What's This Vegan Thing All About?

Jennifer Chaky | 09/11/09

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When I was 15, I thought hard about the ways that all animals, including humans, have similar physiology: 2 eyes, leg and arm appendages, veins, skin, blood, bones, even the same organs. This was the first time I decided that to eat an animal or a by-product is just gross. Might as well just take human tissue, grind it, make a patty, and grill it. Same thing.

But then I would get hungry, and the stomach trumps the mind at times like that. And I didn't know what else to eat besides milk and cereal for breakfast, roast beef sandwich for lunch, and chicken for dinner. But then I began thinking about my dog, Tuna. Supposedly, I am more important than her and my needs come first because she is an animal and I am a human. But just because her agenda is to find a patch of sun to lie in and mine is to go to school and get a job and earn money does not mean that my needs are superior to hers. To think that they are would be applying my human values to her, and deciding that just because this lowly animal doesn't value the same things I do then I can decide what I'd like to do with her. And if she is tasty, why then, I could just kill her and eat her.

But this didn't sit right with me, of course. I would not eat my dog. I love my dog. I know her as an individual. But why should my knowing and caring for an individual animal necessitate them being saved from my plate? Maybe they have a right to live their life no matter what relationship I have with them. I don't know other people's dogs, but I do not want them harmed. They offer no value to me, but I still believe in their right to live. Why not any animal- cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat? Are they below dogs? According to whose standards? Does a less smart person have less of a right to life than a smart person? And again, according to whose standards?

So I decided that eating animals and their by-products was gross, and now I had this philosophical argument as back up for when I got really hungry and didn't care. It has taken me many years to change my eating and shopping habits, and to this day, twenty years later, I am still learning. Luckily my journey has not been propelled by philosophical ponderings alone. It turns out that I am much healthier for not eating animal protein, as I have avoided the many hormones, chemicals, and saturated fats that go along with these "foods." And I am a staunch environmentalist, and it turns out that animal agriculture accounts for more environmental degradation than any other industry. By not being a consumer of animal products, I am doing more for the environment than if I gave up my car!

So now I had four reasons to continue to be vegan, and still sometimes it has been hard when everyone around me is eating meat, eggs, and dairy. But hard as it may have been, the reasons to stay the course kept coming like signs in the road that I was indeed on the right track. I have now come to know many individual farm animals whose lives I vowed to not exploit, even prior to knowing what amazing animals they truly are. Each certainly has their own unique personality, just like dogs and cats. I've met cows who've escaped impossible situations moments before they were to be slaughtered. Cows who have scaled 6-foot walls, minutes away from the killing floor where they have seen, smelled, and heard others before them fall. Cows are not physically supposed to be able to scale 6-foot walls. But some have. Some have escaped Halal markets in New York City, and ran for their lives through the streets, not knowing where they were going, but damn sure knowing where they didn't want to be.

I've met a cow who was so traumatized after all her years spent in the dairy industry where she gave birth to baby after baby and never was allowed to keep one of those babies because her milk was meant for humans - as were her babies. Her newborns were dragged away, minutes after birth, before they could suckle, before they could even stand, and instead of being licked clean by their mother's warm tongue, they were hosed off with harsh cold water and forced into a pen or truck for their fate as a future dairy cow or veal. Their mother was left with her natural inclination to nurture and nothing but an unnatural machine to feed. After she was no longer useful to the dairy industry she was sent to slaughter where she decided she had enough. She escaped and was rescued by a sanctuary where she is self-confined to a pen that she is afraid to step out of. Understandably, she does not trust humans, but she allows one person to go near her, a man who is one of her rescuers. She is nervous when anyone else tries to approach her, but she recognizes this man and allows him to get close. After all she has been through, she is able to recognize him as an individual. Yet why don't more people give her the same respect and recognize her individuality?

When I visit these animals at the sanctuaries where they are so blessed to be, I always think of the ones before them in that line at the slaughterhouse who were not able to escape. Or other animals who were so weak and maltreated, they never even made it that far. There is nothing I can do for those animals except to say to them, "It was not for me. Your life was not ended for me. With every bite of food I take, I am not harming you and I never will." That's the only thing that gives me some peace. That is why I am a vegan.

Some say veganism is a western privilege- that because we have the luxury of choice, we can actually choose to not eat an entire category of food. To this I can retort and say, eating meat can also be said to be a western privilege- one that Americans in general are so gluttonously taking advantage of. But I don't see the point in arguing if veganism is a privilege or not. This is my culture, and this is what I know. I can only try and affect change around me, and I only offer my opinions, I never force them. We are a in a country of abundance of resources and choices and of course I am grateful to be able to make the choice of veganism. I am also grateful my family does not own slaves and my mother is not forced to be subservient to my father. I am glad in this country we have battled against racism and sexism. And I am glad there is a large movement to squelch the next big 'ism": Speciesism - where humans take dominance over every living thing. I think western privilege can be an example to the rest of the world, that no, they don't have to live like us, but the goal of society can be to have equal rights for all, and to get to a place where we can think beyond ourselves and recognize the rights of others to live without oppression, torture, and fear- no matter what race, gender - or species.

Now one final note for those who are not fans of groups like Peta and other animal rights organizations. I think many people feel like animal rights activists are trying to shove their beliefs down everyone's throat. Yes, these groups do broadcast their views, and as a result, may offend those who believe differently. But may I offer this perspective: It is only fair. Vegans endure countless messages promoting things that they deplore: Beef commercials; Got milk? billboard ads; sides of trucks plastered with images of poultry; egg breakfast specials posted in restaurant windows...the barrage is endless and everywhere. If animal rights groups had the money and political power that the animal agriculture industry does, then we'd be seeing commercials and ads to combat these messages that are telling the public that animal exploitation is normal- when to so many people, it is not. If the dairy industry is allowed to tell a lie that milk does a body good, then why can't animal rights activists tell the truth- that it is not necessary, or even healthy, for humans to go from their mother's breast milk to another species' breast milk? Now, I'm not saying everyone will agree what the truth is, but at least the public would be presented equally with both sides and could make more well-rounded, informed decisions. And then maybe, instead of vegans being perceived as extreme, maybe the reasons for their choices will be more understood and even accepted.

Jennifer Chaky is a freelance copyeditor and owner of Go Lightly, an eco-store in Montclair, NJ where you can find things like bowls made from vinyl records, and vegan guitar straps. She lives with her vegan daughter, and their adopted family of various critters. They like to visit their friends at Maple Farms Sanctuary , Farm Sanctuary, and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.


14 Comments | Leave a comment




Very good delineation. Not argumentative. I like that your reasoning is valid and conscientious. I, also, would not eat my dog. But (and I ask this seriously) why would seafood not be allowed? I'm sure you know the biblical viewpoint of allowing the eating of fish. Is all cooking bad? Yes, it destroys enzymes, etc, but I don't seem to have suffered from a lifetime of eating cooked foods, though I am careful what I eat.


Elgraf, I am Jennifer, author of this essay. It was not me who responded to your comment, but I am happy to respond now as I am just seeing this discussion for the first time.
In my essay, I could have easily added fish and sealife to the sentence "...I still believe in their right to live. Why not any animal- cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat?" I believe in a fish's right to life and do not think them any different than any living thing. They show their desire to live when they struggle once caught.
I once heard an angler tell a story of how he caught a swordfish and he had to keep clubbing it in order to kill it. He told his story as if it were a great personal triumph that he killed this fish, and what a challenge it was because this fish- in his words - "did not want to die." Indeed, I agree that it did not, and I value compassion over might any day.
As far as the Bible saying it is ok to eat fish... well, I am no expert on the Bible, but I know it is an interpretation of Jesus's teachings. Everyone connects to God in their own way and for me personally, I am guided more by what is in my heart- and what feels true when I sit in silent meditation- than what is in a book. I don't believe in killing and I don't make any exceptions for different species. It doesn't make sense for me to do that. I believe in life for all.

Thank you everybody for your wonderful comments.


Jennifer - thank you so much for a well written and probably "the best" explanation I've read. We've been mostly vegan for almost 20 years and your article brought me to tears it's so well written.

Actually Jesus was a vegetarian. He was a man of peace and taught only peaceful and compassionate ways towards man and those who shared the earth with us. Don't forget that the bible was compiled in the fourth century -(long time after Jesus was here and was controlled ultimately by fallible man)
The bible states no shellfish and only scaled fish can be eaten....but the bible also states to not eat 2-hoofed animals, such as pig or deer......but Christians do.....

I agree with Jennifer, nothing with a face gets eaten in our home...we can heal our world with compassionate living and eating :)

Thanks for a great article.


Without a doubt, reasoning by Jennifer Chakyis is "valid and conscientious." A VERY GOOD SUMMARY.

Case against seafood is only keystrokes away:

"Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics, and Poison by Jane Hightower."

There are problems with "biblical viewpoint of allowing the eating of fish" or "biblical" viewpoints on ANY topic. One can "prove" damned near anything by cherry picking one or another biblical passage. Everyone (at least in USA) is free to automatically recycle whatever "faith" they learned at their father's knee or to select another mutually irreconcilable religion - or to invent a new one - BUT, PLEASE do not use one or another version of the bible (or Koran) as a basis for any logical fact-based discussion. WHEW!


I will use My OWN Religion to validate a Vegan Lifestyle.The first Dynamic of Scientology is SURVIVAL.So therefore,Life is a Sacred Gift not to be taken away.And that goese for all the Creatures that We share the Earth with as well as Ourselves.


If this was a response by you, Jennifer, then I am surprised. It just doesn't ring of the thought pattern of the person who wrote the article. If you are not Jennifer, then you have revealed a little too much of yourself. To liken my serious questioning to selective 'cherry picking' of biblical passages or the random result of what I learned at my random father's knee, and placing God's Word on par with the Koran is an unfortunate error. The response that there are 'problems with the biblical viewpoint' is simply a generalization denoting lack of deeper study. I know that you've done your own in-depth thought and research and decided quite respectably the path you've taken, but the reasons stated in your response to my question are unsatisfactory. With respect to fish the issue of pollution in our day could be well accepted as a valid reason, but this is not a moral ground. With respect to nutrition, this issue could easily be solved with the addition of a few supplements. Your lifestyle choice, though I would grant is admirable and commendable, cannot be extended to others especially based on your answers to my questions. Lastly, if you cannot respond without resorting to 'put-downs', please don't and we'll just end this right here. I didn't mean to offend by my questioning.


"God's Word" is not written in any books. If you want to read God's word, go outside and smell the fresh air or stroke a baby's cheek. God's word is in life, not dead pages.


As a follower of Pantheism and as a practicing Scientologist,I agree compleatly.


Well in regards to "Putdowns",Scientology is a very misunderstood Religion and a lot of People critisize and insult the Religion out of pure Ignorance without even getting the're FACTS right!So I'm posting this very informative Website to show everyone here what the REAL Facts are about Scientology. .And thanks for reading this.


It should be clear as to who is posting what.

With all respect, those citing "God's Word" would be better served by communicating in zillions of religious URLs and web pages more appropriate for posting "faith-based" religious preferences.

I addressed in highly focused very specific words an answer to "what's wrong with fish" question.


Once again, the answer is a few keystrokes away.

Google "JANE HIGHTOWER" and "Diagnosis Mercury"

At beginning of over 2,000,000 hits, view videos.
Start with really nice 60 Minute video from her
Commonwealth Club of California preseentation.



Gery - Global Justice Search


Jennifer, thank you for your extremely well written, well thought out, compassionate thoughts regarding veganism. Much of what you says parallels my journey into veganism which started at the age of 16 and has recently gone the "raw" route two years ago. Your writings are just what I have always thought but was never able to convey in such a manner as you just did, so again, thank you! Namaste!


Wow, this article was a wonderful, concise yet inclusive summary of both the author's personal experience as well as the larger issues that affect us all.


Hi Jennifer: This is elgraf.
It was wonderful to get a response from the actual person that I addressed my question to. I know you had nothing to do with the other responses and fyi's that I received.
As for your answer to my question, I am nearly speechless. Finally an answer from the heart. I understand completely your reasoning (which is coming not just from your brain) and am inclined to reconsider my own position on the
eating of fish. Your point about the connection (albeit by instinct) that even a fish knows connection between life and death and that death is the cessation of life, is very foundational.
I myself had an experience when I was a lad and had gone hunting with my dad. At 12 years old, I was a pretty good shot with the bow, but afterward I was so glad that I missed my shot. I couldn't imagine how I would have felt if I had killed that deer. This was a God experience and a teaching from God. As to fish more particularly, it is also true that some animals do eat other animals and some fish do eat other fish, so it's not as if in God's plan there is absolutely not sanction for eating them. The obvious answer (I believe) is that everyone should do as their conscience guides (as you state)without condemning others. Perhaps this is one of the criteria that God Himself uses to distinguish His followers.
As for anyone else reading this, I'll state that I am a serious researcher in all things and really appreciate when inquiry can be done peaceably and in good order. My stance is at least as valid as anyone else's and should not be condemned at the outset. Though my position is from a religious viewpoint (though I don't like the term 'religious'), I stand by and am entitled to it without presumptions or condemnation. I am not ashamed in Whom I believe.
Thanks again Jennifer for your considerate response.

Larry G

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