Veganism seems to be getting a lot of attention lately, locally and nationally. One of Spokane's prominent locavore bloggers is even pondering the idea. Craig, of Year of Plenty, has a recent post in which he references a New York Times Op-Ed piece about veganism. Craig seems to be approaching the idea of veganism from an environmental view point, whereas the Times contributor takes an ethical stance using some rather polarizing language. There is some obvious discomfort between these two philosophies and my humble input has been requested. I'm very flattered (and surprised!) to be consulted on this topic. I'll try my best to address this heady issue.
A lot of the arguments used to promote veganism can be off putting — the use of words like "murder" often seem extremist. It's unfortunate that some people choose to use such hyperbolic language when discussing veganism in broad terms. Ultimately, veganism comes from a place of compassion — for animals, human beings and the environment.
The raising of animals for food and clothing has an undeniably detrimental effect on the environment — beyond that, it also induces human rights and social justice issues (Read Fast Food Nation or watch Food, Inc., neither of which promote even a vegetarianism lifestyle, to get a better idea of the human cost of raising animals for consumption). The moment we start talking animal rights or welfare, though, tensions rise. The question of whether or not to eat meat (or any animal products) triggers something deep within ourselves and can cause us to question exactly what it means to be human. For many people this can be a very uncomfortable experience.
The author of the Times piece that sparked this discussion makes some good points, but overall I have to disagree with his approach. I am a vegan for ethical reasons, but my convictions don't end there. I also choose a vegan lifestyle for health and environmental reasons. I just never cared much for meat and like 75% of the world's population, I'm lactose intolerant. There are many different reasons one may choose to be vegan. As we are all individuals, each person chooses to approach the subject differently. Steiner chooses a more hostile and decidedly philosophical approach than I do.
Little more than a year ago, I founded a social group called Spokane Vegans. The impetus for this group was my selfish desire for a vegan community in Spokane. I had been vegan just over a year at the time and didn't have relationships with any other vegans in the area. I just wanted to have some friends to share food with and hoped we might also serve as a support network for each other. With the help of my co-organizer, this little group has grown quite a bit the past year, both in membership and scope. It may be surprising to know that not all of our members are vegan.
The approach that Spokane Vegans takes is very much in line with my own philosophies on veganism. We strive to foster a dialogue on veganism in the community while promoting respect for all earthlings and have fun doing it. To me it just doesn't make much sense to talk about compassion for animals if that same compassion and respect is not extended to the intended audience. I feel very strongly about my reasons for being vegan and I will not apologize for them, but I also won't force my beliefs on anyone. Sometimes we need to be confronted with facts, but when an idea is presented in a confrontational manner it may often do more harm than good.
Veganism is a broad idea with many talking points. Trying to address them all could turn this blog post into a something more akin to a treatise, so I'll try to get back to the topic at hand. Steiner's op-ed piece should not be read as an introduction to veganism. For someone considering their carbon footprint, the adoption of a responsible vegan lifestyle would certainly lessen one's environmental impact and should be considered if this is the ultimate goal. Fact-based readings would prove to be more convincing and beneficial in this case. Vegan Outreach has a page devoted to the environment on their web site. The Vegan Society also provides some great information on the many environmental impacts of animal production. For an unbiased look at the issue, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production has made their full report available online.
Regardless of dietary preferences, I invite the Year of Plenty family and the whole of Spokane to join the Spokane Vegans at our next vegan potluck for some good conversation and great food! We love to talk about and eat food, and the only fights we have are over who gets the last cupcake.