What I’ve come to learn is that there is selfishness in each and every one of us. We come from a long line of ancestors whose instincts were primarily on survival mode each day. We are biologically programmed to be selfish for our own safety. So there is no wonder that we inherit some selfish tendencies even to this day.
The difference between each person, however, is the level of selfishness and what one uses that selfish tendency towards. You can find two people with the same amount of wealth, but one may use it for their own comfort while the other uses it to better others’ lives. None is better or worse; the action is only relative to the situation at hand.
Selfishness may also creep into the practice of veganism.
As I explained in a post, veganism at the core of it is a way of living that excludes all forms of cruelty towards animals. By that definition, being vegan is a selfless act. However, it is difficult to persuade people to just be selfless or show empathy, as we have been conditioned to do the opposite. That’s why the vegan cause is often supported by other reasons such as environmental sustainability and our health.
I was first attracted to the idea of being plant-based because of environmental reasons. This might have seemed like a selfless act, as not supporting factory farming would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully reduce the need for excessive deforestation. However, it’s still rooted in selfishness because wanting to improve the health of the environment indirectly means wanting better environmental conditions for our survival.
I came across the idea of carnism and soon I chose to be vegan for ethical reasons as well. It just didn’t make sense to me anymore why one animal (e.g. a cat) is superior to another (e.g. a cow). And learning about factory farms, even though it was initially about the environmental impacts, had shown me the poor treatment of the animals there. So I had only to empathise, and the graphics stayed firmly in my head to ensure I did not waver.
Meeting A Used-To-Be Vegan
I had the opportunity to attend a dance class by an instructor from the USA. He was on a tour around Asia to teach hip hop, mainly popping and strutting. As I’m on a mission to improve the movement of my body and that I enjoy dancing a lot, I was glad that this opportunity came.
Days before the class, I googled him to know more about his background. Basically, he’s an amazing dancer with lots of experience under his belt. But what stood out for me on his Facebook page was that he described himself as vegan.
You can imagine how excited I was to meet him!
The class went well. No doubt he’s great. His personality was one of calm, collected and confident. His eyes showed kindness and he talked with a genuine smile. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also did yoga. Such inner peace that shone outwards. Rarely have I met a dance teacher who looks at each student in the eye with a sense of compassion.
I managed to chat with him after class. Well, the topic was brought up by the organiser whom I unashamedly asked to ask the teacher whether he’s vegan.
And he said, “I was vegan”.
I tried not to feel disappointed and instead hear him out first.
He said he initially went vegan for health reasons (he didn’t elaborate more on that) and also because of the injustice and corruption with the entire food production system. Basically, he didn’t like the idea of factory farming. So, he and his partner became hardcore vegans. He also published a book titled Breaking Food Chains: A Personal Guide To Culinary Freedom.
“What happened? What changed?” I asked in slight despair.
“We went to Asia,” he answered simply with a small shrug of a shoulder.
He went to Japan (presumably that’s where he started his Asia tour), and his perceptions changed.
He said he saw how farmers got their food directly and not through a series of machines. He saw how fish was practically everywhere and seemingly unavoidable. He felt it was difficult to get vegan food especially when he stayed at hotels with limited or no vegan options. He was justifying his not being vegan anymore and added that although he does eat meat, he only eats it sparingly.
I was being in an understanding mode because I had wondered what I would do if, for example, I had to stay a few nights at a fishing village. Would I just eat the bare minimum of grains and seaweed or would I feel pressured to blend in and eat what the villagers catch?
If I had such experience and managed to stay vegan, I could make my point. I wanted to say that perhaps he hasn’t a strong compassion for the animals and that’s why he didn’t try harder. I’m sure he didn’t always stay at villages and I’m sure some hotels do have at least vegetarian options.
But I didn’t say all that mostly because I didn’t want to come off as superior or rude, and maybe I lacked confidence. That’s what I’ve got to work on. If I were to speak out for the animals, I need to be firm on my stance and not be afraid to speak out even though I might not know everything.
I have to start somewhere.
Staying A Vegan In Difficult Circumstances
From this conversation, I thought that maybe if you’re vegan for selfish reasons (for your health so that you don’t get sick, or for the environment so that you/offspring will still have a healthy place to live in), you might not stay vegan when faced with a really difficult circumstance.
When you see vegan activism being carried out, it’s almost always that they’d show or talk about the horrors of what the animals go through. That animals are brutally killed, that calves are torn away from their mothers almost immediately after birth, that male baby chicks are ground up alive.
It’s because veganism is essentially synonymous to animal liberation. The reason veganism encourages a 100% plant-based diet is so that the consumers have the power to choose life over death, and subsequently decrease the demand for meat and animal by-products.
The side-effects of a plant-based vegan diet would then be a healthy, youthful body and the sustainability of the ecosystem.
It’s not exactly wrong if you choose to be vegan just for health reasons, but I’m saying that it wouldn’t really last because technically you can be healthy on other kinds of diet. And in terms of the environment, although animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of GHG emissions, global warming can be reduced if the whole world stops using fossil fuel.
With the current situation, in my point of view, being vegan is a means to stop the exploitation of animals, reduce global warming, AND keep your body healthy. Whatever the reasons, a fully plant-based diet does contribute more positively to all aspects of life than an omnivorous diet.
So, my question to you is if you are currently on a plant-based diet that is not due to ethical reasons at all, stripping away all the comfort foods and only left with the bare minimum of grains, fruits and vegetables, would you still continue your plant-based diet?
For me, I am vegan for everything. I’d only be forced to eat meat/animal derivatives if there is absolutely no choice of plant-based food (in extreme cases like being kidnapped or captured). Even if I were to be lost in a jungle, I’m sure I can get wild fruits there. And I do believe that plant-based foods are available everywhere unless you live as a pirate or a sea gypsy.