I’ve been “a vegan” for a few years now. Four, I think. That means that, for the most part (I’ll explain that in a minute), I have refrained from eating dairy, eggs and meat. I feel pretty disillusioned about the whole thing, to be honest. But that doesn’t seem a good reason to stop.
I’ll try to explain – I’m someone who, how can I put this, does a lot of thinking. It’s my job, actually (weird, eh?). And I’m a very enthusiastic person – when I get into things, I really get into them. So when I became vegan I was really into it. I even helped organize a conference about it in my house. I argued with myself and others about the different ideas of what vegans should fight for, about how to liberate or improve the situation of non human animals. We even went to see the woman who started PETA, and were all very pleased with ourselves when we found our own arguments much better than hers. We were idealists, idealists in the sense that we busied ourselves with pictures of what would be right, given the obvious fact that what exists today is wrong. Watch “Earthlings” and it is clear that there is something deeply wrong with the way non human animals are treated today.
It’s not that I’ve become less idealist. Ideas are crucial. But what’s changed is I’m no longer very interested in ethics. What does it matter if you know what is right if your idea of what is right doesn’t motivate anyone to change their actions? Revolutionary transformations can only take place when force transforms the topography of society. That could take place with respect to the position of non-human animals, but there is little evidence that it is happening.
I’ve become less interested in what is right, then, and more in what is effective. Given that the current treatment of animals is not acceptable, and yet we all passively accept this, what ideas could motivate resistance against the status quo? I have respect for, but I am not a member of, Pig Save – a protest group in Toronto that witnesses and speaks out agains the slaughter of pigs in Toronto. They actually stand out on the curb while the trucks come by. They call themselves witnesses, and they are.
When a hypocricy is so massive, what means can confront it? It feels like common knowledge now that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian”. But it’s not true, at this point enough video has come out (not to mention the existence of youtube) that people can no longer pretend they don’t know of the horror inside those places, or of milking parlours or chicken coops.
It’s simply not true in today’s context to believe that spreading knowledge about the treatment of animals will lead to mass revolt against the system. While certainly you will increase the number of vegans, you also increase the number of those who withdraw, who form hardline opinions against the necessity of changing the human animal relationship. Now that everything is on the internet, there is nothing terribly disruptive about the truth.
At the same time, I think the situation is so dire, and I also think that even if the discussion were to break into the mainstream this would have an extremely positive effect. If veganism went mainstream, capitalism would be happy to sell us vegan food at fast food places instead of burgers. In fact, subsidies aside, I’m sure it would be cheaper. If the perceived cost of accepting the ideals of animal liberation wasn’t exclusion from normalcy, then it would be perhaps easy to have this debate out in the open. But the perceived cost is high today, and the debate can’t be had out in the open because everything is already as open as it’s going to be. Sure, I can encourage a few more people to think about the issues, maybe if I work really hard I can get a few more people to watch earthlings every year. But this gets harder as more and more have already seen it and not just heard about it, and go about their ordinary business. They recognize the problem, for them it is out in the open, but they don’t see what can be done.
I suppose what I’m coming to terms with is the fact that it is not radical today to be vegan, at least not radical in the sense of disruptive or transformative. Perhaps to be truly disruptive today you should eat meat, but do it in a way that demonstrates the grotesqueness of the situation, as in a performance art piece of people eating meat while watching earthlings. (Although, the performance piece could be done with fake meat…)
But as disillusioned as I become, I will stay vegan. And maybe for counter-intuitive reasons – not because it is a sacrifice but because it really isn’t a sacrifice. It’s so damn easy to be vegan when you live in Toronto and have access to a kitchen. It’s actually the cheapest way to eat.