Probably like most vegans, I became vegan because I didn't wish to be involved in the unnecessary and cruel exploitation of animals, and because I realised that there was more to animal abuse than hunting and vivisection. Yet it took me quite a while to realise something which now appears to be so obvious, and when the change came it was literally overnight. I'd always been opposed to hunting and experiments on animals - I can remember arguing about it at school with my teachers and friends - but suddenly I looked at the meat on my plate, the eggs and milk in the fridge, my leather jacket, and realised what a hypocrite I'd been. Here I was arguing against people killing a fox for so-called 'sport', and so-called 'scientists' torturing animals in the name of progress, whilst at the same time I was eating some of those very creatures I was trying to protect, wearing their skins, and what was the difference? I remember feeling ashamed and when I think back to those days I still feel guilty.
I found that becoming vegan was certainly both dramatic and a challenge to my principles, but also surprisingly easy - although from what I've read since it would seem to depend a great deal on the individual. The only major problem was of course in making sure that I avoided all products which involved animal testing/additives, and it surprised me just how many there were - and unfortunately still are.
Since that time I've convinced my parents that I'm not about to wither away, and made a lot of new friends who have both inspired and encouraged me by their example. For me, veganism covers a whole range of related matters, and I don't really believe that we should narrow it down to one particular field - although as I said earlier, most people probably become vegan because of their concern about animal abuse. Yet such issues as health, ecological waste and pollution, spiritual peace of mind, etc, I see as all being inter-related, but obviously we are going to tend to concentrate on one or two aspects, whilst at the same time hopefully keeping a general interest overall. I find that this is the case myself, for I just don't have the time to get into every aspect as deeply as I'd like. Most of my time is taken up working for animal rights, but that doesn't mean that I'm not interested in or concerned about other aspects, such as those above and others, and I try my best to support them too.
I see vegans as being people who are really trying to show the way forward for our society, and veganism as part of an overall philosophy. That might sound conceited but it's really not meant to be. For my part, I feel that the only way to convince people in general is by example, and by adopting the right attitude, which should be one of understanding, tolerance and leadership - not, as I've had the misfortune of witnessing, by ridiculing people who are genuinely trying to help, or by making unnecessary and savage criticisms over a minor difference of opinion between vegans. Such intolerance is merely representative of our society today and, as far as I'm concerned, has no place within the vegan movement.
However, that's not to say that I'm going to necessarily adopt the same attitude when confronting the hunter, vivisectionist, dumper of nuclear waste, etc. I try to explain to people the reasons why I am vegan whenever the opportunity arises, and the reactions range from disbelief through to a positive interest, but I feel it's worthwhile and important that we overcome any reluctance to explain our point of view. Visitors to our home receive a vegan meal and very occasionally TVP, although I can't abide it myself, and eating something that's supposed to look, smell and taste like actual meat doesn't somehow seem quite right.
One last point - how many times have you been labelled an 'animal lover' when explaining the need for an end to the exploitation of animals? It happens to me all the time, and just recently I received a letter from the editor of the local paper here, quoting the phrase once more. I'd written to him asking if they couldn't think of something more worthwhile to present as the first prize in a recent competition than a £1,000 mink fur coat. His reply commenced with "as an animal lover myself...". No, I'm not an 'animal lover', but I respect and care for them, and their right to a life unmolested by our own species. I think that should just about sum up our position, so I've written back and told him.
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Cross-reference: Why I'm Vegan
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