Veganism is the belief that animals should not be killed, harmed or exploited for human gain, and the decision to reflect that belief in your actions to whatever degree is “possible and practicable.” Veganism differs from vegetarianism or a plant-based diet in that this is not a diet or a set of restrictions, but rather a worldview that applies to all areas of life. I am of the belief that everyone should take this approach and adopt a vegan lifestyle for the betterment of ourselves and society.
In the seven years I’ve spent advocating for the rights of animals, I have heard many people argue that not everyone can be vegan. Some go as far as to claim that veganism is classist, ableist and exclusionary. I do not believe this to be the case and here is why.
Like many, I believe that it is wrong for someone to kill another human being. Because of this ethical conviction, I live my life accordingly and refrain from killing other people. This does not mean there are no exceptions. If someone were to attack me, forcing me to choose between preserving my life or terminating theirs, I would not hesitate to protect myself. Because I would be acting in self-defense, I would not be considered a murderer by the standards of any reasonable person or in the eyes of the law. This is a concept that is widely recognized and understood.
If you believe it is wrong to exploit animals for their resources, you might decide to practice veganism. When practicing veganism, the principle I described before still applies. It’s not murder to kill tapeworms, bedbugs or lice. It’s self-defense. Likewise, it is not murder for a person lacking money or shelter to eat a meal that someone gave them while panhandling, or to dumpster dive looking for the only food they might eat that day or even purchase something made with animal products if their only readily available source of food is a gas station with no plant-based options. That is merely self-preservation.
My understanding of veganism is as follows: when you are presented with a given set of choices, you should choose whichever option harms animals the least. In this way, anyone can be vegan. The consequences of unfavorable circumstances do not strip you of what it means to be vegan.
Veganism is not a purity test. It is a moral philosophy that rejects the commodification of animals and acknowledges that it is unreasonable to maximize harm simply because your very existence warrants at least some level of it. When presented with the option to harm animals and the option not to harm animals, I do not harm animals. There is no acceptable reason not to live this way. To reject veganism is to believe that it is your right to determine whether or not sentient beings should live or die, based solely on palate pleasure, profit incentive and culture/tradition. I struggle to imagine a more entitled worldview.
Not all vegans are likable or reasonable people. Some embrace the “vegan” label without understanding the roots of the vegan movement and speak out of ignorance. Some embrace the “vegan” label without understanding issues of race, class and disability, and let their prejudice get in the way of engaging in meaningful activism. Some embrace the “vegan” label but are so politically incoherent and morally illiterate that informed and reasonable people will have no interest in indulging their ideas. These individuals do not represent vegans or veganism as a whole and should not be used as an excuse to perpetuate the suffering of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet.
I hope that my understanding and explanation of veganism provides clarity, and persuades you to adopt a vegan philosophy and practice harm reduction in your daily life. To do so is a necessary step to be taken in addition to, not in place of, our efforts to dismantle systematic oppression in all of its forms. Animal rights are essential to any movement claiming to promote freedom, justice, equality and liberation. It is crucial that we empathize with both the exploitation of humans and non-human animals alike. We are not free until we are all free. All means all.