Every now and then I come across someone who says and lives what I have been trying to articulate for so long.
My friend Paul just posted an essay announcing his exit from the "vegan community."
It is, at the very least, challenging. Especially to me - since so much of my identity is wrapped up in being an animal rights activist. The vegan community is one that I value as a way to support people in moving away from animal products and towards a lifestyle that respects the animals' right to live their own lives.
But, like any community, the people in that community define rules to regulate its members' behaviour. People bring many diffeent definitions of what vegan means and how people should live.
This leads to a lot of arguing about who or what is vegan, a lot of judgement, and potentially a lot of arguing. The focus becomes the rules rather than celebration of living a life of compassion - or, as Paul puts it, "love."
Because, really, being vegan is an act of love. Yet people who decide to go against the grain of the world around them and announce that they are now "vegan" face intense pressure - from inside the vegan community as well as from outside. Living vegan means more now than simply striving to live a life free from animal products - it has become in invitation to be measured, to be judged, to be critiqued for one's mistakes, definition of vegan, and so on.
For sure, it makes sense to have a strong definition of the word vegan. I mean, who among us hasn't faced a waiter who has proclaimed that it's ok for vegans to eat fish? Or the aunt who asks us if it's ok for us to eat garlic, or potatoes, or mushrooms, or chocolate? So I get the frustration of someone calling themselves vegan while wearing a wool sweater or someone being 99% vegan but having an egg once in a while, or any other of the infinite variations we see.
Being vegan then becomes something that we not only live ourselves, but a word, a way of life, that we need to defend from becoming diluted (like has happened with "vegetarian").
Does this hypersensitivity to what's vegan and what's not really help at all? Or does it create an environment where we are tied to a label, forgetting why the "vegan" way of life was conceived in the first place? Do we forget the animals?
And do we also forget the love? What would it mean to really and truly embody "veganism"? Peace, love, compassion. How would that be manifest?
I tend to think of Gandhi as the ideal vegan. He lived a compassionate life and concentrated inwards, working towards perfecting himself and leaving the lives of others alone.
But he was also an activist, standing up for the sanctity of life. He was non-violent in word and deed.
Today's vegans are a mean and angry bunch, quick to attack and slow to forgive. I'm primarily talking about how I see veganism reflected in myself.
The challenge then, is how we can be animal rights activists while living a vegan life. Maybe the word is a mistake, maybe it does make sense to toss it out and work on a world where we are not bound by labels but are instead dedicated to an ethical life and our ethical responsibility to each other (and all life by extension)?
What do you think?
P.S. once again I have to apologize for the haphazard nature of my thoughts. I hope you are able to glean a bit of what I am trying to say.