A few weeks ago, I made the decision to live as a vegan. This was something I had thinking about for some time.
About four and a half years ago, I decided to stop eating red meat. The reason was not incredibly sophisticated. I simply had been eating too much of it. The week that I made the decision in October of 2010, I had eaten red meat for about 7 days in a row 2 or 3 times a day. I had been generally feeling like I needed to do something healthier for my body in regards to my diet. I was not much of a fast food or junk food eater; I hadn’t had a soft drink in years. But I knew that my voraciously carnivorous diet was probably not a good idea. I wanted to eat better, but I didn’t want a lot of points or rules or things to remember. So I figured that if I stopped red meat that would be generally healthier and easy to do. Since I really didn’t care much for chicken and rarely ate pork, I just quit those too. I became a “pescetarian.” I ate fish, and also eggs and dairy.
This was my diet for a little over two years. One of the surprising discoveries was that I began to eat this way for health reasons, but soon found myself feeling good about my non-participation in some of the worst practices of the industrial food system. I worked in the food business for years and became very interested in how it all worked, from farm to plate. I had become aware of how most animals are raised and processed, a very ugly and cruel thing. Of course, I knew that some farms treated their animals far more humanely, but those products are relatively hard to find for most people in most places, and usually expensive.
I eventually reverted back to eating all kinds of meat (and a whole lot of it). I started with the rule that if I was served meat, I would oblige (I didn’t want to be rude in rebuffing the hospitality of others). But it wasn’t long until I was buying 1.4 pound flat iron steaks at $7.99/lb at Kroger 3 or 4 times a week.
I’ll go ahead and stop short of going into more explanation of the return to my no-holds-barred carnivorous lifestyle, but I do want to make the point very clear that I have eaten a lot of meat in my life. A lot. I have never felt particularly inspired to look down upon meat-eaters, even since I have given it up.
For about a year, I have attempted to get off of red meat again, spending a week or two here and there as either a pescetarian or vegetarian (ovo-lacto).
Now I am a vegan.
I’m not sure precisely what pushed me over the edge to make this drastic of a lifestyle change (and trust me, it is a lifestyle, not merely a diet). I have seen plenty of those food documentaries that reveal the horrors of meat production. I have read and viewed (and believed) much of the data that suggests the health benefits of a plant-based diet. But the truth is, the idea got into my head after yet another failed attempt at pescetarianism, and after thinking about it for a while, I just up and decided to do it.
For me it’s about ethical living, not health.
Killing animals causes animals to suffer. In our mass-production, factory farm, industrial food system, this suffering is unimaginable. What animals are made to endure is horrific at almost every stage of their lives. Surprisingly enough (at least to me), eggs and dairy are not exempt from this suffering. Egg-laying hens are confined for most of their short lives and then killed like the rest once their utility is diminished. Male chicks (which are useless in egg production) are often thrown alive into a grinder. The quality of life for a dairy cow isn’t much better, constantly having newborn calves taken away hours after birth, and of those calves that are male, they often go to veal production. I think that part of the reason I could never stick with a semi-vegetarian lifestyle before was because there was little ethical integrity. If you are against something that is morally wrong, you can’t be only partially against it or against it in theory only. Ethical commitments are full commitments.
But it’s not just the factory-system for me. Anytime you kill an animal, I believe that it counts as suffering for that animal. And while killing an animal might be justified in a scenario to preserve one’s own life, I don’t think that enjoying the taste of their flesh is a good enough reason. Fortunately, we live in an era when eating animals is not necessary (in most geographic locations) to survive. Between plant-based food and a few supplements, people can eat a diet that is on average much healthier than an omnivorous one, especially the standard American diet of highly-processed, fat and/or sugar-laden “foods.” The environmental benefits of veganism are tremendous too.
And for me, I had to get off of the “spectrum of suffering” thinking about eating meat and simply accept that killing an animal counts for causing suffering, and that the taste of flesh doesn’t justify causing another sentient being to suffer. If I wouldn’t inflict it on my dog, why is it okay to do to a cow, chicken or pig?
It’s also about nonviolence.
We live in an extremely violent culture. Violence is glorified in our worship of weaponry and war. Violence serves as our entertainment from our children’s video games to professional sports. From the military industrial complex to the prison industrial complex, violence is the principle tool for exerting our will abroad and maintaining order at home. The way that our goods are manufactured, the way that our economy is ordered, violence oozes from every gear of the machine of modern civilization.
Now, as a pastor and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (a man who preached peace in his life, healed those who were afflicted, and did not resist his violent and horrifying execution by the powerful Roman Empire), I feel compelled to conclude that the only authentic Christian life is the nonviolent one. And it would be a schizophrenic life indeed if the nonviolent Christian refrained from taking up arms or striking a neighbor, yet participated in the torture and death of sentient creatures merely for the taste of their flesh.
One unexpected benefit is love.
This is hard to describe. When I made the decision to live vegan, my dog looked different to me. Lois is the sweetest dog I have ever known. She is always happy to see you and never met a stranger. She smiles when you pet her belly and she nuzzles her nose in your palm if you stop. And for the last two or three weeks, when I see her, I have experienced a warm sensation well up inside of me. I love my dog. I thought I loved my dog before, and I’m sure I did at whatever capacity I could, but now, since I have made the intentional decision to live in such a way that animals matter so much that I have resigned from harming them, I love her much more. I believe that it is my capacity to love that has increased. This goes back to nonviolence. One is not nonviolent because she/he loves everyone or everything, but rather lives nonviolently so that she/he can freely experience such greater love. It’s the benefit, not the motivation. And I don’t know about you, but I like the way love feels. I like it a whole lot more than the taste of steak.