In case you missed my last column, a word of explanation: a vegan is someone who eats only foods from the plant kingdom, while avoiding eating meat, dairy, eggs and other foods containing animal products. Vegans also avoid buying clothing containing animal products such as fur, wool and leather, and they avoid buying other things containing less obvious animal products found in bath and shower products, cosmetics, and other everyday commodities, as well as products tested on animals.A lot of people think that going vegan is hard, but if you’re aware of what is done to animals, and you care about them, then going vegan is surprisingly easy. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of what they do to animals, or just don’t think about it.
Perhaps you find yourself in the position of not really caring that the egg, dairy and meat industries cause animals to suffer. It’s often very hard to feel sympathy for animals when we are taught from birth to eat animals and animal products without being taught about the horrible things that must occur for these things to end up on our plates. This ingrained lack of sympathy is furthered by powerful dairy, meat and egg industries that supply self-serving ‘educational’ material to elementary schools.
These companies aim to brainwash children from a young age, hoping that if they can get them hooked when they’re young that they will continue buying animal products throughout their lives. They bombard us daily with billboards and bus-stop images, television commercials, jingles, and Happy-Meal-deals. All of these things tell us to feel good about ourselves when we eat flesh from the carcasses of dead animals, milk from cow’s breasts, and eggs from chicken’s vaginas.
Years of living in a society that teaches us not to care, and not to even think about animal suffering will inevitably lead to a dulled sense of compassion for animals. The best way, in my opinion, to overcome this indifference is to first educate yourself about the things that the egg, dairy and meat industries hide from you. Think about how your actions and choices affect other beings who think, feel and suffer. Realize that buying animal products gives money to industries that profit at the expense of animal suffering. Then choose whether or not you want to be the cause of this suffering. If you don’t want to cause suffering, then consider going vegan.
There are great vegan books, videos and Web sites out there that unveil the hidden atrocities committed against animals by the egg, dairy and meat industries that they hope you never see. At www.vegan.com Eric Marcus even put up his whole book “Vegan: the new ethics of eating” for free on his Web site, no doubt losing some money from doing so — very cool. Check out all the other Web sites too.
Every year over eight billion farm animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered in grossly inhumane conditions.
If you do feel compelled to go vegan, then you can start by eliminating the most obvious animal products from your diet, such as meat, cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs, etc. If you feel that you could never give up ice cream, (or cheese, etc.), then that’s cool, just give up everything except ice cream. Perhaps with time you’ll feel ready to work towards giving up ice cream.
If you’re interested, but not sure if you could make a long-term commitment to going vegan, then just try it out for a week, have fun with it. Maybe you’re not ready to go totally vegan yet. Do the best you can right now. It’s best not to force veganism on yourself. Change is often hard. It may be best to wait until you feel emotionally and spiritually ready to go vegan. Veganism, in my experience, is more of a spiritual and emotional choice than a purely logical one.
Once you’ve given up the main animal products, then you can work towards eliminating the less obvious hidden animal products from your diet, and to buying toiletries, cosmetics and other personal care items that were not tested on animals and do not contain animal ingredients, (you can find really great stuff at most local health food stores).
If you already have shoes (or clothes) that have leather or other animal products in them, you don’t have to throw them out and get new shoes, you can just wear them until they wear out and when you get new shoes, choose ones that don’t have any animal products in them.
If you decide to go full vegan, but you ‘mess up’ and eat or buy something that’s not vegan, don’t worry about it or feel guilty or get down on yourself or give up. Veganism is not about personal physical purity or rules. Veganism is about doing the best you can at the present moment to try to end animal suffering. When you’re ready, you’ll naturally and easily omit the foods containing animal products from your diet that you felt you could not live without before.
If you do decide to go vegan, but find it hard at first, you should know that it gets easier over time. After being vegan for a while, the thought of returning to a non-vegan lifestyle seems absurd and ignoble. Being vegan should be a joy and an act of love and compassion, not a chore.
After being vegan for a while and exploring vegan recipe books and Web sites one realizes that vegans don’t have to only eat bland salads and carrot sticks. There are so many different great tasting vegan foods to try, as well as a ton of wonderful vegan cookbooks and Web sites with vegan versions of recipes you love.
Thankfully, there are also many amazing alternatives to products that contain animal products, such as ice cream. If you’re looking for vegan ice cream, there are a number of different ones out there to try, but I recommend starting with the “Toffuti-cutie” vegan ice cream bars — they are sooooo good. They’re available in Zehr’s by the Pen Centre. There’s also a number of soy milks that are great with cereal, and come in a number of flavours including chocolate, vanilla, plain, strawberry and cappuccino. Each brands is a little different, so try them all.
If you live in residence you can write polite letters to the people in charge asking for them to offer more vegan options in the mandatory meal plans. If you live at home, ask your parents to take you with them grocery shopping next time, or offer to do the grocery shopping yourself. If you live on your own, consider investing in some vegan cookbooks.
A favourite vegan cookbook is How It All Vegan! by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard. It features two vegan punk girls (the authors) holding up a big vegan cake on the cover, surrounded by some scrumptious looking vegan dishes. The book is done in a ‘50s ‘cheese’ look, it’s very fun and the recipes are great, (especially the hummus one). Also, Joanne Stepaniak has a number of really really good vegan books and vegan cookbooks.