“It is not an act of Kindness to treat animals respectfully. It is an act of Justice.” — Tom Regan
Let me start with a confession. I am not a vegan. I am an aspiring vegan.
And for those who do not know what a ‘vegan’ is, here’s a definition of Veganism as provided by the pioneering Vegan Society:
(Veganism is)…. a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude…. 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.
I have been a vegetarian for as long as I remember. And I used to be proud of this fact, without realising that vegetarianism includes the use of dairy. It is a common misconception (throughout India and across the world) that vegetarianism is ‘as good as it gets’ (as regards Animal Rights).
And that if you are a vegetarian, you can be absolved of the responsibility of treating animals with cruelty for purposes of diet, clothing and medical research.
But here’s the catch.
Although vegetarianism involves no consumption of meat, it does rely heavily on dairy products. From milk to butter, from ghee to yoghurt, from ice-cream to puddings, vegetarians end up using milk and milk products in all possible forms. And some vegetarians also consume eggs, which are produced in poultry farms rife with animal exploitation and cruelty.
And this is why it is not enough to just be vegetarian.
If you really want to stand up for animal rights and make a difference to the status quo, you will have to give up ALL dairy-derived products and poultry items.
It is not easy, especially in India, where there are still very few affordable vegan food options. Whether it is plant-based alternatives to dairy milk — such as almond milk, soya milk and rice milk, or vegan meat (yes, that’s a thing), vegan cheese and vegan butter, all these products are still out of reach of vegans and aspiring vegans in India.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO VEGAN
Veganism is NOT a fad. It is a philosophy rooted in the determination to treat all animals with the same respect and not be selective about it.
For example, most people consider dogs and cats to be ‘cute’, ‘cuddly’ and ‘adorable’, while using cows, goats, buffaloes and other animals for dairy, dairy products, and meat and meat-derived products, because of dietary, religious and cultural reasons and objectives.
Animals like rabbit, sheep, deer, leopard, mink are used for clothing and ‘decorative’ purposes. Elephants and rhinos are prized for their tusks, pangolins are butchered for their hide, fish are slaughtered for their eggs, liver and flesh.
This is Speciesism and justifies the use and exploitation of some animals for human consumption and profit, while keeping other, select animals outside the purview of such discriminatory practices.
You should go vegan if you object to the use in human diet – and for other kinds of consumption – of dairy, poultry, fish and animal meat on ethical grounds. It is not enough to classify it as a matter of ‘choice’ because there is no ‘free choice’ when it involves the killing and abuse of other sentient beings.
Forget all that you have been told about the use of animals and animal products in your life.
All the historical examples, all the religious justifications, all the cultural memories and any/all other rationale put forth to make it seem OK to keep using animals for meat, meat products, poultry, dairy and dairy products.
Rely on independent research and take an unadulteratedly-honest look at the realities of animal-based and animal-derived diets and products and you will know why turning vegan is the only moral and ethical way to co-exist with other animal species on this planet that we share with them.
For the skeptics, here are 18 arguments in support of veganism, along with several reasons why it is a boon for the environment as well. So, for the environmentally-conscious, there has never been a better time to banish meat and other animal products from your life and at the same time, contribute towards the repair and rebuilding of our ailing planet.
HOW ANIMALS HAVE BEEN EXPLOITED HISTORICALLY
Humans condemn that which they cannot rationalise or justify to themselves and make easy on their conscience.
The Europeans did this while going on rampages in new lands, before ‘colonising’ them. They had to declare the native, indigenous, aboriginal people of these places as ‘savage’, ‘beastly’, uneducated, uncultured and ‘sub-human’.
This was necessary to justify their subsequent occupation and exploitation of these ancient lands and their residents for wholly pecuniary and expansionist purposes.
Not for nothing have ‘Indians’, ‘Blacks’, ‘Aborigines’, ‘Tribals’ been caricatured in a large segment of popular culture. It makes their subjugation and abuse ‘do-able’. It renders them inferior and deals a blow to their identities as individuals with distinctive goals, plans, life-paths and trajectories. It is easier to exploit that which you can condemn (according to the colonial rationale).
Occupiers have done this to vanquished populations. Men have done this to women and authoritarian governments continue to do this to their citizens.
Not to be absolved of guilt, all humans have done this to animals. We have turned them from unique, sentient beings who must be allowed to get old and live free, full lives into unintelligent, unfeeling, non-unique creatures who exist solely for human use, consumption and exploitation.
This abuse has been institutionalised in human society, where the popular culture promotes stereotypes about animals, the media cements it and the advertising (sponsored by animal-abusing industries) glorifies it.
In India, this is best understood by the way dairy products are peddled with smiling pictures of ‘healthy’ cows with swollen udders.
Where advertising pitches focused on animal abuse and slogans such as ‘ABCD Doodh Peeta Hai India’ (India drinks milk of a certain brand) and ‘Doodh Bahega, Munafa Badhega’ (Milk will flow, Profits will grow) are commonplace in TV and print ads.
Where the cow is considered sacred, and yet, everything she produces, from her dung to her urine is made use of (cow dung for fuel and urine in therapy), with the milk meant for its calf being copiously, selfishly consumed by humans, even as the hapless animal is artificially-impregnated and made a cog in the wheel of the dairy industry, which is driven solely by profit margins and reliant on large quantities of milk produced through the gross exploitation of the ‘holy’ bovine.
Where dogs, cats, donkeys, buffaloes, crows, owls, snakes are either feared or caricatured. Bulls, monkeys, horses, eagles come in for differing treatment. All the while, the thought and incidence of manipulating animals never too far away.
Abuse and commercial use of animals is rooted in psychological trickery/dualism. Where, on one hand, people keep dogs and cats (usually ‘pedigreed’) as pets and on the other, use ‘curses’ such as ‘Kutte ki maut marega!’ (You will die a dog’s death!).
Language too, plays a crucial, decisive role in normalising or ‘softening’ animal abuse. For example, the use of alternative, insidious terms for animal meat goes a long way in effecting the obvious detachment of the human psyche from the violence inflicted upon animals just so humans can have a ‘good’ meal.
Here are a few shining examples:
- Names for meat: Veal, Beef, Venison, Pork, Mutton, Roe
- Popular dishes: Eggs Benedict, Beef Bourguignon, Basque Chicken, Bouillabaisse, Paella, Steak Tartare
Meat, fish, poultry, dairy are all consumed with aplomb in cultures across the world. Whether it is the Thanksgiving Turkey, the Bhuna Gosht, the Paneer Tikka Masala, the Egg Biryani or the Kheer (milk and rice pudding), examples abound of the normalisation and yes, even celebration, of animal cruelty in human civilisation.
Animal sacrifice at religious festivals (spanning all major world religions) is commonplace even now and is justified and made unimpeachable in the name of religion and consequent ‘centuries of tradition’.
A majority of TV shows, advertisements, celebrity chefs, fashion icons rely on the use of meat, dairy and poultry to continue their profit-seeking and -making narrative. No one pauses to ponder over the abject cruelty animals undergo so that a certain media figure gets to don the chef’s apron for a day (or several).
But a change – however slow and imperceptible – is underway. People are waking up to the need to reject meat, poultry and dairy-based food products and adopt plant-based diets.
This is driven partly by genuine empathy with animals and the necessity of outlawing animal cruelty and partly due to health considerations (as more animal-origin diseases are reported).
Yet, the first step towards adopting veganism, and ending animal cruelty could not have come soon enough. Animals have been exploited and abused purely for selfish human needs for far too long.
Earlier, we may have been led to believe that we did not have a choice.
In 2020, that is no longer true.
We do have a choice. We always had one. We only need to exercise it.
Embracing veganism is the only litmus test of compassion and justice towards animals – by putting animal rights first and banishing animal cruelty – that humans will ever need.
And I – as a vegetarian – am going to make that choice and that transition too.