Why I’m vegan…

Well here I am, trying to carve my own section out of the already crowded vegan blog landscape.  As if there weren’t enough pushy vegans espousing the superiority of their plant-based diets and ethical superiority from behind their keyboards.  I suppose there’s not a whole lot of material to add to the discourse, and I, in actuality, I’m not a pushy vegan – so long diatribes about my diet’s ethical superiority are not likely to follow.  My intent with adding my own voice to the litany is mostly to explore, for myself and others, and to discover new culinary voices, but it is also a challenge to myself to do something new and create an innovative space to explore food.

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I’ve been a vegan for nearly seven years, since the spring of 2009.  The why doesn’t seem particularly complicated for me.   When prompted for a rationalization of my choice, I feel that I don’t often give an adequate response.  I don’t actually think about it that much.  Growing up, my family dinners were not the steak heavy, carnivore parties that might persuade a growing child out of future vegetarianism.   I’ve never had a steak as far as I can remember.  I think I was served liver once, which I refused to eat.  No, as a child, it was all chicken fingers and fish sticks.  While I do have fond memories of those frozen, pre-breaded pieces of meat, it has nothing to do with the food itself, just the ritual circumstances of eating with my family.  Memory is a powerful influencer of our palettes – but the link between what we remember and what we consume is perhaps more easily severed when you’re nostalgic for something that wasn’t that good in the first place.

Being an animal lover from an early age, I was always uncomfortable with eating meat.   I flirted with vegetarianism in my late teens, mostly subsisting on Kraft Dinner and veggie dogs.  A limited culinary knowledge, and a general disinterest in food, ensured that these attempts were short lived.  It was ultimately the life of one individual animal that swayed me permanently to change.  There is a long active pro vegetarian campaign, aimed at devoted pet owners, that asks why love one and eat the other – it’s a tactful way of pointing the hypocritical nature of the close relationship with our four legged friends.  We dote and care for animals, take them into our homes and in many circumstances treat them as though they are family – but simultaneously engage in systems of productions that subject animals to the most heinous conditions and treatment.  That’s what’s finally got to me.

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As my feisty little spaniel of 14 years was nearing his last days, I started to consider the value of my relationship with him more carefully.  He was the best companion I could have ever hoped for, affectionate, playful, at times mischievous, but always loyal.  In the end, it became an easy decision to euthanize him, though the loss afterwards was not so easily endured.  In making that decision, I was reminded that we have an obligation to ease unnecessary suffering whenever possible, but also to prevent it.  I had a responsibility to myself and to my friend to avoid engaging with an industry that brings suffering to animals and also often prolongs it.    It was my personal decision, and if I impacted others choices by proximity and osmosis that’s great but it was important that I co-existed peacefully and without judgement of those who choose an alternative to what I had chosen.

Now, seven years later, I have a better and more refined understand of my own place in the ethical sphere and why I continue to stand where I stand.  Becoming vegan, in retrospect, was a foregone conclusion – it was just a matter of arriving at the catalyst; and that feeling of discomfort that I had had while snacking on chicken wings was not just a matter of whether it was right or wrong to consume meat, but an indication that, for me, with my particular psychological and biological makeup, it felt unnatural.    With a strong tendency to anthropomorphize, I have difficulty comprehending the concept of living, sentient beings as consumable products.  It has also always seemed to me that humans have been bequeathed unique qualities that make them the ideal caretakers of the planet and its inhabitants, whether they be plant or animal, but unfortunately we often use those same qualities to exert a power over who and what we perceive to be inferior by transforming those entities into commodities.

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The name of this blog, Ahimsa, besides being the shared moniker of numerous yoga studios, is in reference to and reverence of one of the pivotal tenets of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  In summary, it is a principal of non-injury to all living things, and in practice it refers to any conceivable harm in thought or deed directed towards other beings.   For all my selectively compassionate animal advocacy friends, this includes us ever fallible humans as well.  I like this concept, I’m drawn to it.  I think it’s a worthy and honourable ambition, but I also know that I will continue to fall short of these principles.  It seems impossible, given the spectrum of cruelty in the world, and the toxicity inherent in much of modern life, that any of us can refrain from anger, judgement and volatility.  Empathy is not a ubiquitous concept either – compassion towards others does not guarantee that it will be returned, and when we are hurt we seem to have innate tendency as a species to hurt back.   How then can we work towards achieving less injured and injurious state of mind?  Maybe it begins with finding common ground, similar desires and needs and looking for what we all universally value.

We eat according to patterns established for us in infancy.  We eat meat, because our parents ate meat, and their parents before them – it’s normalized by memories before we have the defenses to resist or question, but, as I myself have discovered, if we evaluate our memories, the sights, scents and tastes of our formative years separately from the physical experience, it’s easier to effectively evaluate the content of our diets – but also find connections between our various palettes.  Food, as both nutrition and a social icon, its various cultural implications, could potentially be a bridge between our many disparities and divides.  The most effective vegan propaganda I’ve found is good food.  If someone is stimulated by what they eat, if the scent touches a chord, if the tastes resonates – that breaks a barrier – it makes us all alike, carnivore or omnivore.  It’s a connection, not only to each other but also to the sources of our sustenance.  It has the potential to remind us of what we probably already intrinsically know: that we are not the end of the chain, nature’s consumers and destroyers, but only one link in a very large schematic of species.

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