Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why I Spat out the Kool-Aid, Threw Away the Linen Robes and Grew My Hair Out: Breaking Free of the Cult of Veganism

(Do I hear a collective gasp from my vegan friends at that first clause after the colon?)

It seems these days that I’ve been hearing a lot about veganism from very non-vegan sources. Of course, living with two omnis means that I’m never lacking their two cents on the issue. I pick up stuff on the radio on the way to school – via the Rush Limbaugh show (I don’t get to pick the station -- captive audience, I swear!). At school, I sit and listen to professors tell me that humans were placed in hierarchy over animals. It’s Aquinas College and apparently Mr Aquinas had it out for animals: due to some stranger blurring of “soul theory” it’s actually perfectly acceptable to put creamer in your coffee and carry your stuff in a leather briefcase.

In a confined social setting such as the one I live in, it’s pretty hard to remain anonymous as a vegan (not that I try very hard). I interact with very few people outside of the conservative, Christian, Catholic, carnist (not necessarily in that order) community in which I work, study, live and be vegan. Yet, I am not fundamentally so different from these people (apart from being a leftist Quaker-leaning Christian with scary and radical ideas about social equality and nonviolence and populism and an affinity for the anti-hierarchical Reformation and serious misgivings about the dangers of blind traditionalism).
Except I am vegan. Do I think that the Christian religion, Quaker theology, and leftist politics somehow mandates veganism? No. Do I think every Christian and every leftist should be vegan? Yes, I do. Not because it makes you a better Christian or a better leftist (though you might make a case for both), but simply because it is the morally right thing to do. Every Christian ought to be a vegan for the same reason that every atheist, agnostic, Hindu and Pastafarian ought to be vegan.
Veganism does not make you better at your religion.

What veganism does do is free you. No, you aren’t supposed to grow a beard and stop using deodorant or pierce your septum, buy a bunch of Earth Crisis and ink a paw/fist on your bum. You can if you want. But you really don’t have to. You are vegan and you are you – just vegan. And you are exactly what the movement needs. You are exactly what the omnivore you live with, work with, play with, needs.

The gloriously indestructible thing about veganism is that it leaves the accidents of your personality, your background and your life alone, while fundamentally changing the way you interact with the world. And that is why it has something more than a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the pierced-punk, the bald-Buddhist and the crunchy-hippie stereotypes that say nothing about the ethical essence of veganism, nothing about the social potential it has to effect genuine cultural change. Animals do not care who isn’t enslaving them. And vegans ought to care as little as ethically possible who isn’t enslaving them either.

And so I continue to be vegan, not shy, not embarrassed, and definitely not changing my mind. Vegan, like those tattooed, pierced liberal atheists that somehow coalesced into the nightmarish bogey-vegan of the conservative omnivore’s worst nightmares. Vegan, and I can’t even skate. Or do yoga. Oddly enough, when Nathan Gilmore went vegan, he actually kept being Nathan Gilmore. Just...vegan. Just a quiet guy with a penchant for staying up late drinking too much coffee and thinking about these sorts of things. Just an aspiring writer who tries to put this stuff together and maybe make you think about an issue that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Just a Christian trying to hash out the pertinence that AR has and doesn’t have, and should have, but doesn’t have, and might have, and can have, with his faith. Just a half-Asian trying to negotiate the messy cultural issues of food and hospitality and the property status of nonhumans. Just a college student bringing history and philosophy and ethics to bear on this mostly-ignored but terribly important issue. I am, in the end, just me. But I am, for anything at all that it is worth, a vegan. Join me? I’m pretty sure you’re better at arguing with somebody out there than I am.