Being a carnist (i.e., eating flesh [aka, “meat”]) is not a personal choice; and it’s not your “right.”
Okay, so there are a number (and by “a number” I truly mean copious amounts…like, ridiculous amounts) of arguments as to why you should live a vegan lifestyle if you also aim to be an environmentalist (likewise, feminist or equalist). Today, however, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about something that’s recently made me quite frustrated. And so this post is coming, largely, from the moral perspective rather than an environmental perspective.
That being said. Let’s get into what’s been eating at me.
I went vegetarian almost 14 years ago now. I’ve been vegan for four (yay, me!). In all this time, I’ve typically been complimented—thanked for not being “like other vegans,” for not being “that militant vegan.” I believed that it was a testament to my compassion for all living things, both humans and non-humans.
But in 14 years of being the “nice vegan,” how many people had I convinced to become vegetarian or vegan? Maybe one (if that), and I’m not even sure I can take credit.
At this point, I know enough about the meat and dairy industries, and I know enough about the widespread impacts of carnism—from healthcare to hunger, to environmental destruction and my sacrifice for tax dollars spent on meat and dairy industries—to feel comfortable with my new-found, active and vocal stance. So what I’m about to say is really important, and it’s stuff I probably should have said years ago but I was too afraid to “offend” people with the facts.
But first, let me tell you a bit about my journey.
Look at that! I I had a damn zoo-themed birthday party, I loved animals so much! And then look at me feeding that baby tiger and getting a kiss from a dolphin! So much love for the animals, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong. I wish I knew then what I now know about the exploitation and abuse of animals for human entertainment.
I grew up an “animal lover.” I put that in quotes because, while I was an animal lover, I was at the same time participating in activities that generate extreme discomfort for animals. I had zoo-themed birthday parties, I nursed a baby tiger in captivity while at the fair, I swam with dolphins in a tiny enclosed area in the Bahamas. (Note: I am a privileged white cis-girl, and I am well-aware of that fact. That’s a topic for another day.)
But those were behaviors that, at best, did nothing to advocate on behalf of animals and, at worst, led to the discomfort and likely injury/demise of innocent beings. I might as well be tried as an accessory to murder, or charged with second-degree murder for my participation in animal-related entertainment.
I was a definite pet lover. In addition to my best childhood friend—the family dog—I owned gerbils, mice, ferrets, guinea pigs, and a sun conure. (That last one was actually my brother’s, but I loved him nevertheless.)
If I have trouble saying I was an animal lover, I can at least say I was a pet lover. Prior to going vegan, I had some amazing animal friends and companions. And they played a huge role in shaping my life.
But my contribution to speciesism continued, and I visited the zoo, and places like Disney where animals are exploited daily. Until I watched one influential movie…
Wait for it…
I watched Chicken Run.
If you’re thinking, “wait; but wasn’t that some claymation kids’ movie?” Why yes. Yes it was. And it’s not like it was the first time I had seen the movie, either. It was the second, or maybe even third time. It was the last week of class in my freshman year high school art class. As far as I’m concerned, that was Mel Gibson’s best cinematic performance. Because that shit hit me hard.
What the fuck was I thinking? (Pardon my language in this post, but I’m actually fucking furious about dealing with being vegan in a non-vegan society. And you need to know that.)
I told myself that day: I’m going to try to be vegetarian. That was it. I was just going to try. And I might have only been talking about chicken. I may have told myself that I was just going to try to not eat chicken for a week.
But then, after school, I told my friend (bless her heart) and she, by saying “you won’t make it a week,” turned it into a competition. In my stubbornness, I cut out all meat and became a lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning I continued consuming dairy and eggs). And that was that.
I became an environmental activist around the same time. But while I tried to show compassion towards all animals, I still made mistakes. Look at the frightened and miserable face of this lemur.
In learning about compassionate living, I also learned about the destruction of the planet. And so I became an environmental activist and tried to care for all living beings I encountered. But I wasn’t perfect. I slipped up and I still went to the zoo one final time. In the picture above (bottom right), you see the poor and terrified stare from this Coquerel sifaka, a rare breed of lemur, here held captive and bred at the Maryland Zoo. I was an idiot. Plain and simple. I knew it was wrong. I felt it was wrong being there, looking at the sad and miserable animals held in captivity. But I went. Oh, how I regret it. The zoo was not fun, it was torturous.
I’m sharing my history because I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve led a “perfect” veg-friendly life. I haven’t. I’m sharing it because, no matter where you are in your life right now, no matter what you’ve done, you can still change.
My first time at the DC VegFest was a bit overwhelming, but amazing.
Then, I finally went vegan. I knew for years prior that it was something that I should do, that I needed to do. But I couldn’t do it. “I could never give up cheese.”
I read an article in VegNews magazine about Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi going vegan and the wheels started to turn more seriously. Two months later, I watched Forks Over Knives. The end.
But actually not; because there’s more.
Today, I believe I am a true animal advocate.
Fast-forward to today, I am comfortable saying that I am a true animal advocate. I stop the car for injured animals. I support local animal rescues. I share about my veganism to friends and family.
The problem? It’s not enough.
Why am I mad? Despite living a compassionate and ethical lifestyle, I am still part of a system that supports, relies upon, and idolizes cruelty toward animals. And that’s not okay.
I find living in such a society is fundamentally, ethically, and morally wrong. Which is why it was so important for me to create a “safe space” at home—where I do not have to be surrounded by animal corpses in the way that I do around the office lunch table, through advertising, at the store, at dinner with family and friends, etc.
My husband, a carnivore, graciously agreed to keep a vegetarian home for me. To many, my request was offensive. Even my family and friends that have supported my veganism felt I was “going too far” in making such a request—that asking my husband to “sacrifice” so much for me was infringing on his choice to be a meat eater. (Side note: “sacrifice”? Really? That’s the word you choose?)
Meanwhile, I’m expected to accept decisions that are cruel while I’m constantly overwhelmed and offended by the sights, sounds, and other expressions of carnism every.single.day.
So no, your decision to eat meat and animal products is not a “personal choice.”
You have rights, but allow me to clarify. You have rights up to a point. You have rights until your right to choose removes the right of another being to live.
If that’s still not clear, this is what I mean: When a living thing must die or endure significant pain so you can have something, your choice is affecting that living thing.
When my tax dollars support animal agriculture, your choice is affecting me. When children and people are dying from cancer because of animal products, your choice is affecting other people. When grain that could end world hunger is fed to cattle raised for meat in wealthier societies, your choice is affecting the entirety of the Earth’s population. When methane from cattle pollutes the atmosphere…when runoff from CAFOs (google it) contaminate our waterways…when water is used in excess during times of drought because of intense animal agriculture…when the Rain Forests are being cleared to graze cattle…your choice is affecting the planet.
I could go on for hours. But I’ll spare you for now.
All that being said, here is one final point with which to end. You can be vegan. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you have the fortune of living in a society where you do not need animal products. (Some societies are still very much dependent on animal products, and I acknowledge that.)
We do not need animal products for proper nutrition. In fact, in most cases we are better off and healthier by eliminating animal products—which are linked to carcinogens, bad cholesterol, heart disease, etc.—from our diet. Bonus: we live during a time when vegan specialty items are both affordable and abundant. And here’s the ringer: vegan food is just food.
Have you ever had an apple before? You’ve eaten vegan food. There.
Listening to the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Podcast the other day, I heard an interesting (and valid) point: Vegan food is the common denominator. Everyone can eat vegan food.
So what’s stopping you? Really? Be honest with yourself. Take a minute and really think about it, because “this is how I’ve always done it” is not an acceptable excuse. (Nor is “but I like it”…)
The last thing I want to say is this, my favorite quote:
“If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?” ~Edgar’s Mission
(Oh, and for anyone all in a tizzy over this…I got over dairy-based cheese.)
Resources and Further Reading
But where do you get your protein?
Links for interested/new vegans:
Links about carnism:
Links about the economic impact of meat and dairy industries:
There are so many others but I am emotionally drained from writing this blog post. Be a smart and conscious consumer. Do your research. Remove your blinders. Absorb the wealth of knowledge out there. Go vegan.