After watching Oprah’s Vegan Challenge yesterday there was quite an interesting conversation on my Facebook page after I expressed my frustration with Oprah and the way she portrayed veganism on her show.
I just wanted to share my thoughts and my story on why I choose to be vegan.
I was vegetarian off and on for several years before I went vegan after grad school. I did it overnight, with no ‘withdrawl’ symptoms. One of the biggest influeces in my going vegan was the video “Earthlings”, which you can watch for free here at the bottom of this blog and on other places around the internet.
My biggest problem with Oprah’s show was that she made going vegan seem like a huge ordeal (starting off with the word ‘challenge’, which implies something difficult) and it’s really not.
Almost any meal can be veganized. There are meatless and cruelty free alternatives out there that taste awesome and don’t involve the systematic slaughter of animals. I LOVE soy yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese. For some, it’s an acquired taste but for me the alternatives I’ve tried taste exactly like their dairy product counterparts. Not all alternatives are made the same, and it takes time to find the kind that suits you.
I understand that for a lot of people, going vegetarian and/or vegan can be difficult. Most of us have been conditioned since birth to make meat a daily staple in our lives. When you go to the supermarket and pick up a package of hamburger, it just looks like hamburger, not dead cow. We don’t think of it as the connective tissue of a being that had feelings and nerve endings.
We don’t think of it as dead cow because it’s not packaged, marketed, and advertised that way, even if there is a black silhouette of a cow stamped on the label. We eat meat because of taste, because of tradition, and because of the culture we live in.
Taste is important because we just don’t eat things that don’t taste good to us. Fair enough, but we can train our taste buds to like the things that are good for us. For example, I used to hate raw carrot sticks. Now I can eat them like popcorn. Meat tastes good, and that’s why people eat it. That’s a huge factor. It’s just that for me, my taste buds are not worth the suffering that animal has to go through for me. There are a million other things to eat that taste good that don’t involve hurting animals. As a matter of fact, I eat food that is much more varied than anything I grew up with. I eat foods from different cultures every night of the week, and use spices I wouldn’t have thought about before. I eat Indian, Jewish, Thai, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and good old fashioned American favorites. I get to eat chocolate, cookies, cupcakes, sorbets, biscotti, and none of these foods use animals. I shower and put on make up everyday, and none of those products hurt animals through their testing or ingredients. I do laundry one or twice or more a week and none of the detergents I use hurt animals.
Tradition is important because it often involves how we act and are perceived in our families as opposed to our culture, which is how we act and are perceived by larger society. If you refuse meat at a family dinner, you run the risk of every reaction from patronizing smiles and eyerolls to outright hostility. On the other hand, a lot of people will accommodate you if tell them what your needs and requirements are beforehand without having to get into a debate or screaming match. Some will, some won’t. Some will just view it as a phase, especially if you’re young. Dealing with family is never easy.
The culture we live in has very rigid ideas about what is male and what is female. Our society ridicules men for not being ‘manly’ enough if they don’t eat meat. Men are seen as weak or effeminate if they don’t give in to their macho instincts to hunt and kill.
Women are forever and endlessly compared to pieces of meat: breast, thigh, choice cuts, hot, juicy, yum. They are pieces of ass, and defined solely by their body parts, much like animals are.
I live in one of the isolated communities in the United States. It can be difficult to get some of the vegan goodies I relied on when I lived in Lost Vegas. I miss my vegan market. But it’s not impossible to get vegan supplies, even up here in the mountains.
I also live in a very avid hunting culture. In the community I live in, it’s practically a crime NOT to own a gun. There is also a wildlife culture up here, where we have several herds of mule deer, antelope, and elk. There are coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, mountain sheep and goats, foxes and wild horses. Many people I know proudly display these animals as “trophies” in their homes. I didn’t grow up with this culture, but I suspect even if I had, my instinctual compassion for animals would override any desire to go out into the wild and “harvest” them. It’s been a real culture shock for me, especially since I live with a carnivore.
I am not a perfect person, by any stretch of the imagination. I am not morally pure, but yes, I feel better about myself that I don’t participate in the mass suffering of sentient beings. This is the choice that works for me. It’s the choice that allows me to sleep at night without nightmares about slaughterhouses.
What I don’t get is how people who claim to love animals, who dote on their own pets, don’t make the connections between companion animals and farm animals. Anyone who loves their own pet can tell that animals have emotions, can tell the difference between comfort and pain, and are sympathetic to the moods of people and other animals around them. When our cat Boo Boo was sick, and isolating himself in the bathroom, acting weak, taking in an excess of water and not grooming himself (and he is a little gentleman when it comes to grooming) our dog Maya would lay next to him and keep him company. (Now that he is on fluids, he is doing very well!) I can see how Boo Boo being sick affected my dog. She knew something was wrong with the way the cat was acting, and she did what she could do—she kept him company.
Farm animals processed and slaughtered for food act in much the same way. They tremble, they show fear, and they have every interest in not suffering, and not dying. They comfort each other the best they can.
I do what I can to relieve the suffering of animals in the world. It doesn’t automatically cancel out my caring about the suffering of people, like some people would say it does. Once you get into the research, all of the suffering in the world is connected from animals, to non-human animals (especially women and children), and the environment. I don’t push things on people. I make vegan food and share with everyone. Some people get offended right away when I offer vegan food, without even tasting it, and don’t give it a chance. But that’s another blog post for another day. I do tell people it’s vegan because I wouldn’t want someone to sneak in some animal product in my food without telling me.
It’s the best choice for me in my life. We are all in this together, and I just hope to remind people of that.