A Reason to Be Vegan

I am vegan for the planet. For our biosphere, really: for the sake of all of Earth’s living communities. Veganism is an environmentally conscientious stance, understood in conjunction with the deep empathy and respect that’s the essence of the vegan principle.

Yes, of course, I am vegan for the cows, pigs, sheep, and all the footed, finned, and feathered ones I spare from Death Row; but then, the deep empathy in veganism means respect for their ancestral communities in nature. It means defending their right to live on nature’s terms, not the terms of animal breeders. That means sparing animals from being systematically turned into our pets, too.

Can we agree that deep empathy (which enables care) and respect (which is the basis of a liberation philosophy) are the essence of veganism? If so, do we say so?

Or is the deepest-rooted reason for veganism neglected in our advocacy?

Especially now, posits Bill Drelles, a vegan in Cleveland, it’s important to ask questions about veganism’s essential ethic. Bill points to the electoral triumph of Donald Trump as interwoven with a distrust of intellectual and factual argumentation, and wonders if there are any lessons here for vegan advocates whose outreach has become increasingly based on health and climate-related arguments.

To argue that vegan living makes you healthier or environmentally friendlier, Bill observes, you’ll have to rely on facts, projections and analyses. If published, such work is typically met with opposition through conflicting articles, books, and other media—coming from parties with the resources to overwhelm truths even by creating just an element of doubt (as climate change deniers do).

Photo by Jen Kaden.

Bill Drelles. Photo by Jen Kaden.

The ethic at veganism’s essence, though, doesn’t rely on facts, assumptions, and analysis. It comes from the heart—timeless, and articulated clearly and succinctly by Donald Watson and supporters.

Are today’s vegans familiar with the origins of veganism, and what its creation was based on?

Time is never wasted when spent delving into the vegan community’s originating principles. For regardless of the factual or logical relevance of the environmental, health, social-justice, and other motivations for being vegan, central to veganism is our forthright, conscientious objection to warring on other living communities—our respect for their lives lived, to the extent possible, on their terms.

Advocacy using compelling, science-based arguments does play an important role. That’s because if the vegan movement’s essential principle is its foundation, then such arguments are part of the superstructure.

But the main thing, Bill says, is this. Deep empathy and respect for the Earth’s living communities must be known as the foundation upon which our environmental and health-related arguments stand.


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7 thoughts on “A Reason to Be Vegan

  1. What at a wonderful piece to receive this morning after having a Vegan party last night. It is still a struggle to guide friends to an understanding of Veganism. My line of “Being a vegan is not just about eating vegetables” is sometimes an eye opener.
    Bill’s comment of veganism coming from the heart and respect for all who live therein is a simple, profound truth. Thanks to Lee for this article !!

  2. I could not agree more. Veganism is not about “us”. Not about our health or about “our” environment, or the impacts of climate change on us, thereby calling for mitigation to minimize its dangers to us. Veganism is about respect for, and non-exploitation of, the non-us. It is an ethic of empathy and of reverence for all life. This message is what must be, and remain, our primary focus, as both Lee and Bill emphasize here. And as Bill points out, and Lee seconds, relying on facts in an age when fact and fiction seem to carry equal weight puts the vegan movement on a slippery slope. Facts can, are, and will, be refuted countered and denied. It is the effective weapon of the forces that seek to keep us confused and disconnected from truth. But the ethnic cannot be denied. It cannot be “disproven”, for it comes from the heart and cuts straight through to an undeniable truth. The weakness of the vegan movement stems from our failure to stay true to that immediate message, and in getting bogged down in all the indirect offshoots of it- all the other “reasons” for “going vegan” that we falsely believe are bullet points that will appeal to people. But those appeals only appeal to self-serving interests, and that is antithetical to the authentic message of veganism. In so doing, we reinforce the very root, and genesis, of the problem.

    The other point of Lee’s essay here, concluding with Bill’s paraphrased notion, is also critical: “Deep empathy and respect for the Earth’s living communities must be known as the foundation upon which our environmental and health-related arguments stand”. Yes. Veganism is certainly about the billions/trillions of enslaved land and marine animals we exploit for food. But that, huge and significant as it is, per the absolutely obscene horror of injustices heaped upon individual lives, is symptomatic of a wider injustice, borne of an even deeper malaise, one that is even more fundamental and insidious- our outright war upon life on Earth: Earth’s living systems; communities and ecosystems of free-living beings; biodiversity; the very ecological integrity of the more-than-human world, home to all that is sacred. To wit- the 6th mass extinction they are facing, and the specter of whole ecosystems collapse, due to our failure to respect and revere the essence of life. Veganism is an ethic that can speak to that. We must not keep it limited to society’s limited and self-serving view of it. And we as advocates must include in our ethical message the message of embracing all life, and all of life’s systems and communities of beings. The issue of “food” animals is but one battlefield in the even greater war being waged against all life. And we won’t win the battle if we don’t have a vision of winning the war.

    We of mainly urban perspective, “remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice” (Beston), must not allow our alienation from nature to keep our vegan ethic and message similarly alienated from the broader and wider totality of what veganism is really fundamentally all about.

    Thanks Lee and Bill for your insights and inspiration here.

    Jack McM

  3. It is so true that veganism “comes from the heart”. Once one’s heart is open to this way of life, there is no going back. As always, and excellent piece, Lee ❤ ❤

      • Hi Emy, This was very disturbing for me to watch. Some of it I already knew, it’s sad that we use and abuse these intelligent animals as if they were mere objects and “raw material” for profit. Every single thing she mentioned can be made with something else (a non-animal product) such as soap can be made with vegetable oil.

        With compassion,
        ❤ carmen

  4. Nice to meet you Lee! Thank you for this well-written article. One thing no one can argue with me is that being vegan gives me peace in my heart.

    With compassion,
    ❤ carmen

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