Question: Some people say it doesn’t matter why people become vegan just as long as they do. Others, however, say that using arguments that ignore the injustice of nonveganism, such as self-oriented health or environmental concerns, is unethical and deceptive, similar to asking people not to commit murders because they may injure themselves in the process, or arguing against killing innocent victims in gas chambers because it pollutes the environment. What do you think about this?
I believe the motivation that is most lasting is the ethical justice-oriented motivation that is rooted in seeing nonhuman animals as beings, not as inferior things or property. Another way to say this is that it is motivation based on compassion and respect for others.
For me personally, this was the reason I originally went vegetarian back in 1975 – because of learning about and understanding the suffering to animals required for meat, and 5 years later, in 1980, for cows and hens for dairy products and eggs.
However, I’ve met many people who were drawn initially to vegetarianism for health (or environmental) reasons, and then after getting off of eating meat, were able to open for the first time to the ethical motivation, because they were no longer eating animals. So it seems very difficult for many people to make the ethical connection while they’re doing (by paying for) the actually killing.
In addition, though, I think it’s important that we realize the importance of “upgrading” our motivation from personal health to compassion for others.
Virtually all the people I’ve talked with who’ve told me that they “were” vegans but aren’t any more say they were vegan for health reasons. Many raw foodists, for example, are vegan because they’re eating raw foods, but they’re doing it for health reasons primarily, or for more energy, purity, longevity, etc., and when that doesn’t work or the cravings set in, they don’t typically just switch to include more cooked plant-based foods and stay vegan. Instead, they almost always, it seems to me, start eating animal foods of some kind again, because they were never in it for reasons of compassion, so why not?
I believe that veganism, in contrast to diets and most raw or specialist food regimens, requires no will power. It’s simply based in understanding. It may take will power in the very beginning when things are all new, but with understanding, there is no need for will power at all.
Animals are not food – there is no desire to eat them. Even non-vegetarians understand this clearly. For example, an American doesn’t need any will power to keep from eating dog meat – dogs are not seen as food in this culture.
But when I was in Korea I saw that many men there felt they needed to eat dog to be healthy, and so, since they did eat it regularly and it was a part of their culture to do so, it took quite a bit of will power for them not to eat it.
We must never underestimate the power of cultural programming. In determining the contexts of our behaviors, aspirations, fears, and wounds, cultural programming is everything! The only reason people are eating animal flesh and cow mammary secretions is the massive indoctrination we all receive at the hands of every institution in our culture.
It’s also important to recognize, I think, that most of the folks who move from eating a typical diet to a vegan one do so in two basic stages – first, they move to vegetarianism, which seems actually doable to them, and it’s typically quite a public event.
Then, secondly, from vegetarianism, they move to veganism. This is typically a quieter, more private transition. Veganism is almost inconceivable to the typical omnivore, but vegetarianism usually lies within the realm of possibility. As activists and educators, it’s helpful to be aware of this so we can plant seeds effectively. People need strong reasons to question something as primary and personal as food choices, and our challenge and opportunity is to present these reasons effectively.
I find it important to remember the two cardinal teachings – first, that the best way to help others to make positive changes is to make positive changes in ourselves. Though we can’t typically force others to change, we can plant seeds of change in others, and the more we are living the truth that we are espousing, the more skilfully and deeply we’ll be able to plant these seeds. And secondly, not to be attached to the fruits of our actions. Just do our best, and let go of the results. We never know! We are part of something far greater than we can imagine.
The more we can upgrade our motivation, and purify our own consciousness of anger and judgment, the more effective and fulfilled we will be as agents of cultural awakening. Remembering the beauty of the animals and people harmed by our culture’s routine violence, we can appeal to the highest in others and help bring out the best in them. This is the all-inclusive path of loving-kindness that is the heart of the vegan transformation that is developing every day.
I’ve recently put together a couple of online educational programs, the World Peace Diet Mastery Program, and the WPD Facilitator Training, that go into all this more thoroughly.
With practice, we can help more and more pre-vegans become vegans!