Guest Post #1: “The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me.”

May 28, 2012

The first guest post comes from A.V.B. in Lawrence, Kansas.

There isn’t an exact date of when I decided to go vegan (because I transitioned slowly) but it was about 10 years ago when I was a kid in high school. I was vegetarian for about a year and a half before that.  To say that I chose to make these life changes for any other reason other than ethical ones would be disingenuous. To say that my convictions around my motivations have done anything but intensified over the past decade would be an all out lie. Let’s be clear: the only issue that motivated me to make that lifestyle change was the ethical imperative I knew I had the moment I really realized that meat came from the flesh of a once living animal. To be totally honest, it was a nice coincidence that veganism is healthier than meat-eating.  But make no mistake, even if being vegan wasn’t the healthiest thing I could do for my body, I still would have made the same choice.

I’m not trying to claim to have an open mind to the arguments often spoken by locavores/food politics junkies because the animals are necessarily left out of those conversations. I absolutely disagree with arguments that describe veganism as ineffectual. Every time individuals choose to not put the flesh of another creature inside their own bodies, that means something profound. I know many radicals scoff at symbolic victories and think they don’t mean anything or matter.  But fuck that. That’s so capitalist I can’t even handle it. Things don’t always have to be concrete to matter. There doesn’t always need to be a “real” or “proven” outcome for an act for it to matter. Yes, I do think it’s wasteful and shortsighted for vegans to exclusively eat products that contain large amounts of packaging/processing and not think about the impact of those food choices or how animals are affected by deforestation, landfills, and other forms of environmental degradation. But you cannot discount the statement that is made when an individual chooses to not eat the carcass of a (at-one-time) living being.

I know there isn’t a one size fits all approach to veganism, and I don’t think there should be. But I do think the suffering animals endure should be a large part of the conversation. The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me. I am, after all, an animal and, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The only reason I’ve continued to deal with racist folks, messed up Utilitarians, sexist and sizest comments from both within and outside the vegan community, is because the only thing that matters to me is the fact that I try, with all my might, to keep animals and their byproducts out of my body. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve had too many conversations about “where I draw the line”– I’ve made that line as clearly defined as possible. I don’t ask for perfection, nor should anyone. I think that everyone should try as hard as possible to think about animals, put themselves in their place, to open their hearts, and make decisions that can minimize the harm humans inflict on animals.

My sister recently gave a presentation to a group of locavores-artists (one artist was going to have five chickens displayed around town in a coop and then publicly slaughter them at the end of the month to “connect people to their food”) and she illuminated something that I had always known but not considered quite so simply. Thousands of years ago, most of the nonhumans on earth were able to live their lives according to the reasons they were meant to exist. But in this current era, humans/men have violently transformed this. We removed animals from their environments, or altered them drastically based on our other actions (domesticated cats/dogs/rabbits/etc, warmed the ocean so much that the Antarctic glaciers are melting, cut down the forests for cheap palm oil, “developed” land in the name of “modernization,” etc.) and then we said, “your purpose in life is to be there for me, for I am human and I am the only thing that matters.” We’ve said with our actions “your sole purpose for existing is now mine. Your life’s purpose and value is only to provide something for me: convenience, flavor, entertainment, companionship, a method to test chemicals, anything I want. I control you.”

And this land of the “free” is one of the worst offenders. I don’t want to be an animal that expects this of any other animal. I want to let others live as they should live. Humans consume 100 billion animals worldwide every year (there are ~7 billion humans on Earth). There is just no argument that a nonvegan can make to justify this. Vegans don’t contribute to this number, and there is value in that. As unfathomable as this number is, even it relates only to the end process: death. This number says nothing about the suffering each and every one of those living creatures experienced to be the flesh we consumed, or the flesh we purchased at the store and then threw away because it went bad/we didn’t like the taste/was recalled for e. coli etc.

Despite what some people may try to claim, all humans know that nonhumans suffer.  We may not know exactly how, but that’s irrelevant. We don’t need scientific studies or “authorities” to tell us this. We just need to make rational choices that come from an open heart. Animals suffer, we know that.  Therefore, we should not eat them or use them for any other purpose humans find relevant. It’s really that simple.

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James McWilliams: What’s Being Butchered Here is Logic

May 27, 2011

James McWilliams’ recent piece in The Atlantic has been making the online rounds recently. I read it this morning and thought he highlighted a few interesting points about nonhuman animals that often get passed over when people are discussing sustainability and food production. Namely, McWilliams discusses the ways in which Darwinism problematized the binary human/nonhuman paradigm which, for a stone age throwback, still gets a lot of play in certain quarters.

When humans and non-human animals are part of a continuum, rather than qualitatively distinct forms of life, human meat-eaters confront a serious quandary. It becomes incumbent upon us to forge a contemporary justification for carnivorous behavior. Aristotle and Genesis will no longer do. By undermining the long-held basis of inherent human superiority over non-human animals, the science of evolution obliterated the framework within which thoughtful carnivores long justified their behavior. As it now stands, human meat-eaters, unless they reject modern science, support the killing of non-human animals without the slightest intellectual or ethical grounding.

I can’t say I’m a fan of foodie-ism as it pertains to real solutions for the problem of food production, distribution and sustainability. It rankles just a little bit to see people turning food into an expensive hobby when you know that over a billion humans worldwide are starving, to say less of the 45 billion nonhumans being murdered every year for a nutritional need that does not exist. I’m glad that there seems to be a consciousness shift away from CAFOs and industrial monocultures, but sometimes well-meaning people can be frustratingly blind to matters of class or species privilege. Food is not a toy. We live and die by it. Or, as Josh Harper put it: “reading a Michael Pollan book doesn’t excuse you (or him) from having to consider the lives you are taking and the suffering you contribute to.”