(Photo by Stephen & Claire Farnsworth on Flickr)
I’ve come across a number of people who are resistant to the idea of becoming vegan because they don’t like the idea of taking on another belief system: it feels like indoctrination. It feels burdensome. Nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong, and even worse than that is being told, “here’s why you’re wrong, and here’s why now you have to think exactly like we do.” Conversions by force are rarely successful.
While there are certainly a lot of beliefs associated with veganism, such as those regarding animal rights, in essence, veganism is simply a set of decisions. Walk into a room with fifty vegans in it, and even among those who see eye-to-eye on most issues, there’s going to be a lot of variety. The point is that regardless of that variety, all of these people’s beliefs manifest in their making the same choices. Some of my friends believe that no human has the right to take the life of another sentient being. Others feel that we do have that right, but doing so is a bad idea, for a number of reasons. For others, their health or the environment is more important. But whatever the reasons, we all choose the same menu.
What many people don’t realize is that becoming a vegan does not always have to involve changing your mind, it’s simply a matter of shifting to a new set of ingredients for your food (and for the more serious, new materials for your clothes and cosmetics). Most people actually already believe the things that one would have to believe to become a vegan.
Do any of the following statements feel true for you as well?
“I believe that torture is wrong.”
“If I were to lose a pet, it would be like losing a family member.”
“I believe you shouldn’t have to kill a person or animal unless your survival depends on it.”
“I believe it’s unethical to pay someone else to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself for moral reasons.”
“I believe my pets have feelings and thoughts, and that they communicate, even if they don’t use language.”
“I believe it’s wrong to waste resources that could be used to help someone in need.”
These are just a sample of many statements that could be made, but I think you get the pattern. Most people already have all the fundamentals down: we believe that torture and killing are wrong (or only acceptable in extremely desperate situations, if at all), we believe that it’s bad to waste resources, we believe that it’s good to protect the environment, and we believe that it’s important to be healthy. So in light of these beliefs, what do we do when we encounter new evidence?
Such as the fact that most farm animals are just as intelligent (or more so) than our pets? Or that they live in torturous conditions? Or that meat eating contributes to virtually all lifestyle diseases and most cancers? How about the fact the amount of grain fed to livestock each year could feed the hungry people of the world several times over?
My stance is that becoming vegan is not a matter of taking on new beliefs. Instead, it’s a two-step process. The first is to let go of old beliefs that don’t serve us; things like: “it’s necessary/healthy to eat animals,” and “it’s too hard to change my lifestyle/make different decisions.” The vegans I know have found neither of these to be true. In my case, eating animals made me feel heavy, dull, irritable, and ill, which I didn’t realize until I stopped. And stopping wasn’t that difficult either, I simply started trying new things.
The second step is just that: trying new things. Making choices that actually line up with what we already believe and know to be true.
Changing behavior in light of new evidence is how every sentient being on this planet learns. From wild animals learning to find food or build nests to kids learning to solve math problems, it’s a natural process that everyone undergoes. So it seems strange to me that when we discover a new truth, we can be so resistant to acting on it. Realize your houseplants are growing better on the porch than on the windowsill, and what do you do? Move them to the porch. Realize you feel less sore if you stretch after a run, and what do you do? Start stretching after you run! Realize that buying meat involves torture and killing and…keep eating it? Stop? Eat something else? Well, it depends on who you talk to!
In light of what we need to be healthy and what our planet can actually provide, adopting a plant-based diet just makes sense. It doesn’t have to be a radical gesture. There’s no great conversion to be made. It’s simply a logical realignment.
(I typically avoid posting links to anything that is too shocking or controversial, but I feel compelled to share this video with you in case this post seems too abstract. If you feel interested in what I’ve said, I recommend watching it to get a sense of what’s really at stake and what really goes on. If the thought of watching it makes you feel uneasy, take that as a good sign that you already know on a gut level that something is not right.)