Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lost? Have you tried Hare Krishna?

Are vegans like born-agains? Out to convert you to their way of thinking, with a list of rules in their sweaty little palms? 

Ha ha ha.....(wiping brow with back of hand)....That's funny.

Actually, yes, it's true. And, when you feel comfortable, you can sign over the deed to your house to our cause. And your first-born. And your Mustang. (Ryan's lusts after the older models.) Thank you.

In all seriousness, I initially feared that people would see my change of heart as a weird, religious, born-again experience. Not being the following type, I found this idea very off-putting. Often I'll hear the comment (always delivered very respectfully, actually,)  "Oh wait. You can't eat fish, can you?" or "Are you allowed to eat jello/wear leather/fill in the blank?" I know where the comment is coming from and always appreciate the intent, because the person is clearly trying to figure out how to attend to my needs and make me happy. And that's pretty sweet!

But I thought I'd address the idea of what being vegan is here, because I think these comments speak to a lot of misinformation in the air about what eating a plant-based diet is all about.

When you learn any aspect of what happens to animals at the hands of fellow humans, that seemingly solid wall of ignorance comes a'tumblin' down. And when the dust settles and you look about you, you see start to see everything that was behind that wall, carefully hidden from your eyes. The truth is that very few of us want to actually hurt an animal, regardless of species. I know a lot of people talk tough, making jokes about the food they're eating, ordering their steak rare, joking that "it should still be moo-ing!" But I've seen many of these same people crushed when their beloved pet died. So they get it -- animals have souls and personalities like we do.

In fact, our society is quite taken with animals. Think of those fascinating National Geographic episodes that give us a view of their lives in the wild. We pay good money to go on a whale-watch just for a glimpse of seeing one of those remarkable animals breech majestically out of the water. Most of us pick our companion animal at a shelter and our hearts ache for all the animals we see there who don't have homes yet. One item in so many bucket lists is to swim with dolphins -- we are all captivated by their playful and curious nature. We find a pathetic, barely-feathered baby bird in our yard, and we do all we can to insure that it's safe and back with its parents. Our hearts become fearful as our companion animals get old, knowing that too soon we're going to have to say goodbye. Our first childhood friends, in fact, are our soft, plush stuffed animals. And aside from becoming infuriated when we hear of somebody abusing an animal, we realize that there is something deeply wrong with that person to want to hurt a defenseless creature.

The only way for us to love these animals and consume others is to put up a wall and not think too closely on it. Actually, that is wrong. When we are new to this world, the wall is constructed unknowingly by our own families, when they feed us some animals and simultaneously encourage us to love others. (This isn't a stab at our parents -- they were entrenched in this system since birth as well.) The animal industries, on the other hand, continue to patch up any cracks in that wall that might appear. They know exactly what is behind that wall and they have a lot at stake, so keeping that wall up is one of their most important jobs. They rely on that wall being snugly in place or their business is doomed. As Paul McCartney once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, all of us would be vegetarian."

When you do have the strength to look behind that wall, though, the whole damn thing falls down. (And looking behind it ain't rocket science. Just do a youtube search on "meat industry" or take a look at the intense videos to the right, second set down.) And the prospect of seeing what's behind the wall and then having a lifelong wall crumble is temporarily upsetting.  But I will tell you this -- within fifteen minutes of seeing such a video, I knew what I had to do to extricate myself from I saw happening and I immediately felt better. Better because I was empowered -- I could actually do something.

So that's what being vegan is really about. When you see animal abuse, you take yourself and your hard-earned dollars out of that system. Initially for me it was meat, dairy, and eggs. (The video I watched covered all these industries so I was done with all three immediately.) But then I learned about the leather industry, so I'm no longer buying leather. (And ever-so-slowly replacing the leather things I do have.) I found out that the down industry is unimaginably cruel, so I won't buy down again. (And when our down comforter no longer serves us, we'll replace it with something animal friendly.) The wool industry seems innocuous enough, yet when you look a little closer, you find it is just as awful as the others.  And so on.

There is no rulebook, therefore, that says someone who is eating a plant-based diet can't eat fish or any other creature. There is no cult declaring, "thou shalt not wear the skins of animals." It's just that I simply have no desire to do so. Do I enjoy the taste of some animal flesh? Yes I do. But I'm not even slightly tempted eat it anymore, because I know what happened to the animal that it came from. Maybe this metaphor will clarify...

Human flesh, like other animals' flesh, is edible. We are physically capable of eating and digesting it. And people who have eaten human flesh before (usually in rare cases of starvation) have said it tastes like a cross between chicken and pork. And chicken and pork are quite tasty, aren't they? As it stands, eating human flesh is illegal. (At least, I'm assuming it is! :)  ) But if it were legal, would most of us eat it, even though it's probably as tasty as other animal flesh? I'm guessing no. Let's imagine we gave human flesh a harmless name, the way we do to other animal flesh, and called it .... hork. What if someone said, "We're looking forward to having you over tonight, but I was thinking of cooking up some hork. I forget, can you eat that?" The answer of course is yes, we can eat it. But I would venture to guess that most of us would pass on the hork, not because of a weird set of rules or because we didn't think it would be tasty, but because the idea of eating it is abhorrent. If the gelatin in our jello and marshmallows was made from the bones, skin, and connective tissue of humans (as opposed to the bones, skin, and connective tissues of non-human animals) most of us would probably stay far far away from these goodies, despite our fun childhood memories of them. (Note: there are vegan marshmallows and they are delicious!)

Once you give up non-human animal flesh, it's the same thing. You can eat it. You might even like the taste of it. But you want to no part of it, not because it isn't allowed, but because it's as gruesome as eating human or your cat or dog. It's not "can't,"  but "I don't want to."

See the difference?

Human skin was once used to make books, but most of us would probably shy away from owning such artifacts, as it's -- well --- creepy. Delve a little into the leather industry, and you might look at your leather products differently.

Everything takes on a new hue when cruelty is involved.

So that's it in a nutshell. There's no "can" and "can't" eat items. There's no cult or rulebook. There is just the repugnance with the animal industries and what they (we) do to non-human animals. And a great desire to keep our dollars from supporting the system.

And as far as converting others? To me the word convert implies a change to a new faith. Being vegan isn't about faith. It's the knowledge that we're hurting other sentient beings who never did a thing to us. Beings who want to live their own life. It's the desire that other humans realize what we're doing as a whole to these remarkable creatures. It's the hope that we all make the simple (and healthy) decision to make the animal industries grind to a halt with nobody buying their products. It's simple economics. Supply and demand. No demand for animal products? No supply.

Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

For your enjoyment, Kermit discussing the merits of Hare Krishna

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