November is world vegan month and it has me thinking about my journey with veganism. It’s been over four years for me as a vegan. It was the first real, conscious choice I made for myself as an adult, one that involved looking at my values and morals and having my actions be in line with them. That’s what adulthood meant to me, breaking away from your parent’s lifestyles and deciding what was good for yourself. I had gone vegetarian at 16 solely for health reasons. There are tons of scientific papers explaining that red meat and other meats are detrimental to consume over time; there’s no disputing that. So, I stuck with my reasoning for not eating meat as a health thing. When I became vegetarian, I was actually adamant to tell people I wasn’t this tree-hugging, animal-loving hippie. It was a logical decision based on my health. Then around 18, I started reading into the treatment of dairy cows and chickens. I didn’t eat meat, so I assumed I was in the clear, since I wasn’t eating animals, and therefore not contributing to that blatant sort of cruelty i.e. them being killed. Little did I know of the horrible treatment dairy cows experienced. Being forcibly impregnated over and over, having their babies taken away from them so they can be milked until they’re spent, and then their exhausted bodies being slaughtered for us to eat. I learned about how most baby male chicks are dropped into grinders basically after birth, since they can’t reproduce. Even though I didn’t eat pork or beef, learning about how pigs and cows cry in fear before they’re killed was traumatizing for me. I watched countless slaughterhouse videos. I watched cows walk to their death, their entire bodies trembling and pure fear in their eyes. I watched pigs be crammed into trucks, transported to be killed. I looked into their eyes, and they know they’re being taken to their death. Realizing the sentience of these animals we deem as food is what instantly converted me to veganism. It was outside of myself. I had gone vegetarian for my own good, deeming it healthier for myself, but I went vegan because it was the greater good to be done for the animals.
So, after my stark revelation, I began upheaving my lifestyle. Veganism seems to have many different meanings to people, but I always go back to this one definition:
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude-as far as is possible and practicable- all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
This covered all bases and explained for me the moral side of veganism and had the diet part as secondary. Having the diet part as secondary was important to me because I felt as if that was the only way other people understood veganism. I wanted it to be clear that I was first and foremost going vegan because of the inherent cruelty we have towards animals.
I began looking through every product I owned and researching whether or not the company was cruelty-free. I began buying cruelty-free deodorant, toothpaste, facewash-basically replacing everything I had with a cruelty-free option. At the same time, I ditched dairy, eggs and honey and began taking my diet more seriously, looking at how I could get my calcium and B12 through diet and supplements, of course making sure the supplements were from a reputable company. Looking back, it was definitely my rite into adulthood. I felt so good looking at my choices and purchases and making sure they were in line with my morals. It took time, but after some months I had completely uphauled my life and I had successfully become vegan.
In the beginning, I was extremely passionate about veganism. I would talk to anyone who even looked in my direction about it. I was the embodiment of the stereotype “how do you know someone is vegan? Oh, don’t worry they’ll tell you.” At that time, I was consuming every type of vegan related media I could get my hands on. I read every possible article and watched seemingly every YouTube video ever on the subject. At the time, the content surrounding veganism was riddled with superiority complexes and horribly purist views. I didn’t know better though and assumed that’s what it was to be vegan. I began scolding people who ate meat and dairy and reprimanding people for using products that were tested on animals. My poor family and friends! Nobody caught a break around me, and I assumed I was doing this sort of converting for the animals.
Over time, my fiery passion died down. Along with my fading enthusiasm was the changing of the content surrounding veganism. I would consume content of people debunking the harsh purist views of the vegans I had looked up to at the beginning of my journey. As well, I began learning about how other cultures treated and consumed animals. It was hard to face at first. I still believed other cultures were wrong for consuming animals, even though I read about Hindus and Indigenous people fully respecting the sacrifice of the animals, using all parts of the animal etc. Along with that, was more information coming out about how consuming animals was detrimental for the environment. This gave me comfort, as I knew my decision to be vegan was still doing good for the world. However, I was also seeing content about how companies who were supposedly “cruelty-free” were exploiting overseas labour and using other practices that were awful for the environment and their employees. I started learning more about the inherent evil that is capitalism, and how nothing I ever did would change anything on a global scale. I also learned about how such restrictive eating can trigger people with eating disorders. My perfect “vegan” bubble of purity and moral high ground was being destroyed. It was disheartening for the impassioned Lashanda who first went vegan.
After learning about the way the “real” world worked, for lack of a better term, I slowed down a little and looked at my choices pertaining to my veganism. I realized being this purist way was not doing any good for the animals, let alone for myself or anyone else in my life. Refusing to eat something with honey that was baked for me by my mother with love was not helping anyone. Refusing to eat a vegan burger that was fried on a grill containing meat burgers did nothing for the animals. Refusing to see that plenty of cultures actually respect animals was keeping me in an illusioned bubble. I started to understand that my way was not the only way that existed (ah, to be a self-centered teenager) and that many other people would eat meat and dairy and continue to do so, and I had to be ok with that. I realized that upholding ridiculously perfectionist standards on myself and the people around me was not doing anything for the animals, and wasn’t that the reason I went vegan in the first place?
Now, at 23, I have changed the way I live my “vegan” lifestyle, and vegan is now in quotation marks because I am not sure I can call myself that anymore. I do not focus on buying only “cruelty-free” products, because nothing is cruelty-free if humans must be exploited to make the products. Any fruit or vegetable that has come from overseas was most likely harvested by an overworked farmer. How is that cruelty-free? I learned about how buying local honey can actually immensely help local bee farmers and the bees themselves. I don’t go out of my way to purchase honey, but I don’t refuse a food item that contains honey anymore. I still eat strictly plant-based, but I realized I prefer to eat plant-based as a part of my own spiritual journey. I feel energetically lighter by not eating tortured animals and their by-products. Now though, I know that many cultures rely on consumption of animals, and I have no say in whether or not that makes them morally good or bad. Many cultures raise and kill animals sustainably and with the utmost respect and I realized my issue was with the way animals are raised en mass in North America.
At the end of the day, everyone will live their lives in the way that they want to. I was exhausting myself trying to convert people to veganism like it was a morally higher way of life, a cult. The biggest lesson I’ve learned being vegan is that upholding obsessive standards helps no one. Ruining people’s dinners by explaining in detail what happened to the cow that’s now sitting on their plate does nothing for the cow who already lost its life. Putting a sour taste in someone’s mouth by explaining that the mascara they’re applying to feel prettier has been tested on innocent animals doesn’t help the animals who have already been forcefully tested on.
I go back often to the definition of veganism mentioned earlier. “As far as is possible and practicable.” I realize now I wasn’t doing that at all. Writing this has actually made me realize that what I was doing wasn’t practicable, and that’s not even veganism to begin with. Nowhere does it say you must convert everyone you know to veganism. Nowhere does it say you must refuse a homecooked meal containing dairy. It is about minimizing harm to animals, which I will always aim to do to the best of my abilities. I was just a product of the information surrounding veganism at the time, and that’s ok. I’m finding it in myself to be ok with that part of my vegan journey because it is just that-a journey. Veganism, or now for me, eating plant-based, has helped me on my journey. It won’t help everyone. And I’m ok with that.