What Vegan is to me.

If you’re reading this then you’re probably already vegan, or thinking of taking it up. We all have different reasons that have brought us here, to this choice: animal rights; economical; world hunger; environmentalism; health; spirituality, and more. Some of those reasons may not even be apparent to us when we first make that change in our lives. In my case, like a lot of other people, I went vegan as the next natural step from vegetarianism, and as part of an animal rights centred belief.

As I’ve aged, those reasons have taken on different priorities. They’ve always been there but as my understanding of life changes so have the priorities.

That’s the purpose behind this piece, it’s a chance for me to examine my reasons, and what”vegan” is to me.

I suppose we ought to start with the Vegan Society definition of veganism:

[…] a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.


So, now we’ve got the official definition out of the way let’s get on with what it means to me.

In 1983, after being vegetarian for 18 months or so, I decided to get in touch with the Hunt Saboteurs Association as I wanted to get involved with stopping the cruel practice of hunting animals with packs of dogs. They put me in touch with a local group, and on Boxing Day that year I went out on my first “sab”. After a long, cold wet day in the fields, and no fox caught thankfully, we headed back home in a van full of hungry wet sabs, and stinking of citronella. I had some sandwiches in my bag. I opened them up, offered them to these new friends and was met with ‘What’s in them?

Cheese and tomato‘ says I.

Vegetarian cheese‘ I added.

The faces looked backed at me, ‘No thanks.We don’t eat cheese.We’re vegans.

And that was my introduction to the wordVegan.

I asked why. They told me why.

As the weeks progressed, I read up on the dairy industry. In those days it was pre-internet, and so I got information from animal rights stalls. Thank goodness for all the lovely folk who stand out in the cold, on the streets, taking flak from passers-by as they try to impart information. I learned about the cruel practices involved in the dairy industry. With my eyes open to the lies behind dairy I knew I had to go vegan. It made sense. It was the only way I could put my ethical beliefs into action full time.

So that was how I began this journey. In the more than thirty years since then, I’ve learned more about veganism: I’ve made connections with other issues; I’ve taken it from Animal Rights to Spirituality to Environmentalism and round this “circle of compassion” so that it encompasses all of those and more. The modern term I suppose is inter-sectional vegan: the point at which animal rights, human rights, feminism, economic, environmental, health, spirituality, food security and so on meet and join up.

All of these are important to me. All of them have taken priority at times: none of them has ever dropped out of this circle of compassion, but some may have become more prominent at various stages in my life. I’m no longer the angry animal rights activist I was to begin with. I no longer eat, sleep, and breathe Animal Rights as I did in the 80’s. I learned to let go of the anger, the obsession, the constant struggle, not because I no longer agreed with it but because I had to live with other people in the ‘real world’. That’s not to say I’ve gone back on any of my beliefs, it just means I’ve learned other ways to promote veganism. Instead of standing in the rain at demonstrations, mass invasions of fur farms and laboratories, filming intensive animal farms and more, I now prefer to strike at the roots of the problem, rather than the fruits of this evil creature.

What do I mean by that? Well, I learned that every time I cut down a head of this hydra, it grows another one back. For each animal liberated, for every fur coat damaged, or sign changed they always get replaced. Yes, it causes economic damage, and a minor disruption but the system stays the same. I learned to focus not on the heads of the beast but at the foundations of it. Those foundations are ‘demand’ and they’re shaky. Get someone to eat a vegan meal, and that’s one less animal meal consumed. If you can get someone to give up milk for health reasons then you strike directly at the demand. Bring down the demand for animal products and by-products, increase the demand for vegan alternatives and we change the balance. The capitalist system that is so prominent wants to make money (at whatever cost), it goes with the demands of the market. And we can change that demand for the better. All it takes is us showing it can be done.

But, back to What Vegan is to me. It’s a life choice. It’s made for many reasons. It continues for many reasons. Right now, my primary reason is for the survival of the planet and the human race. We are, as a species, chomping our way to disaster. We’re overheating the world with methane from animal agriculture; we’re polluting water sources with animal waste. We are literally drowning in shit. The consequences are horrific: starvation, food wars, water wars. This way lays the end of the human race. When I went vegan it was for the animals. Right now I’m vegan for the humans. That doesn’t detract from any of the other reasons, or to say I’m right and you’re wrong. The world can survive without us. The animals can survive without us. I don’t want to see that happen. We can change the world when we make the connections. Let’s help other people to see all of the connections.

The Vegan Society film ‘Making The Connection‘ is wonderful for this. You can show it to the squeamish: the ‘don’t show me I don’t want to be upset‘ people. It makes the connections. It shows the many reasons why Veganism is the only logical choice for the human race. It’s thirty minutes that can, and does, change lives.

Make the connection. Make it with other people. Take your veganism to the world and share it.

That’s what Vegan is to me.

Now, what is it to you?