When you think of vegans, you probably think of a group of preachy and malnourished hippies that eat little more than lettuce, have an inflated sense of their own moral superiority and care about animals more than people.
These stereotypes are all too familiar. However, they are so far removed from the diversity of the vegan community today that they’ve become hilariously transparent for what they are: part of a defence mechanism for carnism. According to the laws of straw-manning or ad hominem, if you discredit the messenger, you discredit their message – something easier than confronting the disparity between your consumer choices and ethics.
As a vegan activist – a phrase that scares a lot of people, but stay with me – I’ve come across every attempt at a justification you could imagine. From quotes plucked from Holy Books to the idea that plants feel pain (which even if was the case, more plants are consumed in our current system than will be in a vegan world). Though one I encounter at nearly every outreach is the idea that veganism is an individual choice.
Within this reply is the subtle implication that plant foods and animal products are ethically equivalent without really offering an argument against a plant-based lifestyle. Commonly, this is a final barrier towards making the connection between what’s on their plates and the slaughterhouse footage on the screens.
If you think veganism is an individual or personal choice, you are forgetting about someone. Where is the animal’s choice? Surely, it’s disgustingly anthropomorphic of us to assume that just because they’re non-human animals, they shouldn’t be offered such liberty. In the words of Jeremy Bentham, “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?” Conversely, what about the humanity of the slaughterhouse workers who are often forced into there at a lack alternatives? The emotional toll of the job often leads to a plethora of mental and emotional issues.
I don’t perceive it to be mine or anyone’s place to judge another for truly individual matters – ‘you do you’, as the axim goes. Only when you’re imposing your views, when they have environmentally detrimental ramifications and fund the slaughter of sentient beings, is it no longer a personal choice: it is then the responsibility of the collective to educate and vote with their money. We live in a supply and demand mode of consumerism, money and profit is chased above all else. If we consume such products, corporations will cater. Alternatively, you can use your purse to demand plant-based alternatives, they have no choice but to listen.
While the effectively warped system of capitalism we operate under allows corporations to have a lack of social accountability, this is no excuse for us, as consumers, to not collectively attempt to alleviate some of the suffering we’re currently funding.
You likely agree that everyone has some form of collective responsibility to wider society (if you support any form of taxation, you’re on this page). Collective society, with the knowledge we now have, has a responsibility to conserve our planet for posterity. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction on our planet. Livestock production is the leading causes of rainforest destruction. On average, each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.
It’s time to become accountable for our consumer choices when we live in a society that has readily available and growingly affordable alternatives.
‘Cowspiracy’ (Netflix) and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (YouTube) focus on the environmental and ethical implications of animal agriculture – I would recommend them to anyone. Additionally, if you’re a vegan already, get in contact with your local animal rights or Anonymous for the Voiceless chapter.
How silent would you want us to be if you were them?
Written by Meg Day