Going plant-based was just the beginning. I was yet to realize the implications of my decision. A plant-based diet brought about the first of many paradigm shifts I was going to experience. After switching to a plant-based diet, embracing veganism was the next logical step. I was of course familiar with the word ‘vegan’, however, I didn’t fully understand what it truly meant. I listened to the scholars who had dedicated their lives to the animals. I read their opinion pieces and watched documentaries like Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Dominion, Forks over Knives, etc. I highly recommend watching this brilliant speech delivered by prof. Gary L. Francione and this short film 73 Cows if you are short on time. According to The Vegan Society, the definition of Veganism goes like this; “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment.”
Okay, that wasn’t so difficult, all I had to do was identify which products, apart from non-vegan food, I was using that were tested on animals or contained animal products. My jacket, shoes, and belt were all made from leather. I had some woolen clothes. The cosmetics I had were tested on animals and contained animal products. So far so good. I could replace them easily. Jinx!
Here comes the discovery that blew my mind. Smartphones, laptops, and LCD tv sets aren’t all vegan. Most medicines, supplements, vaccines are also not vegan because they rely highly on animal testing. Furniture, photo prints, most pharmaceutical drugs, glue, batteries, most alcoholic beverages are also not vegan. I realized that we exploit animals on an unimaginably massive scale. So what was I to do? Leave my job and go live in a jungle? It’s simply not practical to live without technology in today’s world. That’s where the “as far as is possible and practicable” part of Veganism comes in. No one can be one hundred percent vegan, at least as of now. Is it worth it if I can’t do it perfectly?
I wondered. We can't get perfect scores in school, should we reject schools? When there are natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, landslides, etc, unfortunately, we can’t save everyone every time. So should we not save anyone at all? Perfection is a cosmic rarity. Almost all of the things that we do are far from perfect, and yet they are worth doing.
This was the second paradigm shift in my vegan journey. It also helped me deal with the perfectionist inside me, thanks to being ADHD, sometimes I expect perfection in most things I do or I don’t do it at all. Veganism helped me make peace with the fact that none of the things I do will be perfect or enough, but I can still do it. One day after switching to a plant-based diet, I was buying vegetables and realized I wouldn’t have to eat the same two dishes every goddamn day.
While returning from the market I passed a local chicken slaughter shop. The same chicken slaughter shop that I purchased chicken from the other day. It was the younger brother today, who must not be older than fifteen years old, hacking away at a not so lifeless decapitated and skinned body of a hen. I felt disgusted for ignoring it deliberately every time I bought ‘fresh chicken’. I noticed the buyers observed the entire process passively, without a hint of any emotions. I felt anger rising inside me. I used to look away most of the time. Why was that any better? I wouldn’t ever kill an animal myself. I wouldn’t ever milk an animal, I would have opted for oat milk at the mere thought of ‘milking someone’. And who was I to judge someone who didn’t have the access to the same information I had, who didn’t get the opportunities that I got? I didn’t need to work at a local slaughter shop when I was fifteen. What would I have done if I were in his place?
This was the third and probably the most important realization I had. The “as far as is possible and practicable” part of veganism applies here too. For that fifteen-year-old, it wasn’t reasonable to expect to be a vegan without access to the information or resources that I had. This is true for all those individuals who for whatever reasons aren’t vegans or will not be able to shift to a plant-based diet. The reasons could be a disability, certain illnesses, diseases, lack of access to vegan informed professionals, lack of access to information, literature, resources, opportunities, dependence on family, extreme poverty, lack of agency, etc. It’s not like I had watched The Game Changers completely randomly and out of the blue. I was familiar with animal rights activists such as Earthling Ed and a few others. If it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t have been curious about veganism. I had to do the same, or at least try to do what other animal rights activists were already doing.
Being a vegan was the bare minimum, I realized. I also needed to spread awareness about what I had learned. Contrary to the popular belief, Veganism has to be accepted by an individual willingly, it cannot be mandated. And while it is true that we need changes on a systemic level, we cannot bring about those changes without the individuals who believe in them.
As I mentioned earlier, the scale at which we exploit nonhuman animals is unimaginably massive. In the year 2020 alone we killed 80 billion land animals for food. For fishes that number is in the trillions, a number so big we can’t even comprehend it. Human civilization is built on nonhuman animal exploitation and today it’s almost an inseparable part of our lives. Humanity depends on animal exploitation so badly that if we were to stop using animals for our benefit our world would come to a standstill. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? I think not. Ten years ago we didn’t have as many plant-based options as we have today. Ten years from now, we will have even more, and eventually, I hope we can even hope for a vegan world where all animals would hold equal value. Sounds like fiction doesn’t it? When you go about your day, ponder on one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar that I leave you with; “Equality may be a fiction nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle.”
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