By Natalie Blanton
What has always remained so confusing, frustrating, and surprising to me is the bad taste in the mouth of our collective society when words such as “vegan” or “animal rights” are brought up.
I will most likely field some criticism for this — but I need to say something about living compassionately:
Yes, we live in a society that is built upon the backs of the most marginalized. Including animals.
Living compassionately should include the active elimination of harm, violence, and suffering inflicted upon all other humans, animals, and this planet, Earth.
Granted, and unfortunately, you will never be 100% “cruelty-free” because animal products are in everything. And I mean everything. Beyond food, household cleaning products, medicine, and makeup, are all brutally, and unnecessarily, tested on animals. And those organic non-GMO veggies? They were most likely picked by migrant or undocumented farm workers, living under a cruel system/regime of oppression, non-livable wage, and silencing lack of representation. I would not qualify these fruits, vegetables, and products of industrial agriculture as “cruelty-free,” even if these processes do not involve harming animals directly.
In light of all this doom and gloom? Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H. Neurologist, public health specialist, and author, gave me a great piece of advice: “Just do your best!” In continually seeking, creating and living a life free of violence and cruelty, there will always be that one obscure ingredient that, once you’ve researched the origins, you will be forever perplexed and saddened by our society. For now? Watch Dr. Akhtar’s TED talk here, regarding all of the reasons to keep fighting this good fight and pursuing this idea of “cruelty-free” no matter how difficult. In essence? Shop locally and ethically, never be silent about oppression, and keep educating yourself and your community.
Once you are veg, keep doing your best to stay veg.
If you are new to the plant-based life — first off, welcome. Second off, fun fact: Cheese has the same addictive properties as hard drugs. Because of this terrifying scientific fact, cravings are real. I get it. Even after many years of a vegan lifestyle — those can randomly rear their ugly heads. If there is something specific? Reach out to one of our Sage Mountain resources to ask, “Why do I miss fish so much?” or “I just can’t give up cheese,” etc. These are real questions with real answers and we live in a day and age when it is easier than ever to be vegan — with the right information, awareness, and understanding. So jump on it — reach out to any of us here at SM or local, incredibly knowledgable plant-based fitness and nutrition coaches: Lexi P., of element xii, Courtney Pool, etc.
Remind yourself why you went veg in the first place and surround yourself with support and community.
I would argue that people give veganism or plant-based living a bad wrap because of these fabled “vegans” themselves. But, you have to wonder why we are such a minority and why it is so wild for an individual to step back, say no, and abstain from consuming death and suffering at every meal/in their daily routine. I will never understand that by making the choice to go veg we become such a nuisance to society. Yes, vegans are outraged, and angry. But for good reason. We are not here to shame and blame you. We must understand that there are larger actors and systems at play here. And we are more angry at the society that continues to profit off of animal lives. The moment you open yourself up to the awareness and consciousness that is plant-based living, it is hard not to react with an incredulous, “How did I never know that milk is only produced by grieving mother dairy cows, after their baby was taken from them?” and other such sentiments.
It is hard enough having every meal, social gathering, restaurant visit, and drive down the interstate be a reminder and space of violence towards animals. You can not fight the good fight, sustainably and progressively, if you are weak, sick, or too depressed to go on. Compassion fatigue is real — and we must be wary of it as humans with our busy routines, plus this added layer of complexities and advocacy. Self Care is a must. Meeting other like-minded individuals helps in feeling less alone or weird in this social movement.
I encourage you to reach out to us, or other veg-inclined folk. These conversations are so rejuvenating, I promise. Come to our monthly vegan potlucks, #ThirstyFirstThursday events [there is one coming up this week at Este PC], SLC’s very own VegFest taking place on Sept. 10, or the SLC Vegan Facebook page’s meet-ups are amazing!
Be gentle to yourself, animals, and others. There is an unhealthy amount of infighting in the plant-based, vegan, and animal rights movements. And these schisms between this community of like-minded, progressive individuals will only do more harm than good in pushing the momentum. If a veg individual decides to, for whatever reason, re-integrate animal products back into their lives — then that is on them. It is okay to feel angry and disappointed with that person, but do not shame and blame and kick and scream and yell, or call them a “sell-out”. This will only further wedge the divide between the individual and the veg-lifestyle/community. This is where that bad taste in the mouth comes from, and subsequently, the distaste for “vegans” in general. It is wasted energy and resources spent shaming, guilting, or pressuring people back into being fully veg. And it is not sustainable. People should make the transition to plant-based living for themselves, or whatever reasons feel right for them — that way, they are more likely to stay veg, and, as so many of us have realized, thrive. Take your vegan rage and channel it into new avenues — write your political representatives about the dismal state of animal agriculture, host a fundraiser for your favorite animal rights organization, or, meet up with youth in your community and have an honest conversation about all of the wonderful reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
I understand it is easy to be frustrated with friends and family who remain [or return to being] stubborn omnivores. Most of my immediate environment of kin is not veg whatsoever. And that is okay. Remember, this world, unfortunately, revolves around the use and abuse of animals, and it is not “normal” to be vegan, yet. But the tide is shifting. And it is getting easier, more accessible, and celebrated by governments, health organizations, celebrities, and individuals alike. Do not lose your temper with people who have not yet had their eyes opened to the truth, or the windows opened into slaughterhouses. Or those who believe the self-congratulatory lies that the dairy and egg industries are profiting off of daily [see resources regarding these “happy farm animals” such as the Humane Myth, “Cage Free,” or Free Range Fraud].
You do you. And do your best. Keep fighting. For yourself, for the animals, and for this planet. Continue fostering these honest and vital conversations of awareness and advocacy. Because it matters. And this is a brave, valiant and hard fight.
We are all here for you. And we must do this together.