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How being straight edge prepared me for veganism

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I went straight edge early into my adulthood. A subculture that demands casting off a certain number of social norms, all varying interpretations of the label include abstaining from drugs and alcohol. It’s often defined as a philosophy that promotes self-respect, going against the excesses in the punk culture it was bred from. While some choose to include promiscuity and animal rights in their practices, I originally saw it as a very personal movement. It would be many years before I would once again make a black sheep of myself in my family and social circles by choosing to go vegan, something I learned many straight edge participants consider as important as abstinence from intoxicants. Reflecting back on both choices, I can now see how being straight edge prepared me for going vegan. The aggression, curiosity, solidarity, and conflicts I was met with in both transitions are practically the same. So is the desire to live without violence.

I grew up in a family where alcohol was used in celebration, religious ritual, or simply at the end of a long day. A big part of my personal disagreements with its consumption surrounded the expectation and commonly suggested “need” for it, and the way people around me used it as a crutch. So when I would say no thanks as a bottle of wine was being passed around, I was met with a lot of confusion. Many times, people would bargain for me to try it, or do their best to insist that they had somehow deserved it. Still, I was able to see the aggression that came from some was equally matched by curiosity or praise from others. Some argued they could never do that, but that I was doing the right thing. I got a lot of “good for you.” Sound familiar? When I gave up meat, the same things happened. When I passed on whatever meat was placed in front of me, people would go one of two ways; in to argument, or in to reinforcement. So for all the years I had spent saying no to drinks, there was a foreshadowing to what would happen when I said no to meat. And the connection between choosing to be straight edge and choosing veganism would strengthen.

It wasn’t always easy to feel like an outsider socially. As my friends and I grew up, the presence of drugs and experimentation only heightened. I made it through University, the dorm rooms, the parties, the relationships, and was still sure of who I wanted to be, and even more clearly, what I didn’t want to be a part of. That’s when it became easier to stop participating in events where I knew drugs and alcohol would be heavily present. This came at the sacrifice of some people who didn’t see things my way. Veganism has shown me the same barriers. While I started out happy to share a table with someone dining on animal products at the start, I find myself slowly, but surely avoiding it as much as possible. As such, I slowly lose some of the people in my life who aren’t heading the same way. Those who care about me will respect my choices, and I theirs, but it removes a commonality that people consciously or unconsciously rely on. I’ve noticed that being the person who doesn’t want to “party” falls in line with the same responses as being the person who doesn’t want to join in on bacon fandom. It’s never been that I don’t like people who drink or smoke, but the act itself. It’s the same with not hating people who hate meat, but hating the continued choice to do so. Again, living in a way that was destructive to myself and those around me would envelop the veganism I was rooting in the same freedoms for animals.

Since the two are so similar, people often ask if my straight edge stems from ethics. With my veganism being first and foremost for animals, and not for reasons of health or the environment, I’m not put off by this assumption. But truthfully, my discomfort with drugs and alcohol doesn’t come close to my hatred for animal use. In that respect, experiencing life through the lens of being straight edge was a softer step than going vegan. The difference is that one impacts me on a small scale, and the other, has more than just my own needs in question. While someone’s choice to drink or do drugs can affect those around them, it’s primarily a choice that directly affects themselves. Choosing to use animal products always includes the death of an animal, too.

So do I think that vegans need to be straight edge? Not necessarily. But can people in the straight edge community stand to include veganism? Oh, hell yes. While it’s not uncommon to see the two existing side by side, I think people who already understand the obstacles that abstaining from drugs and alcohol presents, will have an easier time making the jump in to veganism. Eating, dressing, and basing your consumerism on veganism is never as difficult as the interactions it asks us to have with people on the other side. And if someone cares deeply for themselves and the people around them, it’s not crazy to think that they should add animals to that.

Being both straight edge and vegan, I have learned to align myself with the things I believe in. The similarities are clear, and the choice not to go along with the masses is always going to be met with misunderstanding. When it comes to living my best life for myself and for others, I see the two as being interchangeable. Living a life of non-violence starts with me, and extends out to all sentient beings.

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  • stewart lands

    You have proposed a very interesting and consistent philosophy, but one based upon the false premise that abstention from meat consumption, alone, is sufficient to minimize the damage of one’s diet. It is somewhat more complicated than this, as many plants are unnecessarily destructive also and should therefore be avoided for the same reasons as most meat. The line between right and wrong is not as clear as “meat” and “no meat.”

    • Damon McDonald

      Hi stewart lands, I think you’ll find that the essay is not only talking about the harm or damage to oneself, but also the harm to animals. The direct harm to animals when we purchase animal products is clear. Animals are sentient beings who experience fear, feel pain and who want to live. It is simply wrong to use them as a resource. We clear forests and grow crops to feed the billions of animals every year who we breed and kill for our food. There is no doubt that animal agriculture is far more environmentally destructive than almost anything we humans deliberately do on this planet. We can live healthy happy lives without consuming animal products, we can easily avoid using animals for clothing or entertainment, we have no need to exploit animals. Beyond this we can make healthier and more sustainable choices. The commodification of animals is inherently violent based on the enslavement and exploitation issues alone. The issue for animal rights and veganism is clear, one either participates in the direct suffering, exploitation and death of animals or one does not. Having a clean body is one thing but having a clear spirit involves excluding direct victims from the equation. Going vegan and rejecting animal use is simply the morally right thing to do.

  • ModVegan

    I’d never heard of straight edge until I became vegan! Rebellion with no ethical framework is pretty vacuous, and I find straight edge to be the exact opposite. I like wine, so I’m not straight edge, but I loathe drugs and drunkenness, as does my spouse. Something as simple as not getting wasted at parties can make you an outsider, especially when you’re young. It definitely makes it easier to give up meat when you are used to ignoring the peer pressure to indulge in other behaviours!

    I also find the “good for you” response puzzling. Seriously, if you believe a certain behaviour is wrong, why not just stop doing it? I will never understand how people choose to betray their beliefs, and then mask that betrayal by praising others who behave ethically. What is stopping them from doing the same? Unless you are imprisoned, I honestly don’t think you have any excuse. Either you care, or you don’t. The disingenuous posturing is lame.

  • lilyroza

    A thoughtful and well-written article, thank you! I especially appreciate your point that eating dressing and basing consumer choices on veganism is easier than the interactions you have with people on the other side. When people express amazement that you have made such earth-changing choices, do you tell them that? I wonder if it gets through to them.

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