Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, “is a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. By living as vegans, we are refusing to participate in violence towards our fellow sentient beings; we are opting for a fairer, more just, and more sustainable way of life.
Some people might assume that veganism is merely a diet or a personal consumer choice. However, when we look at the definition of veganism (and the way that most vegans live their lives), we can see that this is not true. Since veganism arises out of an ethic of non-exploitation, our decision to live as vegans has the power to influence society and make a real difference in the world. This is the case even if we’re not engaged in activities that we would typically describe as activism.
When we become vegan, we naturally spread the vegan ethic in our communities. For example, for many vegans, it is common for veganism to come up in our everyday conversations with the people in our lives. People may ask us why we’re vegan or voice their concerns about the healthfulness or practicality of the vegan lifestyle. In other cases, we might bring up the topic ourselves. We do not need to have an “activist” mindset in order to have conversations about veganism and influence others; we can simply speak from the heart, as one ordinary person speaking to another ordinary person about why we care about animal rights.
At conferences, family dinners, parties, and other events, vegan options will often be included if it is known that a vegan will be in attendance (especially if we ask for vegan food in advance or bring it ourselves!), and this reminds non-vegans that vegan food is normal, healthy, and satisfying. When we, as vegans, prepare food for others, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that adhering to a vegan diet can be easy and fun.
Some people may not be interested in hearing what an unfamiliar political activist or protestor has to say. However, they are most likely very interested in what their friends, family members, and colleagues are doing. For non-vegans who did not previously know many (or any) vegans, when a friend, family member, or colleague goes vegan, they learn that veganism is not strange or controversial—it is simply a matter of showing respect towards other animals. By being vegan and interacting with other people in a kind, nonviolent way, we are helping to normalize veganism and vegan living, leaving others more open-minded to the possibility of becoming vegan themselves.
It’s true that purchasing vegan products is a consumer activity, but this does not mean that veganism is “consumeristic”. Whether we are vegan or not, the majority of us have no choice but to buy products from the store. When we purchase only vegan products, we are refusing to pay to have animals exploited, abused, and killed. If enough of us collectively decide to go vegan, companies will shift away from the old, unpopular (animal) products and start supplying more of those products that the consumers demand (i.e. vegan products). For those who wish to grow their own food and reduce their reliance on large-scale agricultural systems, veganic (vegan + organic) farming offers a sensible alternative to conventional practices.
Many people say they love animals. However, if a person is still eating and using animals and animal products , then they are still treating those animals as “things”. Veganism is the first step towards forging an entirely new way of relating to other animals—one that recognizes the basic rights of our fellow sentient beings not to be used as objects.
I believe that we can spread the vegan ethic by being a good example for others, educating the public in person and via professional and social media, and creating new spaces in which veganism is the norm. Through initiatives such as VegFests, vegan events and conferences, vegan radio programs, vegan potlucks, vegan sanctuaries, vegan businesses, and vegan cafes, and even during small moments in our everyday lives, we are building a new sense of identity, new practices, new social norms, and a new culture. Let us learn, and show others, what a vegan world could look like, and let’s invite others to join us.