Call for the awakening of consciousness
I believe I am not the only one who doesn't like labelling, or even shrinks from it. However, the fact is that our society can hardly function according to principles which fall out of the scope of ordinary and familiar, that is the established set of rules. Everything that is different is considered to be alien, unknown; it creates a sense of threat, and consequently is hostile.
There is one label which has been causing confusion and ridicule in our society for the past ten years, and which has become even more ingrained and accepted in today's communication. That label is the word vegan or veganism. Who are vegans actually?
Every average individual who is a bit informed will tell you that vegans are animal lovers who don’t eat meat or any other animal product. Others will say that vegans are an extreme version of vegetarians. How correct these claims truly are? Is there more to vegans than this?
It is true that vegans abstain from using not only animal meat but also all other animal products and by-products. Vegans also don’t wear clothes and footwear made from animal skin and hair, nor use products animals were tortured and killed for. Vegans also don’t support any form of entertainment in which animals are forced into confinement and exploited (for example circuses, zoos, dolphinariums, travelling menageries), and are opposed to hunting, fishing, or any other form of violence.
Let us stop here for a moment: vegans are opposed to any other form of violence.
We know that violence can be both physical and verbal. We can easily recognise physical violence, but what about emotional violence, using blackmail, humiliation, and other methods of verbal violence? And finally, who is this claim referred to?
‘Veganism means awakening, raising consciousness, exiting the fog protecting people from animal suffering and death – the horror continuing only for the purpose of habit, entertainment, and profit’, Joanne Stepaniak writes in her book Being Vegan: Living with Conscience, Conviction, and Compassion (Lowell House, Los Angeles, 2000; a section from the book was translated by Ozren Ćuk for @nimal portal, Zarez, 16 December 2004). In the same book, Stepaniek mentions the vegan ethics codex, developed by her and Stanley M. Saponi, and first mentioned in the book The Vegan Sourcebook. In it, they list basic principles of vegan lifestyle, some of which are: vegans are sensitive to suffering, vegans value the uniqueness of every form of life, vegans condemn violence, and vegans propagate the principles of solidarity.
Since vegans are (or, according to this codex, should be) sensitive to suffering, they ‘dismiss activities which cause pain to an emotional, mobile beings, whether an animal or a human, whether on purpose or involuntarily’. I dare say this sentence conveys the very essence of veganism. In their lifestyles, ways of thinking, ways of conduct, vegans should apply (or already do apply) the same principles of ethics, tolerance, compassion, and empathy towards both animals and people. Just as vegans fight against speciesism – ‘a failure, in attitude or practice, to accord any nonhuman being equal consideration and respect' (the definition is from the book Speciesism, Joan Dunayer, Dvostruka duga d.o.o. and Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb, Čakovec, 2009), which can especially be seen in relations between a person/people and non-human animals – so too should they try to prevent this failure from happening to their species, that is to us (which, I admit, sometimes is not easy at all considering the intensity and the amount of violence animals endure on a daily basis).
Many vegans think that for being a vegan it is enough to be careful about what we eat, what clothes we wear, what personal hygiene and housekeeping products we use. Even if we 'reset' sometimes after we eat something non—vegan (animal) because of haste, lack of attention, or abstruse and small product labels, we turn over a new leaf with guilty conscience and continue going on our merry way of being a vegan. But, is this enough for someone to be calling themselves a vegan? Past experience has shown that it is not.
The internet is, sadly, a witness to 'vegan wars' in which one vegan physically attacks or walks over another vegan, or when one vegan creates a rift inside the 'vegan movement' by defamation, spreading lies and fabrications trying to achieve some personal goal or satisfy their hunger for a little bit of (media) attention. We often witness online posts in which individuals who call themselves animal lovers and animal rights activists accuse and single out like-minded people for showing empathy and compassion to refugees, the poor, and others in need just because they are meat-eaters. Even more sad are examples when they openly show agression and hatred towards meat-eaters, or rather non-vegans, or towards those who have a different lifestyle or personal style, a 'wrong' skin colour, or a 'wrong' religious belief. These reactions aren't entirely incomprehensible considering the scope of horror animals, and the planet, for that matter, are subjected to (ourselves!); but does this mean that they are justified, especially if we take into account that we were once like that?
In the end, don't we include ourselves, at least declaratively, to the category of animals? If all of us belong to the unique animal world, and we are all born, live, and die under the same conditions in the only existential surrounding we have, what gives us the right to trample on the principles we expect others to live by? Is hypocricy in the absence of self-criticism justified? And to what extent can it be tolerated? I repeat, 'vegans dismiss activities which cause pain to an emotional, mobile beings, whether an animal or a human, whether on purpose or involuntarily’.
As I said earlier, we all ‘reset’ sometimes. It is not always easy to live by the vegan codex. It is a higher ethical principle we seek to attain and which demands a daily commitment. All of us lose control of ourselves every now and again because we are all human. Veganism is a lengthy process, and ‘slow awareness can lead to obsession if we forget the fact that compassion, not perfection, is the purpose of vegan lifestyle. Our world is not ideal.’, Stepaniak says in her book Being Vegan: Living With Conscience, Conviction, and Compassion.
With this blog, I intended to point out some more or less (un)known facts, but more than anything else to call for the awakening of our individual and collective consciousness. The circle of ethical veganism consists of love, tolerance, empathy, compassion, and willingness to help others: the rat in a laboratory, the cow in a factory farm, the elephant in a circus, the wounded wolf in the wilderness, the bullied child at school, the elderly woman begging at Jurišićeva Street, the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, the friend who cooked for us a non-vegan meal because she didn’t know there was something different, more ethical, better. We can compare veganism to the golden rule advising us to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“. Really, it seems as if the wisdom of the whole world is woven into this one rule, into these sentences which emit empathy, compassion, selflessness and love. So, if you are still wondering who vegans are, maybe it would be best if you looked around you – you will recognise them by their deeds.
As far as I’m concerned, don’t ask me if I’m a vegan or when I became one. I don’t think labels matter that much. There will be moments when in my empathy, compassion, tolerance, and aim to be a better man, I will stumble and fall. Not once, but several times. But I will get up again, wipe the dust off my knees and blood off my elbows, and continue in the pursuit of my goal. The important thing is not to give up; as John Donne said, ‘Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.'