In some ways the first few weeks as a vegan are actually the easiest. They are exciting. You are trying new foods. Meeting new people. Thinking new thoughts. There may be difficulties with family members, friends and co-workers but you have that initial enthusiasm to see you through. I actually think the time that follows may be more difficult. That moment when you look around you and realise that you are actually leaving the world you knew behind whilst still being tied to it. Your mindset and way of living is out of sync with those around you. You are a vegan living in a non vegan world. This leads to two problems. Beating yourself up and beating up everyone else. Let’s tackle the hardest problem first.
Beating yourself up
At first glance Veganism seems helpfully black and white. It is a belief that exploiting animals is wrong and should be, wherever possible, avoided. In practice though it leads to a whole host of grey areas and therefore a whole host of areas about which you can beat yourself up.
Now I’d argue that knowingly eating an animal product is always wrong. It is avoidable. Missing a meal isn’t going to kill you and there are almost always alternatives to be found with a bit of thought. Same goes for clothing, cosmetics and toiletries. How about medicine? In the UK all medicine by law has to be tested on animals. No alternative is present other than not taking it. Should a vegan be using a computer or driving a car? Both of these are highly likely to contain animal products somewhere in its construction. In fact it is difficult to find a product that hasn’t involved animal exploitation at some stage. That is the problem with living in a non-vegan world. Animals are simply resources to be used and if their fat, hair or enzymes can be exploited cheaply then they will be.
So where does that leave us? I would suggest that if there is an alternative we should take it. If there isn’t an alternative we should campaign for it. We should think about our choices and think about how and what we buy and use but what we shouldn’t do is waste time and energy beating ourselves up over it. Not when we can…
Beat up others
Once you have made the decision to go vegan it can become increasingly difficult to spend time around those who haven’t. Once you have realised the overwhelming level of suffering experienced as a result of the dairy industry, have woken up to the pain of calves ripped from their mothers and crated for their short brutal lives, it becomes difficult to stand next to a loved one drinking milk. Once you have allowed yourself to contemplate the fate of male chicks left to starve or suffocate a day after hatching to keep the egg industry going it becomes difficult to watch a co-worker tuck into their omelette. Being around such sights can make you sad and angry. Sadness and anger are perfectly rational responses to such cruelty but what to do?
Being angry with those who continue to eat animal products is unlikely to achieve much and isn’t entirely fair on the target of your wrath. They just haven’t opened their eyes and minds yet. Most vegans were at that stage at one point. Few of us were born vegan. Instead we should target our anger at the companies that profit from this cruelty and at the industries that rely on people staying blind to the truth. Use your anger to transform yourself into the best role model you can be. Train harder, study harder, achieve more and do it all as a proud vegan.
I sometimes dream of starting my own commune. We would grow our own food and make our own clothes. We would retreat from this non-vegan world and create our own small world where we could live out our ethics. This though would be to do the billions of animals living lives of suffering a great disservice. If we retreat from this world then people will never meet a vegan. There won’t be anyone who makes them confront the unchallenged belief that animals are ours to use as we want. No one will challenge the nonsense that you need meat to be powerful and dairy to have strong bones. We owe it to these animals to be full members of this world. To be teachers, doctors, gardeners, home makers, builders and athletes. We have to accept that fact that we don’t live in a vegan world but we also have to realise that we don’t live in a vegan world YET.