Vegan: Who, What, Why, Where, When

Harold Brown and friend

Harold Brown and friend

by Harold Brown
[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]

The five W’s are the basics of journalism and education. Hopefully this essay will provide enough information that the reader can be better informed and moved to seek out more information on veganism.

To begin with we should understand what the word vegan means. The word was coined by Donald Watson, who lived in England and saw a need to clarify what ahimsa, or doing no harm, meant since many vegetarians were rationalizing eating meat, using dairy products, and eggs.  The definition, crafted in 1944, at the end of the Second World War, is:

The word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — 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 humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

Then what sort of people are vegans? Vegans come from every socioeconomic class, race, and creed. Professional people, working class people, women, children, men, feminists, environmentalists, social justice activists make up the community. And a growing community it is. The latest surveys have shown that approximately 11% of the American population is eating a plant based diet.

There is an important distinction to be made here: there are people who eat a plant-based diet, and then there are vegans. The difference is that many people who eat a plant based diet do it solely for health reason, with little or no regard for other species. In and of itself this is a very good thing! Vegans eat the same way, but there is a very strong moral and ethical component to why they eat a plant-based diet.

What do vegans eat? This is a common question and an easy answer: everything that doesn’t come from animals. All plants are mainly comprised of amino acids and other macro and micronutrients that provide for a healthy and balanced diet.  The range of plant foods is vast, and the offerings in the market place are expanding at an accelerating pace. Just check out any grocery store; the natural food sections are growing every year. Many vegans draw from a very long history of plant-based cuisine: Ethiopian, Chinese, Indian, to name a few. The record of plant-based eating goes back, in recorded history, to about 500 BCE in Greek literature, arguably further in other cultures.

Why do people become vegan? The motivation to be vegan is as varied as people are. There are many reasons, but there are a few common denominators. The most basic motivation is that humans share this planet with all other species and that those other species have an interest in living their lives on their own terms. Just as humans, all beings seek the same securities and pleasures, familial bonds, community, food, safety, and to live their lives in accordance with their environments and ecosystems. A time has come to consider more than animal rights but rather species rights. We live on a planet that is becoming ever more crowded, and humans are putting more and more pressure on others. We are currently living the sixth mass extinction and the mega-predator is humans. With this knowledge comes great responsibility and a moral obligation to minimize the damage and harm that we are inflicting on all species and the planet. To be quite honest, we are running out of time. Veganism is much more than a concern for health of body, environmental concerns, species rights, etc. As Will Tuttle, PhD., states in his book The World Peace Diet, veganism is radical inclusion. Vegans have a profound passion and activism to be agents of change for the environment, social justice, species rights, and human health.

The caricature that has been created by the media has painted, with a very broad brush indeed, vegans as angry, hostile, radical, etc. I will admit a very few are, but it is because when any person first learns of an injustice they become frustrated, angry, passionate. In time they focus this into constructive actions that will hopefully transform the world to a place where all beings and the planet will thrive, not just survive.

Where do you find vegans? Everywhere. Nearly every culture has a growing population of vegans who have put these concerns, often considered disparate, together and have realized that all life has worth, dignity, and needs protection from us. It is not a new idea but it is idea whose time has come.

When do we become vegan? When you choose to. It is as simple as that! Some people claim that being vegan is hard and other say it is easy. Like most things it is hard when we make it about ourselves but easy when we make it about others. Veganism is an act of selflessness, a step away from the old structure that we have created, hierarchies that don’t serve either us or anyone else. There are many communities of vegans all over the world. You can find support in your community or online, and recipe resources online.

As people of conscience, we should all want to create a world of harmony, peace, and love. Our food choices and the ethical and moral consequences must move us in this direction. The single greatest act we can perform to save the planet, reduce harm and suffering, and create a healthier society is to become vegan. As Paul Farmer said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” When you dwell on this observation it should become clear that we are all products of a very long history of devaluing life. I would posit that it began with the domestication of plants and animals, then the devaluation of women, children, people that are different than us, and so on. The entanglements go far and deep.

In conclusion I will leave you with the Buddhist metta meditation/prayer:

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be at peace.
May all beings be liberated.

Harold Brown (FarmKind) – Former cattle farmer, now a voice for species rights, environmental and social justice, and peace through non-violence.