I’m a consumer. We all are. As of this very moment, we live on a planet that has undergone dramatic and powerful paradigm shifts in the last century alone, particularly in the issue of the marketplace. The very notion of consuming, ingesting, taking, and obtaining goods and services is not one that holds any concerns for most people; rather, we can hardly imagine what life would be like without this pervasive, overarching system that creates an incredible amount of convenience within our daily experience. Our natural bent, arguably, is to gain the most ease and comfort with the least amount of effort, so that we may maintain a certain equilibrium within our day to day. As vegans, we often find ourselves as cogs within this machine, even if we’re doing our best to reformat the machine itself as one that runs on plants. The now-radical thought of an economy based on barter and trade instead of exchanging currency for goods and services seems rather ludicrous, yet it wasn’t too far in the past that humanity engaged in this form of systemic exchange.
Those who live a plant-based lifestyle are often on the front lines of recognizing just how powerful the choices we make as consumers can be. The well-worn saying “vote with your wallet” certainly rings true for most of us, and with every vegan product we purchase, we cast our vote for a kinder, healthier, more compassionate world, and that is certainly something to be applauded. But the very fact that we’re still beholden to a large corporate conglomerate (not the case in every purchase, but certainly in many) somewhat subverts our overall goal as vegans. Interestingly, it is often from the mouths of lobbyists for the meat and dairy industry that we hear our agenda parroted back to us, often in their anxious tones: those animal right activists have an agenda, and that’s to create a vegan world! As if they’ve exposed some long hidden secret. And the vegans all nod their heads emphatically and concur heartily, for that is exactly what we’re after. But in order to create this world that we wish to live in, as well as leaving behind a legacy of health and sustainability for future generations, we must consider this crucial fact: if we are to create this new type of world, we must look carefully at the current paradigm, remove what might still be effective and useful, and discard the rest, permanently.
Economists have studied the consumerist mindset and behaviors at great length, and have come to some startling conclusions, as social scientists are often want to do. William Rees, who holds a position in urban planning at the university of British Columbia, estimated that in 1990, there was approximately “1.7 hectares of ecologically productive land for each person”, yet, “it requires four to six hectares of land to maintain the consumption level of the average person from a high consumption country”. This sort of calculation is eerily reminiscent of the facts and figures one comes across when studying ecological issues pertaining to industrial agriculture, such as the reality that it requires 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, a statistic that neatly encapsulates the concept of diminishing returns.
As vegans, it’s perfectly acceptable for us to speak of the many options of products that food manufacturers are creating, with many more on the horizon, in order to show others that veganism is truly a lifestyle of abundance, choice, and health, in many regards. But we must not lose sight of the understanding that we must be vigilant in working to create a new paradigm, one that is built on individual and collective giving and creating, in direct opposition to the consumption-heavy and often wasteful culture we find ourselves within.
Every so often, it can be deeply refreshing (and often quite necessary) to surround yourself with a bevy of like-minded individuals who exhibit such encouraging qualities as compassion, kindness, and mercy with their every action. It has been said time and time again that those who have been vegan for a significant amount of time often find themselves blessed with a certain degree of spiritual peace, whether or not they consider themselves to be spiritual or religious in any particular fashion. To widen our circle of compassion so that we may include all beings is an action that helps us to understand what we’ve been missing all along; that sense of peace, of finally “coming home”.
In regards to being surrounded by a host of people who strive to practice this comprehensive compassion, I had the privilege of spending a glorious Saturday in the company of members of the Peace Advocacy Network, who were hosting our local Triangle Vegan Pledge. The pledge simply asks those who are interested to commit to 30 days of eating a vegan diet, from the beginning of the month till the end. Admittedly, for many people who are new to veganism, the very notion of eating a plant-based diet during the month of November is quite daunting (certainly, they may not yet be aware of the fact that one can make an incredibly delicious pumpkin pie that just so happens to be vegan). They might quickly be forgiven in regards to their fear that going vegan during the holidays will mean deprivation, sadness, and morose behavior. This could not be farther from the truth, however, and a number of talented cooks at the TVP event showed the dozens gathered that eating vegan during the holidays could include culinary delights such as key lime pie cupcakes, rosemary chocolate chip cookies, and vegan mac and cheese. Deprivation? More like abundance. Silence filled the room as we chewed contentedly, with spoons and forks scraping every last morsel into our mouths.
The event continued with short lectures given by Justin Van Cleeck and Dr. Alan Nelson on the topics of how veganism is a boon to the environment and the ethics and morality of consuming animals, respectively. Justin brought up some truly thought provoking points concerning how global warming (which is deeply affected by industrial agriculture) takes a massive toll on many at-risk populations and people groups around the world, thereby adding a real human cost to a concept that so often dwells in the realm of the abstract for too many people. Dr. Nelson, to his credit, addressed the idea of using animals in the real world as opposed to using them in a theoretical “vacuum”, as many opponents of veganism often enjoy creating hypothetical scenarios which have little to no bearing on reality. The group discussion was rather lively and carried on for a quite a while, adding a dose of healthy dialogue to the proceedings, which was a wonderful and encouraging sight to behold.
The events of the day left me truly heartened, and encouraged by the fact that there were dozens of people in attendance who were going to be vegan for the next few weeks at the very least, and hopefully for much longer after that. To recall Dr. Nelson’s words concerning ethical “vaccums”, I’m so thankful that we live in a world where our friends (who are in this case making healthy, ethical, and compassionate choices) have the power to influence those around them to go vegan! What a thought. What a spectacular idea. The world is only hurting due to its lack of compassion, not an abundance of it. May we all go forth to proclaim the ideals of a compassionate lifestyle to those who have the ears to hear the message. The famous words of Margaret Mead come to mind in this moment: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has”.
For more information on the Peace Advocacy Network, go to the http://peaceadvocacynetwork.org.
For additional news about the Triangle Vegan Pledge, or to attend an event in a city near you, go to http://triangleveganpledge.wordpress.com/.