I’ve never met a person who is a vegan for environmental reasons
Everyone has their way into veganism. Some people take a pit stop at vegetarianism first, others cut out animal products cold turkey. Compassion, improved health, clearer skin, disease management, and practicing the love you preach are all touted as reasons to make the switch. Since the popularity of Cowspiracy, more and more people are being told to go vegan to help our deteriorating environment. And while saving the planet is a beautiful side-effect of going vegan, I have NEVER met a person who went vegan, and stayed vegan, for environmental reasons. Have you? And I mean someone who is vegan, not someone who changes their diet a few times a week.
The scenario isn’t hard for me to grasp; someone realizes that ordering kale over steak is going to have larger impacts on the world than all the recyclable grocery bags we all keep forgetting to bring to the store. With the majority of environmental messages supporting that cutting back is enough, however, I have yet to hear of anyone making the great transition in their lifestyle because of an eco-sensibility. Society is still stuck on shorter showers, more energy efficient lightbulbs, and powering down electronics before bed. I do believe that without going vegan, those small, daily efforts are in a sense lost. It’s not to say that we aren’t trying to do our part, but that we are ignoring a bigger, much more impactful step.
I think another reason I haven’t encountered an environmental-only vegan, is because society at large doesn’t consider animals to be a part of the planet we’re saving. We’re told to make the world a better place for our children, and our children’s children, but that “place” is often pictured as the sky, the sea, and the trees. What if people considered the animals both here and now, and the ones to come, as part of our rich environment? They’re not merely adornment, or props. Their impact on the world around us should be as important to people as the impact of discarded water bottles.
It’s not that foreign a concept, as most of us already know what animal waste does to our land, air, and water. But even beyond the walls of the industrial farms, the sensationalized perspective that they’re the only ones doing harm, we’re forgetting that it’s not “natural” to use the animals in the many ways we are. For every acre of forest we clear cut to graze them, and every process of refinery we take to transform them into ingredients, we’re hurting the world. But at the start of all that, we’re hurting animals. How can we expect to have a great planet, if our animals aren’t taken care of?
Veganism requires selflessness, though. Asking someone to change how they live, is not often appealing when someone else’s well being is at the forefront. Someone might not imagine giving up bacon for a pig, and so why would they give up that same breakfast for less pollution? It’s in a way easier to do it for your waistline, or your conscience. I strongly believe that for anyone to understand the true need for veganism, focusing on ethics is the best way. And that’s not to say that all other ways haven’t helped so many others, but strong vegan advocacy that extends into our future requires that we consider not just the laundry list of benefits we can pat ourselves on the back for accomplishing by eating tempeh a few times a month, but the animals we’re sparing.
Ethical vegans, the people who live the lifestyle because animals deserve to be free from use, commonly discover their voice for environmentalism along the way. I’ve met many vegans who, despite always having animals as a priority at the top of their list, are proud to pioneer the movement in respect to impacting their footprint and the world around them. And yet, I know no vegans who have eliminated animal products to help the planet, and in their education, advocate for the freedom of all sentient beings. The connection between animals and the planet, for vegans, isn’t one that feels mutual. I know many vegan people who are happy to rhyme off the Earthly benefits of taking on a vegan mission, but none that do it purely for the planet. If veganism was shared the way reduce, reuse, and recycle was back in the day – some people might see it as the change they need to make to really help the world. Until then, ethical vegan education might be the greenest thing we can do.