Vegans can be female, male, or gender non-conforming. They can be rich or poor. They are black, white, brown, and everything in between, spanning all over the world across nearly all cultures. They are old or young, big or small, weak or strong. They work in all kinds of industries, except for industries built on exploiting or harming animals. Some are business executives while others are laborers. Some are professional chess or poker players while others work in factories producing chess pieces and decks of cards. Some are teachers while others are farmers. Some listen to rap music while others listen to country, electric, heavy metal, or hip-hop. Some wear (non-silk) neck ties and (non-wool) suits while others wear tie-dyes or swim suits. Some are world class athletes and body-builders while others are Hollywood performers or musicians. Some are Christian or Muslim or Buddhist while others are atheists, scientists, or yoga instructors. Some are privileged and others are underprivileged. Some are able-bodied while others are handicapped. Anyone anywhere can have concern for animals and the rich diversity among the vegan movement proves this.
But don’t you miss meat and cheese?
No. The basis of vegan is concern for animals, so by eating a veggie burger instead of a burger made from the body of a slaughtered cow, a vegan lives according to their values and shows respect for the life and well-being of the cow. In the beginning, there might be cravings for foods you have been conditioned to desire, but they are soon replaced with a sense of disgust. Instead of seeing a cheeseburger or a chicken wing, we see a baby cow and his mother crying out for each other or a chicken with her beak chopped off and her throat slit. Instead of seeing bacon we see a trillion-dollar drug industry profiting off keeping people sick by brainwashing them into desiring animal products instead of fruits and vegetables. Becoming vegan is often described as an awakening – you see the world with new eyes and you stop perpetuating social norms that harm yourself and everyone around you. Besides, there are countless vegan alternatives for every kind of meat and cheese. Just google “vegan _____” to find recipes for whatever you want a vegan version of.
Is Vegan a Choice?
Vegan is as much a choice as refraining from malice is a choice. You have the power to do it or not do it, and there are consequences to each decision. You might not face the same legal repercussions for killing animals as you would for killing humans, but in most cases both will cause you bodily and psychological harm. Heart disease kills more people each year than anything else in the world and nearly all instances of heart disease are entirely preventable by eating a plant-based diet, regardless of hereditary factors. Also, cognitive dissonance is a psychological disorder in which one’s behavior is inconsistent with one’s beliefs or attitudes. By paying lip service to a liberal ideology or one of love for your neighbor while knowingly supporting the enslavement, torture, forced impregnation, and slaughter of animals who suffer and desire to be free, all for profit and pleasure and based entirely on the egocentric notion of genetic superiority, you perpetuate this psychological disorder in yourself.
And if you’re worried about coming across as a vegan who pushes your beliefs on others, consider how non-vegans push their beliefs on animals and how our present culture glorifies animal abuse in every advertisement every second everywhere you look. Vegans are the voice for the voiceless and the choice is whether to knowingly perpetuate harmful and unjust social norms or whether to live according to the values you know are true and good. When it comes to respecting someone’s choice, we should treat each other the way we want to be treated. This means respecting the animals’ choice to live and be free rather than supporting our own (or someone else’s) choice to harm or kill.
How Can I Go Vegan?
Some go vegan overnight while others transition gradually. Educating yourself through YouTube videos, Internet articles, books, and conversations with vegans is a good place to start. Most vegans, including me, are happy to point you toward resources and to help answer any of your questions. Find out what vegan options you can get at local restaurants. Look up “simple vegan recipes” or “vegan meals on a budget” depending on whether you need to save time or money. Then experiment cooking different vegan recipes you find. Go to the grocery store and look at the specialty food aisle to find vegan versions of your favorite foods. Join Facebook groups such as New Vegan Support to surround yourself with like-minded people who will encourage you in your change of lifestyle. Make vegan friends, go to vegan meetups, visit an animal sanctuary, and watch documentaries such as What the Health or Earthlings. Immerse yourself in it and you’ll discover what it’s like to be part of a movement bigger than yourself that is grounded in selflessness and compassion for the oppressed and marginalized. The primary change is a change of attitude toward animals – valuing their lives enough to let them live and be free. Beyond that, it’s about living according to your values and advocating for their liberation.