The vegan ethic embodies the most universal of spiritual and ethical aspirations – non-violence, harmlessness, reverence for life, and the cultivation of compassion toward the innocent. For those of us who recognize veganism as being the practical application of these values, it is cause for celebration that we actually have the ability to bring such noble qualities down to earth by simply eliminating from our lives the products and practices that require exploitation.
And still, even in a time when, more than ever, the world needs us to put these basic moral principles into practice, this powerful ethical stand continues to be marginalized by society. The example that is set by the increasing number of individuals who embrace these principles is too often vehemently opposed, trivialized, or simply ignored. But the effects of this paradigm shift in perception are far-reaching, and the benefits of making such a change are rewarding beyond measure.
By doing nothing more than simply living as a vegan – which means to eliminate one’s support for all exploitation of sentient beings – we have the power to greatly lessen our ecological footprint, take our health into our own hands, play a part in eliminating world hunger, and experience the peace of mind that comes from making a powerful personal contribution toward the beginning of peace on earth.
Ironically, it may well be that the survival of our species, and perhaps even life on this planet, is dependent upon our learning the very lessons that vegan living embodies, and that our society seems so reluctant to embrace. By actually living according to the vegan ideal, we can address, all at once, the many, seemingly different issues that are crippling our civilization and threatening our very survival.
From world hunger to climate change, mass extinction to escalating violence, the catastrophic problems we are facing are clear indicators that we are in need of transformation on a global scale. With our society and our world within sight of a major breakdown from resource scarcity and subsequent political conflict, it has become crucial that we face up to the need for a radical shift, beginning with a change of perception inside each one of us.
More and more people are recognizing the prejudice and injustice inherent in enslaving and slaughtering animals, in order to feed our desire for flesh, eggs, milk, and other products sourced from industries of exploitation. It’s no secret anymore that animal concentration camps are the breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases. It’s also becoming known that the consumption of animal products is detrimental to human health, and that animal agriculture, including so-called ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’, is implicated in some of the worst crimes against the planet. As consumers become increasingly aware of how inefficient it is to cycle grain through animals to produce food for the Western World, even the truth about the animal industry’s role in world hunger and food shortages is starting to come into the open.
And yet, it somehow appears that the light of veganism is so bright that the vast majority of people are afraid to even open their eyes to it, including individuals who are deeply involved in, and even passionate about, other social causes. What is it that makes us cling so stubbornly to practices that are clearly unnecessary, not to mention devastatingly cruel?
Our collective appetite for products that come from the bodies of animals has driven us to create systems of farming that are not only completely unsustainable in the long-term, but are also immediately damaging to natural eco-systems, populations of wild animals and the citizens of developing nations.
As the human population continues to grow, and industrialization expands ever further, it brings with it the excesses of animal agriculture, and as a result, we currently run the risk of driving into collapse the essential life-preserving systems of the planet itself. Even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has confirmed that “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”
In addition, our society is desperate for a solution to our many social problems. Our pandemic of violence is becoming increasingly severe, from school and workplace shootings, to sexual assault and domestic abuse, and of course, unrelenting displays of military might.
But is it surprising that we experience such widespread aggression when we remember that we habitually fuel our bodies (and therefore our minds) with products of violence, suffering and death? Not only that, but we pretend that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. We may try to avoid the truth of what animal products really are, by buying them in neatly wrapped packages, but we can’t help but be aware of the horrifying reality in our deeper selves, and the violence that is implicit in our meals and in other aspects of our lives – from clothing to cosmetics – permeates our culture on all levels from personal to global.
All over the world, around the clock, innocent beings spend the duration of their lives imprisoned and enslaved. All the while, in the vast majority of cases, they are brutally tortured and in all cases, they are eventually violently killed. And all over the world, people who are otherwise kind, gentle and caring, continue to ignore – and even participate in – this unspeakable cruelty.
Our indifference toward the suffering of other creatures is an accepted societal norm that calls out to us to acknowledge once and for all that basic human values apply to other animals as well as to our fellow humans: justice, empathy, and respect. By extending these values to include those individuals who have committed no other crime than that of not being born human, we actually have the power to create new standards for ethical behavior, motivated by our collective desire for a better, safer world.
When we advocate for the widespread adoption of vegan values, we speak for the entire population of humanity’s victims – from wild animals who are hunted and exterminated to make way for the ravages of human excess, to domesticated animals who are bred and confined (whether in crates or in pastures), and ultimately killed.
This cycle of exploitation not only burdens our planet with the weight of a population of billions bred into existence solely to serve the desires of humans, it also prohibits us from moving forward into a more peaceful and prosperous future, the inhabitants of which reject violence and bloodshed as a matter of principle.
The pandemic of violence in the world calls out to us to reevaluate our relationship with non-human animals – who are the victims of our most extreme and systematic cruelty – and to recognize that they are no more meant to be our possessions than are people with different-colored skin, women, children, or any other sentient beings. They too, are individuals, who value their lives, feel pain, fear death, and have a right to live free from oppression.
If we truly seek a peaceful world – a world in which people do not live in fear of one another, and a world in which humans are not universally regarded as the most violent species on the planet – then there is simply no way we can sidestep veganism as the key to the future we are seeking.
The world stands at a turning point. We simply cannot go on as if our old ways can continue to sustain us. If we are to have a future, the people who live in that future will not be dependent on products that a re a result of exploitation, suffering and environmental devastation. We will not source our food from animal farms or slaughterhouses, but from fertile gardens, vibrant orchards and veganic farms. People will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just.
The vegan ideal represents nothing less than the next evolutionary step for humankind. This quantum leap may seem far-fetched from the position we are in today, but it is within this very change that we will ultimately find our hope for the world of tomorrow.