Thoughts on veganism

I’ve known several vegans in my life. I was one for nine months of my youth. Veganism feels very much like a religion to me.

Veganism is not for the faint of heart. It’s more than a choice, it is a lifestyle. It can be a tool for great personal growth and spiritual cleansing. It can be a source of pious accusation and insult-mongering.

A religion is defined as follows (according to Merriam-Webster):

  • the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  • an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  • an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

While animals may seem the most obvious choice for the “god or group of gods,” I believe morality better fits that bill. While I’ve definitely known vegans who chose the lifestyle solely out of love for animals, underlying that love is a strong moral code. This code says that it is wrong to mistreat, kill, and/or eat anything you view as an equal. So animals are not the gods being worshiped, they are instead collateral — it is the vegan’s moral code that is their “god or group of gods.” We all have a moral code. We all base our actions and choices around our moral code. Vegans simply worship a moral code with stricter boundaries related to animals.

I think the “organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules” is fairly obvious. Vegans have strict, passionate beliefs about the treatment of animals. Vegan eating and meal preparation also seems fairly ceremonious to me; they always check the ingredient list for any prepared foods they look to consume, they have a limited set of ingredients with which to make meals, and they get deep emotional satisfaction from the food they consume. Meals are much more than simple sustenance to vegans.

The final bullet above is so obvious I feel silly even discussing it — but I think it deserves some investigation.

Veganism demands a lot of a person. It places difficult requirements on activities non-vegans take for granted. It turns otherwise mundane events into philosophical and spiritual epochs. It’s not often that someone rolls out of bed, decides to go vegan, and gets on with the rest of their day. A person goes vegan because they are deeply interested in the lives of animals, firmly believe that ethics apply to the food chain, and see eating as a meaningful activity. Vegans believe their moral code to be of greater value than an easy meal.

Similarities with religion

Every vegan is unique — as is every Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. There are as many reasons to go vegan as there are vegans. There are bible-thumpers, and there are vegans who will make you feel like shit for devouring that veal. Judging someone based on what they eat and why makes about as much sense as judging someone based on their beliefs regarding the afterlife.

The idea of religion has developed a polarizing reputation. The idea of veganism has developed a similar reputation. Both elicit apprehensive, guarded stares from some, inquisitive questions from others, and exuberant camaraderie from fellows. Both are often deeply, sometimes angrily, misunderstood by outsiders.

Both religion and veganism can provide profound emotional and spiritual growth and satisfaction. Both place humans somewhere (not at the center) within a much larger context. Both demand thoughtful lives lived with respect for others. Both encourage people to strive toward a greater goal. Both are perverted by some practitioners.

Like religion, veganism can be used as a weapon. Some vegans insult meat eaters; calling them murders, blaming them for things like factory farming and large scale animal abuse. I have seen vegans attempt to shame meat eaters into adopting their lifestyle — saying it’s impossible to both love animals and eat them. There are vegans who view eating meat as a sin.

Vegan zealots can be frustrating for exactly the same reasons as religion zealots: they tell us that our lifestyle is wrong, we are bad, and we should feel bad. They then refuse to listen to anything we have to say in our own defense.

Like any religion, veganism taken to the extreme narrows one’s worldview to the point of “Us vs Them.” This does a tremendous disservice to veganism, the vegan, and the meat eater(s). Such a worldview shuts down communication and embitters both sides. It eliminates any opportunity for understanding. Meat eaters are not murders or monsters. Vegans are not saints. We’re all just people, doing our best.

Some intimate thoughts

I find it troubling that some people view faith in a god or ethics toward animals as weakness. This notion seems to stem from a belief that a need for hope and sacrifices that support non-human lifeforms are somehow divergent from the ideal human experience. What disturbs me about this is that it means that the ideal human experience places humanity at the pinnacle of existence, without regard for any other life forms.

I struggle with eating meat. I am disgusted by factory farming, I see animals as my equals, and I am a deeply spiritual person. I am, however, extremely busy and not overly skilled at time management. Going vegan feels overwhelming to me since I don’t have the time or energy to cook many days as it is, let alone seek out ingredients free of animal byproducts. I attempt to relieve my conscience to some degree by adopting a Native American (which is a term I despise, but use for lack of anything better) view: I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice made by the the animals I eat and do everything I can to support their ethical treatment and slaughter. Is that meaningful, or just a hollow excuse to allow me to continue my lifestyle? I don’t know.

I have a couple questions for vegans who view meat eaters as murders and/or monsters:

  • What about other carnivores — yre you equally disgusted by lions, tigers, or bears?
  • Why?

I guess I have a couple other questions for vegans, religious people, and everyone else:

  • What have I missed/misrepresented here? I don’t imagine I’ve covered everything or done justice to any specific point. I’d very much like to where my knowledge and views are lacking.
  • What is your perspective on veganism and my comparison of veganism to religion?
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