I would like to preface this article by saying some of my favorite foods are steak, burgers, buffalo wings, chicken parmesan and a classic egg sandwich. These are foods vegans consciously choose not to eat because of the ethical ramifications associated with eating animal products.
In case you aren't aware, the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian is vegetarians simply do not eat meat, but vegans do not ingest any animal product all. In particular, they do not consume dairy. That means no milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream.
For the past year, I have gone through a difficult experience living with a vegan. This vegan has not only been my roommate in New York City, but she is also my sister. For a long time, her aggressive vegan-based views succeeded in driving me insane. Sometimes, they still do.
When my sister first got into veganism, I thought it was a phase. However, it quickly became apparent that veganism was no phase. Rather, the entirety of my sister's existence had changed and I was about to be thrust into that journey.
The most difficult part of my sister's newfound values was her aggressive preaching. She often tried to change my views, and when I didn't agree to stop eating animal products, we had some nasty arguments. On my end, the argument was always the same: You can't force your beliefs onto someone. You should live life as you please and not be concerned with the way others are leading theirs.
Despite sharing these thoughts with my sister, her stubbornness was overwhelming. She snarled at me each time we went out to dinner. I could no longer enjoy meat at the dinner table without being called a murderer.
Thankfully, the above represents a time when my sister was most heavily disturbed by her investigation of the cruel nature of the food industry. Since then, she's toned down her preaching. However, it wasn't until I saw an Instagram post from F*ckJerry that I felt other people understood my plight. The picture showed an urgent situation on a plane as someone asked, “Is there a doctor on board?” The response is a fellow passenger saying, “I'm a vegan.”
I laughed so hard I nearly cried. Finally, someone understood how crazy some vegans were. I mean, it did not matter what the situation was, somehow my sister would turn the conversation toward veganism. It was maddening.
The truth is, my sister was standing up for a good cause. However, aggressive preaching was a direct threat to my self-esteem, as it was scary to think my beliefs might be morally wrong. Naturally, we don't want to think of ourselves as bad people. However, once my sister chilled out and simply asked me to have an open mind, I finally began to investigate the issues for myself.
What I came to discover was harrowing, shocking, disturbing and often made sleeping at night quite difficult. To be clear, I am not a vegan and have had difficulty transitioning toward that lifestyle despite the knowledge I've acquired. However, the time I spent trying to understand my sister's point of view inevitably changed my way of thinking. Here are six reasons why vegans aren't as crazy as meat eaters make them out to be:
1. Vegans are aggressive because no one's listening.
I can assure you that I won't be sharing upsetting videos or ask you to change your ways. Rather, I will simply be sharing the views of a former, avid meat eater. As mentioned, I still eat meat, but I'm trying to transition away from it. As it stands, I no longer consume pork and try my best to avoid beef. Chicken has been the hardest to say goodbye to.
Before my research, I used to relish eating meat so much that I would write extensive Yelp reviews about my experiences at restaurants. I'd leave detailed explanations about the mind-blowing veal with chestnut sauce, the succulent barbecue pulled pork sandwich or the perfectly tender sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce. However, I wasn't 15 minutes into my research before I realized I wasn't OK with the way this food was arriving on my plate.
To start, vegans are aggressive because what's currently happening in the animal industry is nothing short of horrifying. Now, it would be one thing if slaughtering was conducted humanely (my sister would argue that humane slaughtering is an oxymoron), but often the practices by which meat is put on the table is nothing short of cringe-worthy.
By diving into the food industry, I hoped to understand what overtook my sister's mind. I spent a fair amount of time watching videos, reading articles and speaking with vegetarians and vegans. Most of the time, the things I learned would ruin my day.
I finally came to understand that my sister was being aggressive because animals are enduring a massacre on a daily basis. It's sad that so many of us, myself included, turn a blind eye to it.
2. Vegans are campaigning for a good cause.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of vegans is they are defending the innocent. People tend to laugh at vegans and I'm sure F*ckJerry's post got hundreds of thousands of likes. However, it's sad to think that veganism has been popularized as a joke.
Don't forget, I was the first to double-tap F*ckJerry's post when I saw it, but the truth is that vegans are fighting for animals and in reality, animals do not have a voice. For if they did, they would certainly be speaking out. No living creature deserves to live and die they way millions of these animals do.
3. If we're going to kill animals, they should be killed humanely.
I'm not saying no animal should ever be killed again and we should all hold hands, form a circle and grow radishes. I get it. Meat is awesome. I'm also aware that no one is happily exclaiming, “Yeah torture that chicken!” This just seems to be the sad nature of our food industry.
Still, what I've come to learn is it's not enough to just feel bad. We as individuals have a choice, and if you ask me, the very least we can demand is the humane treatment of animals. Steps have been made in the right direction like raising free-range chickens and producing cage-free eggs. Relax vegans, I know many of you think, “free-range” is a joke. Either way, the portion of farms that partake in ethical practices is tiny as 99 percent of farm animals come from factory farms.
If nothing else, can we take a small step and ask ourselves, “Where is this meat coming from?” That simple question can be powerful in forcing inhumane companies to revamp the nature of their business.
4. Vegans are brave.
There is no time in my life that rationalization came more into play then when I saw the reality behind the bacon I used to eat for breakfast every morning. Instead of campaigning for change, my brain initially fought against the ideas of animal cruelty. I comforted myself with thoughts like, “Well, not all pigs are killed this way. It was just this one pig.” However, I realized this was cowardly because not even one pig should have to endure the cruelty I watched and read about.
In the end, it seems that vegans are willing to take on a battle that many of us are not brave enough to undertake. I found it easier to watch evidence of animals being abused and claim it was an isolated incident while my sister stood up from her chair and screamed, “No!” If anything, the world needs more vegans. Man, I can't believe I just said that.
5. Animals are smart.
Easily the worst part of my journey was learning about a tradition in China called the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Of course, a ton of controversy emerged over this festival, and I could hardly bear to look at the images without feeling sick.
After I cooled down from my initial research, I found myself curious to understand the Chinese point of view so, I wandered into Chinatown of New York City looking for answers. After several discussions, one gentleman explained that many Chinese natives culturally see nothing inhumane about eating a dog just like Americans see nothing wrong with eating pigs or turkeys. Once again, I found myself upset.
However, I later came to the realization that he was right. This hit me after watching the 2009 HBO documentary “Death on a Factory Farm." After that movie ruined several months of my life, I did additional research and discovered pigs are intelligent, much like dogs.
Before learning that fact, I was ambivalent to the idea of pigs. To me, they were dirty, clueless creatures that happened to provide my favorite food in bacon. However, after taking the time to learn about the pigs I was eating, I realized I could never eat bacon again. How could I justify eating a pig when the thought of eating the dog made me both furious and disgusted?
6. Ask yourself, “Am I OK with this?”
Once again, I would like to remind all of you that some of my favorite foods are turkey, brisket, pastrami, hot dogs and I even used to savor the occasional gamey meat like elk or wild boar. I also understand that some people fundamentally disagree with eating these things.
By contrast, my friend Thomas strongly believes that humans killing animals is simply a display of us commanding the food chain and therefore, he is OK with it. My friend Lauren genuinely feels animal lives do not matter and my friend Jorge grew up on a farm in Latin America where eating meat was a lifestyle. Thus, killing and roasting a pig himself at his family barbecue isn't inhumane, but a heartwarming family tradition.
I do not judge my friends or anyone like them. We are all in charge of own lives and have our own personalized beliefs. However, I think a universal trait many of us would like to believe we possess is open-mindedness. If nothing else, perhaps we can all take a look at ourselves and ask, “Am I OK with this?”
For me, that question poses a challenge as it reminds me that the bacon on my plate was once part of a body that liked to snack, cuddle and play just like a dog. No creature deserves to die under inhumane circumstances. Thus, when I ponder these things I suddenly find myself unable to eat, but remain cautiously nonjudgmental of my friend across the table who is eating meat.
I'd like to share a quote my sister showed me:
One hundred and fifty years ago, they would have thought you were absurd if you advocated for the end of slavery. One hundred years ago, they would have laughed at you for suggesting women should have the right to vote. Fifty years ago, they would object to the idea of African Americans receiving equal rights under the law. Twenty-five years ago, they would have called you a pervert if you advocated for gay rights. They laugh at us now for suggesting that animal slavery be ended. Some day, they won't be laughing.
When I first read that quote, I thought it was stupid because animals aren't humans and it kind of sounds threatening. However, I later thought about my dog and the emotions she seems to experience: elation from eating a treat, excitement during a walk, fear when we take her to the vet, anxiety among larger dogs and serenity when she curls up next to me in bed.
It's no secret these feelings are shared among dozens of species throughout the animal kingdom. It is sad to think that we prioritize our dinner plans over the lives of these emotional creatures.
As I sit here, hypocritical as ever with a stomach full of chicken parmesan, I am not asking you to change, because I've hardly begun that journey myself. But perhaps it's time we educate ourselves and ask, “Am I OK with this?” I think you might be surprised by what you find.