I recently received a copy of Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World by Bob Torres and Jenna Torres. I read the book in a couple of days, and I have to say, as much as I love fellow vegans, I am sincerely disappointed.
Vegan Freak is a sort of vegan manifesto in which the authors, a married couple and the executive editors of Tofu Hound Press, the company that published the book, attempt to instill vigor and commitment into already-vegans and inspire non-vegans to take on the lifestyle. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Sometimes the only way for vegans to get respect is to be able to eloquently state their reasons for being vegan and to be consistent in their diet and lifestyle. Inspiring others to be vegan is OK, so long as it doesn’t go to far.
I don’t want to write a blog entry criticizing Vegan Freak because the authors spend so much time criticizing anyone who is not vegan and using a variety of other negative tones such as cursing profusely and making bad sexual jokes. Instead, I’d like to argue for a different vegan manifesto, one that reflects the compassionate lifestyle and peaceful mindset that is inherent to veganism in the first place. Here are a few of my thoughts on veganism.
Any reasons for being vegan are great, so long as they are motivated by a desire to create some sort of positive change. Although animal rights is one great reason for going vegan, there are many other reasons people decide to go vegan. As long as your reasons for going vegan are not completely vain or ill founded–i.e. you think it will make you look like an emaciated movie star, you think it’s the new fad, or you want to impress someone else–your reasoning is probably logical. Among these motivations might be for the ethical treatment of animals, to support a more sustainable environment, for your personal health, or to simply adopt a more compassionate outlook on life by changing your relationship to food and other consumables.
Environmental vegans are just as valuable as ethical vegans. We certainly need vegans to advocate for animal rights. If you aren’t aware of how unethical and cruel our meat and dairy industries are, just watch or read Food, Inc, and you just might end up being vegan. But veganism is also about supporting a more sustainable environment. Not only does the meat and dairy industry abuse and kill animals, it also uses an unbelievable amount of energy in the process. Although the process of harvesting and transporting produce, grains, and other plants to grocery stores and farmer’s markets requires energy, the energy required is significantly less and can produce many more pounds of food per area of land than producing animal products. And because vegans are often among the groups of people interested in where their food comes from, they are more likely to support sustainable agricultural practices and support local and organic foods.
Veganism is about you. I’ll risk using the cliché, “you are what you eat,” because I believe that veganism embodies this phrase perhaps more than any other diet. By choosing to be vegan, you are bringing a heightened awareness to the type of food you put in your body, where that food comes from, and how that food makes you feel when you eat it. Being vegan might also make you consider how the clothes you wear make you feel, and you might stop wearing leather, wool, and silk. It’s OK to be proud of yourself for making these personal choices, but acting with modesty and humility around non-vegans is always the best way to go.
The whole world isn’t going to stop eating meat. As a vegan, I think it’s great that veganism is becoming more widely known. There are more online and print resources than ever for vegans, vegan conferences, vegan clothing brands, and vegan restaurants. That being said, vegans are a minority–not freaks–and cannot expect our entire society to adopt a vegan lifestyle when meat and dairy are central components of most Americans’ diets. While some are able to make the transition to vegan lifestyle “cold turkey,” most people in our country wouldn’t even begin to consider this process. What we can do is support the people who are interested in learning more about vegan lifestyle and possibly becoming vegan without alienating ourselves by projecting our vegan philosophies on others who may not be interested at all.
Veganism is sometimes about compromise. It might make me a speciest to say this, but people are much more important to me than animals. So if on my birthday, someone makes or buys me a non-vegan cake, I’m going to have a slice to avoid offending that person or causing hurt feelings. There have been so many instances in my vegan experience thus far where someone has made a special effort–at a restaurant, family dinner, or gathering with friends–to make sure I was accommodated. As vegans, we need to reciprocate. There are more appropriate time to talk about our lifestyle choices.
Vegetarians are OK. Yes, the dairy industry can be just as cruel and unethical as the meat industry, but vegetarians and vegans have many common values, and as vegans, we must respect that in order to be respected.
Finally, and most importantly, veganism is about respect, for animals, the earth, and other people. We can’t expect to receive respect from non-vegans and grow any sort of vegan movement if we don’t treat others with respect. We need to recognize that animal products have deep roots in our society and we can’t expect everyone to agree with us. Even if you never compromise your vegan values, this still means not projecting your values on non-vegans, not making judgments about meat eaters, and treating everyone with the same respect you would always like to have as a vegan.
Vegan Freak lacks the compassion, humility, peacefulness that should come with a vegan lifestyle. To give credit to the book, the authors offer a lot of useful tips about vegan cooking, what types of restaurants are the most vegan-friendly, and traveling vegan. If you’re thinking about going vegan, the best thing you can do is talk to a vegan you know and check out the plethora of online and print resources available. If you’re vegan, don’t be a freak about it.
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