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Living in a Nonvegan World

Also available in traditional and simplified Chinese.

November 2004

Thoughts about Nature, Progress, Careers, and Money

Nature

Vegans like to believe that a vegan diet is the most natural diet. This is seen in the efforts to show that people used to be able to get vitamin B12 without supplements. We are worried that if a vegan diet isnít seen as natural, then there is something wrong with it. I suggest that we will probably be more effective if we do not use strategies that appeal to what is “natural.”

For one thing, some people oppose veganism because it is unnatural. They want to return to a more natural, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and see vegans as pushing for an unnatural society that exists without depending on animals. They have a point – a vegan diet, while being healthier than many other diets, probably differs from that of early humans, who apparently were primarily hunter-gatherers.

 

Progress

Given that few people are willing to turn back the clock, it is unlikely that we will convince society to abandon science and technology in favor of living simply. Our culture is wedded to the notion of “progress,” but this is not necessarily bad. If we assimilate with society, we can make “progress” express our values.

 

Careers

It is hard to find a job that does not have some connection to animal exploitation. The animal rights movement cannot provide jobs for everyone who wants to use their careers to help animals. And many other careers might require the use of some animal products. So, how can one live up to their vegan ideals and still take part in society by having a job? I would suggest that by pursuing careers in certain fields where animal products are used, we can actually help animals in the end.

For example, I am currently studying to be a registered dietitian. In my textbooks, it has been shown a number of times how some alternative methods of research have replaced methods using animals and have been more effective, safer, and less expensive. I see room for animal activists to get involved in continuing to improve technology to get past the point of using animals. Many vegans would shy away from getting into the sciences because they might have to do certain things that are animal-related. I donít mean vivisection or dissection, but many scientific methods do use animal products and one might need to use them during training. A vegan, working to change science from within, could help countless animals.

For example, some methods to detect bacterial infections use media that contain sheepís blood. Someoneís goal could be to replace this blood with plant or synthetic products.

We each have to decide where to draw the line. But if we keep ourselves out of science and other fields, they will continue to be dominated by people who do not share our values.

Another example is in building roads. Currently, it seems road planners donít even consider the lives of animals. With some ingenuity, we could save millions of animals from being hit by cars. It would probably take money, and transportation departments might oppose trying to help these animals. If animal activists were more involved in road construction, we would eventually be able to help devise and promote strategies that would make transportation less hazardous to animals.

Knowing that I would be using my skills to help animals has been quite motivating. The first time I went to college, I tried to get by with doing as little schoolwork as possible. This time, I want to learn as much as possible in order to use that knowledge to help animals. It has made school much more interesting. I think other activists might also be motivated if they saw ways in which they could eventually use their skills to help animals.

 

Money

Many activists view money and wealth as evil. As a source of power, money can be used to promote either evil or good. Just think how much better the animals would be if vegans had significant amounts of money. If each vegan had enough money to buy and distribute multiple copies of educational materials, the animals would greatly benefit. Someone who works a job that isnít directly promoting animal rights, but who can use their money to fund the resources needed by our movement, will be doing much to help the animals.

 

What Do We Really Want?

What do we really want?

While it might be simple to believe (if not say) that we want people to think like we do, I can honestly say that this is not the case as far as I’m concerned. If everyone thought like me, who would write the next Walden, the next Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the next Animal Liberation? Closer to home, who would design the next generation PowerPC computer chip, or perfect the triple-cheese and pepperoni vegan pizza?

And do I really want a world free of suffering? Would I appreciate Anne now if I had not had my heart broken before? Would I fully enjoy periods of health if not for sickness at other times?

I can say I want a vegan world, or a rational world, or a free-thinking world, but what I really want is a better world. Bringing about a better world, however, is not a one-time, one-person, one-lifetime chore. Rather, it is an on-going process in which each one of us participates to a lesser or greater extent. The future is the story that billions of us are writing.

What can be my role in bringing about this future? Note that I don’t ask what I want the future to be – I don’t control that, and wouldn’t want to do so.

Living in a nonvegan world means living in an imperfect world, which simply means living. While difficult to face, let alone accept, we cannot expect perfection of the world, of others, or of ourselves. While trite to say, all we can do is our best. We can’t expect others to think or act like we do. What we can control, at least to a greater extent than others, is how we deal with life (happy / sad, optimistic / pessimistic, constructive / destructive, etc.), and subsequently, how we present ourselves, our vision, our piece of the story future.

There are many people who believe as I do – that 1., the exploitation and subsequent suffering of other animals is the greatest current injustice; 2., the raising and slaughtering of animals for food is both the numerically greatest aspect of this injustice as well as the psychological heart of animal exploitation; and thus 3., bringing about widespread veganism is the key to ending the greatest current injustice. (There are, of course, far more people who don’t agree with that assessment, even among fellow activists.) Many of these people feel so strongly about this that they believe they need to dedicate their entire lives to this process. However, the economics and logistics of the situation are such that only a few, if any, individuals can do this work in an obvious fashion and still survive, let alone thrive.

However, it is not necessary, or even desirable, that all concerned people be full-time activists. From an entirely practical perspective, if not for the generosity of hundreds of people with nonactivist jobs (including some very progressive professionals), Vegan Outreach would not exist, and hundreds of thousands of people would not have read Why Vegan?

From a broader perspective, however, changes in society need to be continued and expanded by thoughtful people. At some future point, the perfect veggie burger and the “cheesiest” uncheese will be of greater importance to the further progression of veganism than Why Vegan? and similar tools. Additional advances in medical technology will nullify the need for the use of animals in research. Contraception and delivery methods will stem deer and other “game” animal overpopulation, and better video games may actually satisfy adolescent male bloodlusts which in prior times took place on the hunting fields. Personal computing (desktop publishing, the Web, etc.) have helped Vegan Outreach and others reach new audiences, and further advances will help with the further democratization of information (countering the advertising budgets of McDonald’s, the Dairy Board, etc.). Improvements in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources will protect the environment. Better urban planning will lessen suburban sprawl’s impact on wildlife habitat. New philosophers will help advance human ethics. Educators, in just about any field, help advance the human condition and humans’ relationship to others; education, in general, breaks down prejudices, decreases birth rates (easing overpopulation), and opens minds.

These are just a few of the fields where people can make a significant contribution to the advancement of a better world. None of these careers may be as glamorous as being Ingrid Newkirk or Peter Singer. However, in addition to improving various aspects of the world in one’s field and earning money (for example) to print more copies of Why Vegan?, each one of us will be able to influence many people over the course of our lives. To create a better world, it is of more use to be respected by ten people whose lives you have changed (and who each subsequently go on to influence ten other people, etc.) than to be lionized by thousands of activists who already think as you do.