One of my favorite feminists Simone De Beauvoir once said if a certain propaganda makes sense, is rational, and for all other purposes ‘good’ than why not propagate it? In other words, propaganda doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. It’s also been the founding justification I’ve had about being vegan for the past one year.
I’ll cut to the chase right here: You usually read these kind of articles from ex-vegans. I am vegan and have no plans to give it up, but like any philosophy or belief system we owe its integrity to criticism within the system. Truthspeak, I don't see much of that in the vegan community. If you are vegan, thinking about being vegan, non-vegan, vegetarian- whatever you are, I hope you will read through this entire thing I’ve written. At the very least out of sympathy because I’ve spent the better half of my long Easter weekend writing it.
Getting back to what De-Beauvoir said about propaganda. Now, I justified veganism to myself, but the other critical part of being vegan is to acknowledge that it’s a movement. One that expects you to tell others to ‘go vegan’, and to show people the grave injustices they are carrying out by eating dairy and meat. Let’s get to definition of veganism.
"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 humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
Now if you’ve read this you might have picked up on this phrase : ‘As far as possible’
This means that vegans know that everything they consume and use somehow will hurt an animal. The crops we eat will use pesticides that kill birds, insects, rats, and rabbits. We know that buying snacks from companies that also make non-vegan foods support animal abuse. By this metric using social media supports animal abuse because of the plethora of non-vegan advertisements on it; from bacon jam to leather and everything in between. This is why the ‘pragmatic’ vegan will tell you to not worry about all that. After all,we can’t live under a rock, so we do the best we can.
But here’s the logical fallacy. The ‘best we can’ is actually not truly the ‘best’ every individual can do in their unique circumstances that accounts for socio-economics, culture, and belief systems. Veganism says do ‘the best you can’ with an arbitrary set of rules. These rules try to be upfront: don’t use animal products. Don’t eat dairy, don’t eat meat, fish or any seafood. And and don’t use byproducts like silk and leather. Fair enough right?
But there are too many inconsistencies here and the problem is that the dogma of veganism has set itself up for these issues to occur. Let’s get into it.
Any Industrialisation will Eventually Exploit
Vegans like me are all about the new ‘vegan products’ in the Indian market. We’re telling everyone to switch to it. But over-industrialisation of any raw materials leads to exploitation. We’re saying: don’t use the milk from a cow, it’s not yours. But we’re also saying: it’s fine to eat crops (and then further ask others to rely on them fully) that use pesticides and kill so many animals.
Let’s take the example of Palm oil- the cheapest refined oil we have. Palm oil is highly contested topic because of the mass deforestation it causes. Who loses? The orangutans who live there. Some vegans won’t eat it, but it’s still technically vegan, and to be frank you have to have enough privilege and language skills to be aware of the repercussions of palm oil (even though India doesn't mostly use palm oil from these regions). In any case, if we start gauging country-specific ingredient practices, then the rules for veganism should technically change country to country. But we don't because of the standard set of rules. Unless you're a vegan who says ‘I don’t do palm oil either’, palm oil is still technically vegan.
A hunter who hunts for his meat in small village might actually retain the natural ecosystem than relying fully on agriculture and its havoc wreaking on other animals who lose their homes.
What’s the lifeline of the urban vegan? Almonds. I eat a kilo of almonds month. They are the most used vegan substitute for milk. We say, as vegans, we can’t eat honey because bees end up getting killed and we are putting them to work for our own tastebuds. Ah, but did you know that the manufacturing of almonds kill thousands of bees in order to pollinate almond flowers? In fact California ( Hello California Almonds) has to use industrialised bees from bee keepers to keep their almond production going. By this comparison, if we can’t have honey, we should definitely not be able to eat almonds either. I’ve also read an article about the Thailand coconut industry harnessing the ability of overworked monkeys to pick them. Goes to show, if the demand is high enough, we will exploit: human or animal. Goes to show that many of our ‘plant-based’ foods can become increasingly cruel. And there’s the dogma issue again, because vegans will say: but it’s still vegan.
The Health Issue
I personally have felt no difference switching to a vegan diet. No health miracles and no ill health either. My body was able to do its thing just fine. The fact is we haven’t been able to study long term effects of veganism (or rather the ability for all humans to do well on this diet) because we are only 3 percent of the population, and most of that population is privileged with access to healthy alternatives.
The Cult Issue
I am going to bet many vegans will identify with these post-vegan feelings. If that is too large a declaration to make, then I will admit to several from this list. Here is what a lot of people who turn vegan feel in the first few months of turning to the philosophy.
- We feel emotional. We look at all the everyday foods we used to eat and wonder why it took us so long to quit
- We are quickly very frustrated with everyone else around us, who have not yet seen the ‘light’.
- We start checking labels to ensure we aren’t having anything non-vegan. We know (and keep learning) the different dyes and chemicals that come from animals. We’re hawks at spotting ‘milk solid’ on any packaged thing.
- We start talking about how hard it is to find a vegan romantic partner
- We start asking for ‘permission’ on vegan groups in the guise of questions ‘ I watched my sister go horse riding, should I have walked away?’
Essentially nothing is wrong here. But these are the same symptoms that display itself when anyone moves to a cult or group that sets itself up on one grand idea of being the right way.
I’d question why we are so hell bent on finding a vegan partner when a vegan person can be a jackass all the same? Wouldn’t you rather choose a person who has purpose and feels motivated to do this part for the world at large? Or would you rather choose a person because they are vegan? Heads up, a few weeks ago I had a vegan come on my wall and say anti-islamic crap then called me a bitch for questioning his ridiculous assumptions. Being vegan has nothing to do with having a larger value of equality and justice that applies to the world. This is why when we start looking for other vegans to marry, we become the same as any other cult or caste looking for a similarity based on a belief/practise system. I am all for community and building purpose and being helpful to a community that you align with. But when we fail to question our own community and its rules then the integrity of our intent starts to collapse on all its logical walls.
Why Evangelism Doesn’t Sit Right With Me
This past year, there wasn’t one moment where I felt right about the whole evangelism part of veganism. The pamphleting, the graphic videos of animal abuse, and the whole ‘go vegan’ hashtag. All my blogs on vegan food has never used the words ‘go vegan’. I hadn’t been able to identify why it didn’t make sense to me. But now it does.
It all goes back to the main essential problem of dogma.
When I was in college in Colorado, every few months the anti-abortionists group would come and put up 12-foot long pictures of dead baby fetuses dumped in bio-garbage bins. I kid you not. And they would go ahead and chant on a microphone how we were sinners to support such a monstrosity. Now many vegans are pro-choice and some are even anti-procreation. Is there an essential truth of sadness when we see a dead fetes
in a bio-garbage bin? Perhaps, depends on our perspective. Is it really going to change the circumstances that require abortions in the first place? Nope. Is this an effective way of doing it, even if we were to argue that abortion is wrong? I’d say no, and there are studies and psychological insights to support that graphic images/evangelism don’t work on changing people’s behavior.
So on instinct I thought this gaudy way of doing things was the reason why I didn't think evangelism is the answer. But there’s more.
Veganism when practised with evangelism tells people there is ONE way and only ONE way to to be ‘cruelty-free’. And as I have pointed out, there are contradictions to that. The fact that Vegans bypass it because they have a default set of rules is the failure in logic. And yes, it's still 'the least harm possible' but again one set of rules which can make it problematic especially as we live in increasingly industrialized times.
What’s more is that veganism frown upon vegetarians and call people who eat meat ‘carnists’ which in my opinion only furthers us from seeing that humans are ironic by nature, and that the metric of compassion simply cannot be derived from one set of rules in such a very diverse world.
There are so many people who have the same concerns about the way we are using animals for our own ends. They aren’t vegan but they understand how our need to consume at such a rapid rate is leading to animal testing, environmental damage, and horrific conditions in factory farms. But veganism does not acknowledge this: it simply states, you have to go vegan in order to prove your compassion or intent in creating a world with compassion.
Again, I roll to my point: veganism is one set of rules, and when the hypocrisies/inconsistencies in veganism are called out, we quickly say :
But it’s still doing the least harm
But in India our foods are not manufactured that way
Doesn’t matter, at least you are supporting a vegan product from a non-vegan space
All the while, knowing that veganism itself is privileged because it requires most of us to be on the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If we are educated consumers and know how the world works and have access to news, articles, and studies we should use it to lower our carbon footprint and most importantly reduce cruelty. But how will this translate to the masses who don’t have access to this information and then very little context to apply it to their socio-cultural reality?
And if vegan alternatives and awareness (relatively speaking) were the solution, then wouldn’t most of America be vegan? But they are the top nation when it comes to factory farming. In fact dairy industries are now producing almond and nut mylks because they see the value in catering to this crowd. See the irony there?
Ok, so the rational vegan will argue that it must have a top bottom approach and it will time, but veganism is the future.
If a farmer in a small town by his own understanding of compassion says to his neighbor farmer : 'hey stop over milking your cow, give some to it calf too’ is that not an act of change? Is that not an act of him doing the best he can in his own capacity and reality? If a urbanite reduces his dairy intake up to 50% consciously, doesn’t that create a change in demand that could in turn work for better welfare? I would strongly argue that it could. And that brings me to my next point.
Animal Welfare and Anti-Cruelty Should be Universal
Instead of arguing whether we were meant to eat plant based or not (or should not just because we have the brains to understand cruelty) we should be finding strings to pull together. The ‘carnist’ and the vegan and the vegetarian. While vegans are evangelizing making sure people adhere to a certain set of rules, there might be others who are trying to make the industries itself more accessible to people to ask them about their methods.
We use the word sentient beings, but vegans won’t eat mussels will they? Or shrimp? You can cite environmental issue, but if you look at the compassion part, is it as cruel as eating something factory farmed? Don’t we have a history of eating local when it comes to the types of vegetation, seafood and meat we ate? Look at the Jain philosophy which actually take into the account of insects and rodents - the one thing that vegans dismiss. But before the dairy industry was as unabashedly as cruel as it was, wasn’t the Jain philosophy have it right in terms of balance- only take what you absolutely need with the least harm.
Yes. But globalisation has screwed that up for us. So as long as my almond strawberry amaranth grain cheesecake is plant-based, vegans will give it the thumbs up. Even though I am using almonds, even though I am taking grains away from the local people who used to rely on it ( and indirectly causing them to depend on a new grain for their own sustenance)- and this is neither good or bad, it’s just the truth. It’s just the irony that comes with one set of rules.
If a person makes it their life work to reform factory farming (but eats meat sometimes) or if a person works with the dairy industry to reform its practices our vegan community will simply call them hypocrites.
This is the precise reason veganism won’t really do squat about change at scale, because we are so heavily reliant on getting people to do the things we say are the way. What’s dangerous is that in order to honour this set of vegan rules, we’re making up quick excuses as we get into the messiness of processed foods. Our collective knowledge of what goes into our food and what is killed and used to make them are become increasingly lower.
Lower your consumption, that’s one way of looking at things. But it also reminds me of countries like America telling people to save water. The problem is that the good citizens of America will try to save water, but the system and culture of people using massive washing machines and having access to 24-running water kind of stunt actual systemic change.
Vegans are essentially well meaning. I think I am well meaning, but to forget that we are just a set of rules will keep us from making all of us come together and share the same concerns. We need to contemplate together that hypocrisy and dualism exist in all of us, and at the same time most of us want compassion. Most of us want to do something that makes things better.
I am Vegan Even Though I Wrote 3000 Words on Why it's Inconsistent
I don’t believe that animals and humans have no relation to each other, there is a certain life cycle and symbioses with us and them just as there is in the rest of nature.To dispute it doesn’t happen in nature is to be irrational or in denial.
What I believe is this: humans have taken so much, so much that we’ve upset this balance and now use animals as objects. Veganism is accessible to me, I can afford some of the easy substitutes that make my food appealing in a culture where I am taught that it can’t be delicious without dairy and meat. I also have had no problem with my health (nothing super amazing, nothing detrimental).
It’s my way of protesting the gross consumption we partake in. However, as a vegan I can also see how it can quickly become contradictory, how many of my actions consume so much else from our environment (Which also nurtures animals). I also see that some of the substitutes I use might become increasingly cruel as the demand goes up for it. It’s immensely important any group of people with one approach to creating a better world are in a position to see it for what it is : a tool.
When it comes to the dairy industry in particular, veganism shines as a tool. And I hope everyone reading this will look into the dairy industry to see how horrific it really is.
But there are many tools. The question is not “will you be vegan’. The question should be what tool will you use? I think there are hundreds of ways,tools, and actions. The one group that upholds the compassion card might quite well stunt it because of dogma and a lack of self-awareness of its flaws. The truth is that vegans and non-vegans can have compassion and respect life while also doing things that are contradictory.
I am vegan because it’s the best thing I can do in my circumstances. It’s the most doable way for me to process the access to information I have on the world.