Having been a vegetarian for over thirty-five years I have often been challenged as to why I don’t go all the way and become a vegan.
For many of those years I justified the half-way house as mainly a matter of practicality. It was too difficult to be a vegan. Years ago, restaurants didn’t cater for vegans, supermarkets didn’t stock vegan products, convenient vegan products didn’t really exist.
The food would also have been rather bland and unexciting.
In those days the few vegans that were out there were sickly looking, malnourished, hippy oddities. They didn’t really inspire you to follow their lifestyle choice.
However, more recently I have been reconsidering my position. I have been giving serious thought to taking that extra step to becoming vegan. It certainly wouldn’t be as hard to do as it used to be and, being vegetarian as it is, I’m most of the way there anyway.
The reasoning for becoming vegan though would be very different to the reason why I chose to become a vegetarian.
Quite simply, I am a vegetarian because I do not believe that other living things should die so that I can live.
Now the normal logic to follow this would be that I should be vegan because I do not accept the cruelty that we inflict on animals in the interests of providing for a diverse and what is claimed to be a nutritious diet. However, this is an argument that I struggle to accept. Of course, I condemn unnecessary abuse and cruelty to animals but I cannot accept the wider welfare argument as being a basis for changing my dietary behaviour. I believe – and this will be controversial – that the exploitation of animals for their produce is acceptable. Why? Because this is exactly what we do to people.
Frankly, I don’t mind the using of animals, either in a farmed or a working capacity; I just don’t want them killed. We use and take advantage of people all the time so it would be rather hypocritical if I had some moral consciousness over animals but then didn’t make a stand against the way we treat our fellow human beings.
And, for the most part, I cannot do that. The problem being that within modern civilisation I can only sustain my current lifestyle and comforts by the direct or indirect using and manipulating of other human beings. Long hours at work, poor living conditions, low wages, a harsh working environment….. the world survives and prospers on exploitation. There is always somebody somewhere who is disadvantaged, who is suffering for the well-being of others.
We may be able to outlaw the extremes such as child labour or slavery but more widely and less visibly exploitation is a common, daily and necessary practice.
I suppose I could make a claim for some idealistic notion that we should live in a world where we are all respectful of each other and nobody takes advantage of anybody. But that is just not the nature of either the world we live in or the people that we are. There will always be haves and have-nots, powerful and weak, rich and poor. That’s just life. We have to live with that.
My view is that so long as no creature – animal or human – is killed or injured for my benefit then that is acceptable.
It would therefore be rather disingenuous for me to justify a vegan lifestyle based on the idea that we exploit animals when we are equally exploitative of our fellow human beings. If my concern is one of animal welfare then I can and should look at other options that focus on the well-being of the animal like buying free-range or organic products.
The other consideration that many people maintain when adopting a vegan diet is that it is a lot more environmentally friendly. It uses less planetary resources. This is a very noble justification for changing your lifestyle. However, as an individual action it is meaningless and insignificant. It can only be of relevance and consequence if it is part of a much wider movement. And given the fact that vegetarianism has hardly taken the world by storm the notion that veganism’s time is ripe seems rather optimistic.
So, I will come clean. The reason why I’m thinking about becoming vegan, like all powerful motivations, is much more self-centred. It is for the health benefits that a vegan diet offers. It should give me more energy, make me feel fitter, help me lose weight, make me healthier. It purportedly offers both short and long term benefits.
The only consideration therefore is whether or not those benefits justify the dietary sacrifices I would have to make.
For me, adopting a vegan lifestyle would not be a matter of principle. I would be doing it neither for the animals nor for the world. I would be doing it for myself.