Friday, May 13, 2011

Veganism, is not a Choice; It's a Moral Imperative

We need all people everywhere to be vegan by all peaceful, non-violent means possible.  Our precious, sentient non-human brothers & sisters need this.  Our Mother, Earth, needs this.  We all need this. I do subscribe to the notion that it is possible for a person to go vegan for health or environmental reasons to later understand it from a new perspective such as animal rights & liberation.  So when someone like my friend Jim (an abolitionist vegan) tells me that he's willing to "meet" any omnivore at their level, be it animal rights, personal health, notions of compassion, whatever… I think it’s AMAZING that he does that. That's a choice that works for him, and I wouldn't criticize it or him.

FOR ME:  I was vegetarian before I was vegan.  The main motivation for me dropping the milk, eggs, and honey was that I needed to be consistent.  I had a hard time reconciling my beliefs and actions.  I needed to come to terms with the fact that there is as much (if not, arguably more) suffering in an 8 oz glass of milk as there is in an 8 oz steak.  So I got honest and went vegan because it’s the just thing to do.  I didn’t do it for reasons of compassion—because compassion implies that we don’t  need to behave this way.   Compassion makes us feel good about ourselves, but it lacks the weight and moral imperative that justice demands.  I am vegan because sentient non-humans are owed the same rights as sentient humans.  That’s Justice.  Frankly, though I believe it comes from an earnestly good place, I find the focus on “compassionate choices”  and "kind eating" to be unintentinally undermining and misguided.  While it gets people's attention and sometimes gets them to commit to a vegan diet, it's basis is rooted in an implied belief that this is a CHOICE from benevolent humans to help unfortunate and lesser non-humans.  It's still speciesist in that fundamental assumption.  In the end, where does thinking like that get us? I'll tell you- we get famous, "fad-vegans" like Ginnifer Goodwin & Natalie Portman who publicly and famously "Stop being vegan."  Or Alicia Silverstone, THE KIND DIET, author and super-celebrity vegan, who admits that she'll sometimes eat a Burger King veggie burger, even though she knows it has egg whites in it! (There's too much there in that one to get into...)  While, arguably, these folks never were truly vegan (they were just compassionate folks who ate a plant based-diet for a period of time) their public reversal sets the movement way back by reinforcing the unfounded belief that Veganism, as a diet, is unhealthy or unsustainable.

As a gay men, I understand from our cultural history that the eons of a secret underground culture of back-alley entryways to secret clubs, marriages of convenience, "beards" and faghags never advanced the rights of LGBT persons an iota.  Then we stopped hiding.  We came out.  We embraced our names and labels.  And while there was initial hatred and a violent backlash against our unabashed identity, we eventually (and in a relatively very short amount of time) have gained mainstream recognition and acceptance so that a majority of Americans now believe that LGBT persons should be allowed to marry and have equal rights.  We didn't hide our names: We embraced the label.  That's why I'm not a "veggie boy".  I'm a VEGAN.  "Veggie" is a term designed to keep us in the closet.  We need to come out.  We need to be visible. 

I know that these are seriously controversial issues within the vegan community.  I know that people get very upset when some of us use terms like "Abolitionist" or "New Welfarism".  I never use such terms with the intent to offend or harm another person-- of course not! Vegans and Veganism is never about violence or offending and hurting others.  But I think it's important for folks to get really clear about where their motivations are coming from, what and whom we all choose to support, and whether or not those choices are consistent and aligned with what we believe.  I also recognize that we are such a small (yet rapidly growing) community and when events like this weekend's veggie pride parade in New York City are few and far between, its tempting to want to just go, put aside our differences and lump everyone together under one big "veggie" umbrella.  But over 100 years of welfare promotion since Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE has led to nothing but a worsened condition for animals on this planet.  We need to change direction and trajectory as individuals and as a movement. We need to own the identity as VEGANS.  We need to correct those who hold to a confused belief that this is a choice of compassion and explain that it's an imperative of JUSTICE.  

I can't wait until the day when we're all in the same page about all of this, and I believe that day will come a lot sooner than we might think.   But for now, as a non-violent abolitionist vegan gay man opposed to non-human slavery and use, I cannot in good conscience stand with those who believe the problem is welfare and treatment.  It confuses our message to the masses and leads people down a doomed path that approaches Veganism as something that it is not: a choice.  It is a moral imperative.

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