A letter to… My non-vegan mother, who I still love
I read the letter you wrote to me in The Guardian. I am sorry your feel that I hate you and that you repulse me. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am most sorry that I did not clearly explain to you why I am vegan and I hope to do that in this letter.
I did watch the “pro-vegan documentaries, read mountains of information on the internet and can effortlessly reel off the soundbites.” They showed me horrors of animal farming and environmental damage. Those realities are part of the reasons for veganism, but they are not its basis. Unfortunately, none of the information, documentaries or any of the well-known animal welfare organisations clearly explains a simple concept: that veganism is a baseline of justice and fairness that we owe animals if we believe that they are not things. Every time you have recoiled from stories of dog/cat/dolphin/gorilla abuse and slaughter, you have – consciously or subconsciously – confirmed that animals are not merely things.
Everything in those documentaries and in that information is framed in terms of compassion and kindness towards animals. What are those exactly? They are such fuzzy terms, like fairy dust that we sprinkle upon worthy few. I don’t blame you for being unconvinced. We never use compassion and kindness when we are talking about basic human rights. Imagine if we talked about the basic right to freedom from slavery or right to personal security, liberty or life as a matter that turned on someone’s compassion or kindness instead of being a basic moral right, or something that is just and fair. If we did, those rights would be meaningless.
Veganism is not about animal welfare, compassion or kindness. It is about whether it is moral/just/fair to use animals in the first place. They are sentient beings like us. It is true that they do not look like us, they think and feel differently and have different wants, needs and skills. However, these are not differences that determine whether it is just or fair to exploit and kill them. To justify our using them we invent differences for self-serving and arbitrary reasons, namely, our pleasure and convenience. These reasons are not good enough to justify our killing them.
Whether we treat animals well during their lives is of little consequence to them when they all meet the same brutal end. Of course, being treated well is better than being treated poorly, but we would not accept a life at the Mandarin Oriental if it meant kin, our friends and we would be shot in the head for having done nothing other than exist. We appease our conscience with fabricated paradises so we can justify eating steak, cheese and bacon. There is no way to exploit animals kindly or compassionately.
Although you see veganism as a choice, it is as much a choice as is choosing to not to be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, ageist and so on. We can choose to be any of those things and, in some circles, those choices are celebrated. It does not mean they are right. The same goes for speciesism. The only difference is that the majority world thinks it is ok to use animals. So what? That does not make speciesism right, just like it is not right for racism or sexism to be a foundation of our society. You taught me “tolerance is vital” and for the animals, our tolerance is literally vital because without it, they end up at the tip of our forks.
Choosing not to be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, ageist, etc means that we recognise that we owe others at least a basic level of fairness and justice. Similarly, not being speciesist means recognising that we owe animals a similar baseline in fairness and justice. In practice, that means that at the very least we stop using them for food.
You were worried about my “limited diet” and that I “wouldn’t get the nutrition I needed.” Well, do not worry because humans have no need to consume animal products to be healthy. There is an overwhelming number of respected and well-known health and nutritional organisations that confirm veganism is perfectly healthy for anyone, at any stage of life, and at any age – even for a “middle-aged woman.”
I appreciate that you “found it a challenge to research and cook meals for” me. I should have helped you research and cook. Perhaps you could have encouraged and included me as an integral part of food preparation. Today in the UK and elsewhere there are so many resources and myriad fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and vegan products on the shelves of supermarkets and corner stores that the only challenge is choice!
It is unfortunate that I may have come across as judgmental. I am not judging you as a person. I am only looking at your actions. I know that you believe in justice and in doing the right thing. You would never say to me that continuing to discuss and educate someone about the devastating effects of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc is being dogmatic, intolerant or even judgmental. You would encourage those discussions. And that is what I am doing; I am continuing to engage with you. I am continuing to educate you on why speciesism is a bad thing and on why going vegan is as basic a behaviour as treating all people the same despite their differences.
You are not too old to change. Being “a middle-aged woman” is not a reason to stop you from doing anything you want to do. You can stop being speciesist just as anyone of any age can stop being racist. Age is not a barrier to this type of change. You are in control of your thoughts and actions.
If after much talk, discussion and education someone holds fast onto remaining racist, sexist or anything else, including speciesist, then at some point one has to give up. It would otherwise be too hard and painful to continue engaging them on a meaningful and authentic level. But even in such an eventuality, it would not mean that I would hate them… or you. My fear is that despite my sincere efforts, your speciesism will remain vivid because you will find a million excuses to continue exploiting animals because you like how they taste and you are used to it. And I will just have to live with that.
Author’s note: The author of the letter in The Guardian is not actually my mother. However, I too used to have a porous understanding of veganism until I read Eat Like You Care (Francione & Charlton).