|Angel Flinn and Poof; the magic rabbit!|
The vegan ideal embodies the highest of spiritual and ethical aspirations – non-violence, harmlessness, reverence for life, and the cultivation of compassion toward the innocent. It is cause for celebration that we are blessed with the ability to bring such noble qualities down to earth by simply eliminating from our lives the products and practices that require the exploitation of other beings.
And yet, even in a time when, more than ever, the world needs us to put these basic human values into practice, this powerful ethical stand continues to be marginalized by society. The example that is set by the increasing number of individuals who embrace these principles is too often vehemently opposed, trivialized, or simply ignored. But the effects of this paradigm shift in perception are far-reaching, and the rewards of making such a change are beyond measure.
By doing nothing more than simply living as a vegan – which means to eliminate one’s support for all products and practices that exploit animals – people can greatly lessen their ecological footprint, take their health into their own hands, play a part in eliminating world hunger, and experience the peace of mind that comes from making such a powerful personal contribution toward the beginning of peace on earth.
Ironically, it may well be that the survival of our species, and perhaps even life on this planet, is dependent upon our learning the very lessons of empathy, responsibility and self-control that the vegan ideal embodies, and which our society seems so reluctant to embrace. By living the vegan ideal, we can address, all at once, the many, seemingly different issues that are crippling our civilization and threatening our very survival.
From world hunger to climate change, mass extinction to escalating violence, the catastrophic problems we are facing are clear indicators that we are in need of transformation on a global scale. With our society and our world within sight of a major breakdown from resource scarcity and subsequent political conflict, it has become crucial that we face up to the need for a radical shift, beginning with a change of perception inside each one of us.
More and more people are recognizing the prejudice and injustice inherent in enslaving and slaughtering animals, in order to feed our collective appetite for flesh, eggs, milk, and other products sourced from industries of exploitation. It’s no secret anymore that animal concentration camps are the breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases. It’s also becoming known that the consumption of animal products is detrimental to human health, and that industrialized animal agriculture, including so-called ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’, is implicated in some of the worst crimes against the planet. As consumers become increasingly aware about how inefficient it is to cycle grain through animals to produce food for humans, even the truth about the animal industry’s role in world hunger and food shortages is starting to come into the open.
And yet, it somehow appears that the light of veganism is so bright that people are afraid to open their eyes to it, even individuals who are deeply involved in other social causes. What is it that makes us cling so stubbornly to practices that are clearly unnecessary, devastatingly cruel, and, if left unchecked, will almost certainly end up destroying us?
Our collective appetite for products that come from the bodies of animals has driven us to create systems of animal farming that are not only completely unsustainable in the long-term, but are also immediately damaging to natural eco-systems, populations of wild animals and the citizens of developing nations.
As the human population continues to grow, and industrialization expands ever further, it brings with it the excesses of animal agriculture, and we currently run the risk of driving into collapse the essential life-preserving systems of the planet itself. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the now well-known report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, stated that “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”
In addition, our society is desperate for a solution to our many social problems. Our pandemic of violence is becoming increasingly severe, from school and workplace shootings, to sexual assault and domestic abuse, and of course, the unrelenting displays of military might that claim the lives of both soldiers and civilians.
But it’s not surprising that we experience such widespread aggression when we remember that not only do we habitually fuel our bodies (and therefore our minds) with products of violence, suffering and death, but we pretend that there’s nothing wrong with doing so. We try to avoid the truth of where animal products come from, by buying them in neatly wrapped packages, but we cannot help but be aware of it in our deeper selves, and the violence that is implicit in our meals and in other aspects of our lives – from clothing to cosmetics – permeates our culture on all levels from personal to global.
All over the world, around the clock, innocent beings spend the duration of their lives imprisoned and enslaved. All the while, they are brutally tortured and are eventually violently killed. And all over the world, people who are otherwise kind, gentle and caring, continue to ignore – and even participate in – this unspeakable cruelty.
Our indifference toward the suffering of other creatures is an accepted societal norm that calls out for us to realize that basic human values apply to other animals as well as to our fellow humans: justice, empathy, and respect. By extending these values to include those beings who have committed no other crime than that of being born nonhuman, we actually have the power to create new standards for human behavior, motivated by our collective desire for a better, safer world for all.
Veganism is an acknowledgement of the responsibility of the individual – the recognition of our personal obligation to minimize the harm we cause by our existence, and to develop in ourselves the qualities necessary to become citizens of a better future; where no one is oppressed, where no one is treated as a means to an end.
It is a demonstration of one’s awareness of fundamental principles of justice – an ongoing declaration of our conviction that acts of brutality and oppression are not excusable simply by virtue of the species of the victims. Veganism is nothing less than the evidence of one’s commitment to the principle of nonviolence – the determination to eliminate our support for cruelty carried out on our behalf.
When we advocate for the widespread adoption of vegan values, we speak for the entire population of humanity’s victims – from wild animals who are hunted and exterminated to make way for the ravages of human excess, to domesticated animals who are bred and confined (whether in crates or in pastures), and ultimately killed.
These billions upon billions of sentient beings are considered, by today’s ‘civilized’ society, to be nothing more than chattel property, and their owners are legally entitled to subject them to many forms of barbaric cruelty in the name of profit, convenience or pleasure.
This cycle of exploitation not only burdens our planet with the weight of a population of billions bred into existence solely to serve the desires of humans, it also prohibits us from moving forward into a more peaceful and prosperous future, the inhabitants of which reject violence and bloodshed as a matter of principle.
The pandemic of violence in the world calls out to us to reevaluate our relationship with non-human animals – who are the victims of the most extreme forms of our collective violence – and to recognize that they are no more meant to be our possessions than are people with different-colored skin, women, children, or any other sentient beings. They too, are individuals, who value their lives, feel pain, fear death, and have a right to live free from oppression.
If we truly seek a peaceful world – a world in which people do not live in fear of one another, and a world in which humans are not universally regarded as the most violent species on the planet – then there is simply no way we can sidestep veganism as the key to the future we are seeking.
The world stands at a turning point. We simply cannot go on as if our old ways can continue to sustain us. If we are to have a future, the people who live in that future will not be dependent on products that are a result of exploitation, suffering and environmental devastation. We will not source our food from animal farms or slaughterhouses, but from fertile gardens, vibrant orchards and veganic farms. People will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just.
The vegan ideal represents nothing less than the next evolutionary step for humankind. This quantum leap may seem far-fetched from the position we are in today, but it is within this very change that we will ultimately find our hope for the world of tomorrow.
Angel Flinn is outreach director for Gentle World (http://gentleworld.org)