by Pam Kalstad
There seems to be a divide not just in the non-vegan vs. vegan but also in the vegan vs. vegan world. It’s becoming a competition of a tiered world of veganism. Does it matter why someone becomes a vegan? Or is it more important that are vegan? I’ve had this debate with others with what seems to be far too often.
I’ll start with my story. I will bravely speak out and tell all that I became vegan for the health benefits I saw in the documentary Forks Over Knives. It was a quick decision. No second guessing and no turning back. I’m a cardiac rehab therapist. I’ve seen the results of the standard American diet. It’s not pretty. Does this make me a less vegan because I didn’t start my journey through compassion and ethical insight? In many eyes the answer seems to be yes. In my eyes, no. Well, now it’s no. I was riddled with guilt and sorrow when I became educated in the world of the abusive and terrorizing process for what we refer to as groceries. I secretly apologized to all beings that I caused such suffering to. I transformed from a health conscious vegan to an ethical vegan. I was posed the question; what if science discovers that in order to have a long and healthy life you must consume animals or their byproducts? Without hesitation I knew the answer. I would live a short, unhealthy life. There was no and is no turning back once I went down the rabbit hole. I saw the truth. And the truth hurt. It hurt the soul of all sentient beings. So. I present the question again. Am I less than other vegans, those who made the choice not for personal health reason but for compassion?
Is the hope/goal that the world becomes vegan or is the hope/goal that everyone becomes a compassionate vegan? Must everyone become emotionally connected? Or, is it enough if everyone just stops consuming animals and animal products for other reasons? In a perfect world the former would be the answer but reality is that not all humans will make that transition. Not all will embrace compassion. Some will just follow the expected norm. Some will never make the connection between ethics and diet. In a world where animal consumption is acceptable, people are more likely to fully embrace veganism if they are able to make that connection. If they are able to create an association with their actions and the lives of others, their choices are more likely to become easier for them. It will not be a choice of merely acquired taste versus healthy choice. I’ve seen the results of that choice. The heart patients keep returning with open heart surgeries, more stents, and more heart attacks. They gain weight, stop exercising, and return to their other bad habits, yes, this includes smoking. Habits are hard to break especially when one is swimming in fear and the defense mechanism of denial. Not all follow this path. Some make amazing changes for life. They appear to be the ones who make the connections and have support from friends, family and sometimes only strangers in a support group. They are not rejected because they came about their decision after they were diagnosed with their disease. They are not shamed for not living a healthy lifestyle their whole life. They are rewarded and reinforced for their new choices. It doesn’t matter if it was for their health, the impact it has on their loved ones or the environmental impact or if it saves other sentient beings from suffering.
So what’s the point I’m trying to make with cardiac patients? I see the consumption of animals and their byproducts as a disease. A disease that is rampant worldwide, just like heart disease. No one is immune to it. We are all exposed to it either directly or indirectly. The world accepts it as status quo. It’s just who we are as a species and we expect it. However, there are those who challenge the norm. Those who refuse to just accept it and go about the world as expected. Some become so passionate about their acquired knowledge and belief that they inspire others to join them. Some have always held their lifestyle while others come to it later in life. Some embrace their new reality after a loss or near loss. Some never see their impact on the lives of others. They may only see how it effects them. Some see and feel their impact on others every day. Some work endlessly to help others find the path. They give their time, energy, knowledge, love and support to those that are struggling with the choice. They leave shame, humiliation and intimidation at the door. They realize that each individual comes to their understanding of what is right at their own pace and with what motivates them to change and embrace a new life.
I find that those who push back the hardest against the disease of non-veganism are those who have the most fear. Those who feel they have the most to lose. Who will they be seen as? How do they enjoy life? What about the family traditions? Will they be disrespecting their mothers, fathers or families if they stop participating? These are real fears. They need to be respected. In order for others to be accepting of a new life we need to accept their fears and hesitations without shaming or comparing. If the goal is to have the world be vegan does it matter how it gets there? I say no. Erase the line that is often quietly drawn. The line that creates hierarchy within the vegan lifestyle. Don’t reject the path, embrace the action.