I used to think vegans were, at best, misguided hippies, or at worst, raging misanthropes who smashed up labs to rescue a couple of mice. If, a year ago, you’d have asked me about animal rights or veganism, I would have dismissed animal rights issues out of hand, and given half-hearted excuses about the practical and financial barriers to changing my diet. But now I’m vegan, and beginning my first forays into animal rights activism. How did that happen? And what does going vegan mean?
A few months into being vegetarian, I decided to stop drinking dairy milk (but continued to consume other dairy products). My reasons for doing this were hazy, and looking back now I can’t really place why I made this decision. I was aware of the terrible environmental impacts of animal agriculture, but apart from that never gave the moral or ethical issues much consideration. Many vegetarians and vegans I have spoken to have had similar experiences: an unfocused knowledge of the problems of consuming animal products, but an awareness that they are wrong.
Said knowledge and awareness was thrown into sharp focus three months ago. I learned of how day-old male chicks are fed alive into meat grinders as a routine part of the egg industry. I learned of how dairy cows are sexually abused throughout their short, miserable lives, suffering separation from their calves and constant pain from mastitis—a condition due to engorged udders—before being slaughtered when deemed “unproductive”. I set about devouring numerous academic discussions regarding animal rights; the scientific evidence for non-human sentience, emotions, and suffering; and how the machine of animal consumption is intrinsically linked to all forms of oppression, such as sexism and racism. With this knowledge, I could no longer be complicit in a system that is abjectly cruel.
This has meant a de-privileging of myself, a slackening of the centrality I give my own experience in relation to everything else. I think this is a product of the core ideas of veganism—realising that my needs and wants are not necessarily the most important, and shouldn’t demand the sacrifice of another’s dignity, safety, or life. Simultaneously, however, has been a tightening of focus on my place and presence in the world, and the impact I make as an individual. Again, I believe this is the other outcome of the fundamentals of veganism. I’ve become highly aware of the ripples I make in the world, most visibly and practically through my food choices, and more subtly in how I show compassion for and celebrate the lives of other beings.