23 Nov 2014

Should Vegans Keep Pets?

I've debated with non-vegans many times in recent years, and one of the stand-out comments to me is: If you're vegan and you have pets, you're a hypocrite. This argument is particularly popular in debates about the ethicality of zoos and similar institutions in which wild animals are kept captive (i.e. Seaworld). Apparently, according to the people who use this argument, keeping domesticated animals as pets (or companion animals, as some call them) is directly comparable to keeping wild animals in zoos - a practice opposed by many vegans.

"There's no better way to show compassion to someone than to offer them your unconditional love and care."

I've had companion animals in my life since I was an infant, and I have always considered them part of the family. I care for, love and cherish my pets as I would a child. I'm sure many other vegans will agree with this sentiment. Companion animals can bring joy and happiness to any family - but should vegans exclude themselves from this kind of relationship? Personally, I don't think they should. To put it succinctly - in our current society, there is nothing non-vegan about keeping domesticated companion animals.

Keeping wild animals captive in zoos is not comparable to keeping domestic animals at home. The reason for this is fairly obvious - domestic animals and wild animals are vastly different. The domestication of animals such as cats and dogs is a sad reality, but an unavoidable one. These previously wild and independent animals are, as a result of human interjection, now largely unable to care for themselves. Unlike wild animals such as lions and deer, almost all domestic animals remain in a consistently juvenile state. Domestic animals are almost completely reliant on their humans for food, water, shelter and medical care. Zoo animals, on the other hand, have not been domesticated. They are not designed to live under human care as domestic animals are. That's why the two situations are not comparable.

"Keeping wild animals captive in zoos is not comparable to keeping domestic animals at home. The reason for this is fairly obvious - domestic animals and wild animals are vastly different."

When left to fend for themselves, domestic animals typically have very limited lifespans. Homeless animals face starvation from food shortage, exhaustion, disease, severe weather conditions and abuse from passers-by. If not picked up and taken to a shelter by animal control (where the animal will likely be killed due to overcrowding), strays rarely live for more than five years. Under human care, they can live three times as long. Survival in the wild (or in suburban/city streets where most abandoned animals end up) is especially difficult for animals that once lived with humans.
Vegans don't buy animals from breeders or pet stores, they adopt them. To adopt an animal, particularly from a kill shelter, is to save a precious life. This is why keeping pets in your home cannot be considered abuse or exploitation. Adopting an abandoned animal into your home is one of the strongest ways to show true love and endearment. Purchasing animals from pet stores or breeders, on the other hand, is strongly discouraged within the vegan community. Many pet stores purchase their 'stock' from farms where animals are over-bred and treated poorly. Similarly, breeding is considered unethical because of the large number of homeless animals awaiting adoption. As they say: don't breed or buy while shelter animals die.

Pets and their humans can have amazing bonds
Most vegans consider their pets to be part of the family and  care for them as they would care for their own children. We do not exploit our companion animals, nor do we restrict them from living free and enjoyable lives. To adopt an animal is to give them a forever home where they will experience true warmth and love rather than the cold, concrete floors of suburban streets or animal shelters.

"Keeping pets in the home cannot be considered abuse or exploitation. Adopting an abandoned animal into your home is one of the strongest ways to show true love and endearment."

If you're a vegan with companion animals and somebody tries to guilt-trip you for your compassionate choice, remember these points. To reiterate - there is nothing non-vegan about providing a loving home for a helpless and dependent animal. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Veganism is all about showing compassion towards all life, and there's no better way to show compassion to someone than to offer them a lifetime of unconditional love and care.

19 Nov 2014

"Lions Eat Meat, So Humans Should Eat Meat!"

If you don't have time to read this entire post, you may scroll to the bottom to read a short summary of the main ideas.

If you're a vegan on social media, it's likely you've heard one of the most common arguments against veganism - Lions eat meat, so humans should eat meat. There is so much wrong with this statement that it's difficult to know where to begin. First off, however, we can at least firmly establish that humans are in fact not lions, nor are we closely related to them. This fact is set in stone.

"We can firmly establish that humans are in fact not lions, nor are we closely related to them."

To build on this idea that humans are not lions, we can discuss our dietary differences. The modern human is considered omnivorous. By definition, an omnivorous animal is able to digest both animal and plant matter. Humans, as omnivorous animals, have a choice in whether or not to eat meat. We can survive with or without it - but we can't survive without eating plants (at least nobody has as of yet). Lions, on the other hand, don't have a choice - they're obligate carnivores, meaning that they subsist solely on animal matter.

Another problem with this argument also relates to the matter of choice. The majority of humans living in developed societies have an abundance of options available to them in terms of food. All we need to do is walk or drive to the local shopping center and we're faced with thousands of choices. Lions, on the other hand, tend to live in desolate environments where food sources are scarce. They genuinely have no choice but to eat animals - if they didn't, they would die. The majority of humans, however, have the (generally much cheaper, healthier and easier) choice to eat only plant matter. This idea can be summed up with one excellent quote: If you could live happily and healthily without harming others, why wouldn't you?

This is a wonderful quote because it highlights this concept of choice in the simplest way possible. There is no real way to argue against this quote - nobody can say that it's impossible to be healthy and happy as a vegan. There are millions of healthy and happy vegans existing as living proof of this concept. Humans can easily obtain all nutrients needed to keep our bodies running through the sole consumption of plant matter. Lions, however, don't have this option.

"If you could live happily and healthily without harming others, why wouldn't you?"

To further elaborate on the stark difference between humans and lions, I'll bring up a few common lion behaviours that would be completely unacceptable for any human to even think about doing. Would it, for example, be morally acceptable for a human to carry their young by the neck? With their teeth? No, of course not... but lions do it all the time. Would a lion licking its private parts be considered weird, creepy and downright inappropriate? No, of course not - but, if a human were to do the same thing in public, the reaction would obviously be quite different! Evidently, lions and humans have acutely different moral standards. So, just because it's morally acceptable for a lion to eat meat doesn't mean the same for humans.

So, we can easily conclude that this all comes down to the concept of choice. Most humans have access to a wide variety of healthy food that doesn't result from the death of an animal. Lions do not. As omnivores, we can subsist entirely on plant-based diets without having to worry about missing out on any essential vitamins or minerals. Our health won't be compromised. Given the choice between contributing to animal harm and not contributing to animal harm (while remaining healthy either way), I'll pick the latter every time. Veganism is the best way to avoid harming animals and the environment. It's a simple, easy choice available to the majority of humans on this planet. Lions, unlike humans, simply can't be vegan - so the comparison between us isn't valid. Overall, humans and lions are so biologically different that it's silly to try and connect the two species, especially in terms of dietary requirements and lifestyle choices.

  • Humans are not lions - would you believe it?!
  • Lions are obligate carnivores, humans are omnivores
  • Humans have a choice in what they eat, lions don't
  • Humans can live happily and healthily without meat, lions can't
  • Lions simply can't be vegan, but humans can
  • Lions do many things that would be morally unacceptable for humans to do
  • There's really no sense in comparing the two species - we're just too different

4 Nov 2014

One Vegan Can Change the World - Tips for Making a Difference

Some time during the 1940s, the word vegan was coined by one man. One man - Donald Watson. To anyone who believes that one person can't make a difference, let that sink in. Donald Watson gave a name and a voice to a movement that was previously unheard of, and that name is still in use over 70 years later. His new term gave meaning and substance to the idea that animals are thinking, feeling, sentient beings rather than mere commodities. Without Donald's influence, the vegan movement wouldn't be where it is today.

If you're one of many people who believe that one person can't change the world - please reconsider. In fact - scratch that - you must reconsider. One person can in fact make a momentous difference, especially thanks to the rise of modern technology and global communication. Through the use of the internet - which is by far the greatest invention in modern times - one person can reach thousands. Decades ago, such a thing would have been unimaginable - but not now.

"One person can in fact make a momentous difference, especially thanks to the rise of modern technology and global communication."

I've heard it time and time again - non-vegans telling me to give it up, because nothing's going to change. 'The whole world isn't going to go vegan overnight... so why bother?' is a common question. I honestly struggle to understand the reasoning behind this particular sentiment. When we think about previous triumphs for liberation throughout history - i.e. the abolition of black/white segregation - who do we think of? Large groups of people or individuals? Obviously, the answer is the latter. Specifically, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks come to mind. These people were mere individuals, and yet they achieved great things... world-changing things. Perhaps, in the current age of the internet, where we are able to reach massive audiences without falling victim to regulation or censorship, these two influential people would have reached even greater heights.

This is why I find it quite silly when non-vegans tell us to 'get off our arses, get outside and actually do something productive.' They don't realise that the internet is our greatest blessing and asset, and using it properly can do more for the animals than any 'physical' work ever will. Through the internet, we can spread uncensored and unregulated information out to the masses. Decades ago, this simply wouldn't have been possible. Commercial forms of media (film, television and radio) very rarely make any attempt to highlight or acknowledge animal cruelty. Perhaps they're scared of igniting too much controversy, or perhaps they just don't care. Either way, it doesn't matter, because we now have a much more reliable form of mainstream media to utilise, and we should all be very thankful for it.

"Through the internet, we can spread uncensored and unregulated information out to the masses. Decades ago, this simply wouldn't have been possible."

Through Twitter, Facebook and my blog, I am able to spread the vegan message to thousands of people each week - and this number will only grow larger. Many others have done the same. In recent years, the vegan movement has grown by the thousands. Vegan restaurants, grocery stores, festivals and cafes are popping up all over the world. For that, we can thank all of the individuals who pour their hearts and souls into utilising social media (and other forms of outreach) to spread the word about what really goes on in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Without these individuals, the vegan movement would never have reached the level it's at today.

Michael Jackson said it best - If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Truer words have never been spoken. If we wish to make significant changes to society, we must begin by focusing on, analysing and altering our own actions. A message that starts with one person can eventually reach billions. Even if our message only reaches one or two other people - that still means we've made a difference. Every change, every effort - no matter how big or small - is always worth it. Always.

Ways you can make a real difference for the animals
  • Create a social media business page or blog to spread the word about veganism
  • Cook vegan foods for your friends
  • Share information about veganism on your personal Facebook or Twitter page
  • Join vegan/vegetarian forums and provide tips and help for those transitioning into our lifestyle
  • Talk about veganism with your friends
  • Join Vegan Outreach, a not-for-profit volunteer-fuelled organisation that works to end cruelty to animals
  • Create a club for vegans and vegetarians in your local area
  • Wear clothing displaying messages about veganism when out in public
  • Sign online petitions
  • Keep on top of protests in your area and join in whenever possible
  • Boycott companies that promote animal cruelty
  • Praise and show your support for companies that release vegan options (while continuing to boycott their non-vegan options), prompting them to introduce more vegan varieties  
  • Make sure everyone around you knows just how fantastic veganism is!

1 Nov 2014

What to Do If You Accidentally "Break Vegan"

For those who aren't aware, 'breaking vegan' involves a vegan eating non-vegan food on an isolated occasion (i.e. not regularly, doing so would obviously renounce their 'vegan' title). I've known non-vegans who think this is something vegans do regularly. They think vegan food is so terribly boring that we absolutely must sneak in a piece of meat every once in a while. We know, of course, this is not true. However, every once in a while, a vegan may accidentally eat something that's not vegan. And that's okay.

I've had this issue before - several times, actually. When I was first transitioning into veganism, I wasn't fully aware of some of the more 'obscure' non-vegan ingredients (i.e. carmine). Because of this, some of the foods I ate that I thought were vegan turned out not to be. Sometimes, pure ignorance caused me to accidentally eat non-vegan food. For example, I used to order 'Italian Herbs & Cheese' bread from Subway when I was vegetarian. Once I became vegan, I obviously needed to switch to something different. Honey Oat bread was my first choice - it sounded interesting and more flavoursome than the other breads. It wasn't until months later that I realised 'Honey Oat' meant that the bread actually contained honey. For some reason, I hadn't made the connection at all. How silly of me, right?

"Every once in a while, a vegan may accidentally eat something that's not vegan. And that's okay."

That was the first occasion, but it certainly wasn't the last. I once ate a bowl of spicy noodles after skimming over the ingredients thinking they were fine - but after checking for a second time (after eating the noodles) I realised they contained a very small amount of shrimp. An unnecessary amount... I have no idea why it was even in there. I doubt it would have made a difference to the taste. Anyway, I felt very guilty again for the entire night and had trouble sleeping.

There have been several other instances. I've eaten cookies containing whey powder before learning that whey is a milk derivative. I've consumed drinks containing carmine, not knowing about the source of this ugly ingredient. All of these incidences resulted in guilt - but the guilt was unfounded. I understand why I was upset, but I shouldn't have worried so much. I know better now. Eventually, after some deliberation, I was able to come to terms with my mistakes. I didn't worry about my Honey Oat, spicy noodle, carmine and cookie mishaps any longer.

I'm sure many others have made similar mistakes. This is totally understandable - at first, it can be daunting to prowl through food labels searching for non-vegan ingredients, only to be bombarded with numbers, codes and unusual names. A good solution to this is to cook from scratch more often (then you know exactly what you're eating) but this isn't always possible. A quick Google search should help you find all the information you need, however, so you can easily brush up on all of the non-vegan ingredients to watch out for.

"When we accidentally consume an ingredient that isn't vegan, and later find out the truth, we learn never to consume that ingredient again. We shouldn't feel guilty - we should learn from the experience and move on."

How did I finally manage to accept my errors? I simply acknowledged that veganism isn't about being perfect. We're human, and we all make mistakes sometimes. Some non-vegans follow the ideology that if you can't do something perfectly, don't do it at all (i.e. "the whole world won't go vegan so don't bother with it at all"). This, of course, isn't a useful sentiment. Humans can never be perfect - but this is a positive trait. It allows us to constantly strive to be better and stronger. So, if you're vegan and you accidentally consume meat, dairy or egg, please try not to feel guilty.

When we make mistakes, we learn from them. This allows us to grow into better, more educated people. The more we fail, the more we will learn, and the more we learn, the greater impact we will have. When we accidentally consume an ingredient that isn't vegan, and later find out the truth, we learn never to consume that ingredient again. We shouldn't feel guilty - we should learn from the experience and move on.

Do the best you can - if you make a few mistakes, that doesn't mean you have to renounce your veganism! We've all made mistakes before. Every single one of us. We simply have to try our very best - that's what really matters in the end.