“What you’re vegan? Oh I couldn’t do that, that’s far too extreme…”
The above sentence is one that every vegan has probably heard about a hundred times. It usually precedes about ten minutes of ill-informed ranting from the non-vegan about why veganism is extreme, how eating animals is ‘natural’ and how they could never ‘do it’. Looking to not come across as argumentative, which is all too easy when already deemed a freak, the vegan usually at this point disappears in to a metaphorical corner of silence and despair, wishing they’d never said anything. The curious thing is that, at least in my personal experience, people almost always instantly lean towards a position of defensiveness and aggression, regardless of what you say when they learn of your lifestyle. I’m very conscious of not wanting to come across as preachy and yet simply stating you don’t eat animal products is enough to be bombarded with ‘views’ about why that’s ‘wrong’, ‘extreme’ and how vegans apparently always want to push their views upon others. And after ten minutes of still not having said anything more than “I’m vegan”, speechless and saddened, I give up.
I can understand why it might seem foreign or even extreme to those who have never really been confronted with the idea, even if I don’t really like the evaluation. I was after all a meat eater for most of my life. I consumed my share of flesh and I enjoyed it however, I was completely unconscious, utterly unaware of what I was doing and what I was taking part in. Of course I knew that meat comes from animals and if I'm eating it then animals must have been killed but when something is the ‘norm’ in society, the question of whether it is right or wrong is very rarely asked. Then about three years ago, I started to come across documentaries about the milk and meat industry. I saw the horrors of the slaughterhouse but like most people, with an uneasiness I at first pushed it to the back of my mind. At the dinner table we are after all, often wrapped in a safety blanket of naivety. The heavily seasoned sausages we cover in ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and fried onions, couldn’t look further removed from the animal sacrificed to produce them. Then more reading and more documentaries followed and alongside the ethical questions going round in my mind, factors regarding the environment, health and world hunger were all raised and before long, I simply couldn’t ignore the facts anymore.
Maybe I’ll look at the other points in another post but lets focus here on what is for me the most important issue, the matter of morals and ethics. I switched to a plant based diet because I could see no reason whatsoever to justify the killing of another sentient being, just so I could have a snack or a sandwich. Any kind, responsible adult tells children to have a small footprint on their environment, to be compassionate to all the animals and creatures around them. It would not for example, be considered acceptable behaviour should a child stamp on an insect, or show similar acts of unnecessary violence. Indeed we even visit animal sanctuaries and most people would profess to be animal lovers. But we eat and drink so unconsciously, hardly ever even realising that what we are consuming, is in fact the flesh or the bodily fluids of a once living, breathing, feeling being. The irony is most people visiting an animal sanctuary will visit the on-site cafe and eat meat. Animals feel pain and happiness in just the same way we do. They are not void of feelings, they are not robots. They create communities and just like us, they look to find shade from the sun and sleep comfortably and peacefully without stress or strain. People talk of humane slaughter, a peculiar concept of kind killing, as if this makes or would make it acceptable. But there is no humane way to kill animals, just as there is no humane way to kill humans. Killing is fundamentally wrong. We don’t need to kill animals, we don’t need to consume their bodies. These are lies we sell ourselves so that we may continue without confrontation, guilt or judgement in our selfish, egotistical, evil ways.
An estimated 56 billion land animals are slaughtered every year. And the modern, industrial fishing industry is so carelessly indiscriminate it’s practically impossible to know how many fish and other forms of sea life are killed. Some estimates however, put the annual figure in the trillions. For all these beings, it is decided for them that they shall not be free. It is decided for them when they shall die. They have no say in the matter. The 'lucky' ones receive a successful 'stunning' and don't have to experience the last moments of their tortured existence, their execution. As for the others, still fully conscious they experience every tragic second of it. Their throats are slit and as panic fills their minds and they gasp for air, they begin to choke on their gushing blood. Pain, fear and horror engulf them. And then they die. And why? For what? Most of us say we are against cruelty, we are against killing. We say we love animals. Yet when we purchase animal products we are directly supporting the slavery and murder of them. I recently heard a vegan putting the question to a non-vegan, “If you could choose between killing a person, killing an animal or killing nothing, which would you choose?” This sums it up perfectly, as everyone in their right mind would of course answer that they would choose to kill nothing, as indeed the non-vegan in this discussion did. Yet when we choose to consume animal products we are indeed choosing to kill animals. So yes it is extreme to be vegan, yes it is radical but that doesn't make it wrong or bad. The reaction from most people to vegans or a plant based diet in general, simply shows in fact, once again, what an extremely sick society we live in. Labelling someone extreme or radical in this way is usually with the intention of insulting, alienating or ostracising them but extreme simply means to be radically different from the ‘norm’ and if you live by any kind of moral compass, it’s really not hard to be considered extreme amidst the insanity, the hypocrisy and the violence of the world we’ve created. In essence, if you are labelled extreme for choosing to not take part in a cycle of unnecessary pain and death, then it would seem that being called extreme is a compliment.
It is typical to never once reflect on these things. From a young age it is instilled in us that it is wrong to go against the grain, to walk in the opposite direction of the crowd, to question the status quo. This is understandable, it’s hard to swim against the tide and who wants a life of hardship? So naturally we lie to ourselves. Marketing propaganda from rich multi-national companies fills our minds with cartoons of happy, almost comical, singing and dancing farm-yard animals. Interesting that they never show you the cry of a mother cow whose calf, her baby, has been ripped from her, in order to be slaughtered before it starts building up muscle and all just so we can comment on the supposed ‘deliciousness’ of the soft meat. That’s what veal is. A baby. They never show you the pigs in the gas chamber, the hopeless flailing and clambering for freedom. They never show you the castration, the cutting of tails and the beak trimming, all executed without anaesthesia. We deem ourselves a beacon of greatness, yet I don’t see peace and abundance for all, the only achievement by which we could truly deem ourselves great. Instead, we are experts in the currency of death. We have dreamed up the most efficient ways to take the most life and create the most profit from it. On conveyor belts of murder, life goes through the mincer and money comes out. We think we are so sophisticated, so intelligent and civilised. The reality is, we have so very far to come. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day we make decisions. And our decisions have consequences. This means that we have in fact a great deal of power in our hands, despite often feeling something to the contrary. So if you say you love animals, if you wish to stop animal cruelty, if you don’t wish to take part in the torture and death of sentient beings, go vegan.
Written by Declan Galbraith
All rights reserved
If veganism is extreme, then what do we call this?