Vegans are often ridiculed, abused and written off as self-righteous extremists who like nothing more than to push their "beliefs" upon others. However, I wonder how many vegan-haters have actually stopped to consider the concept of veganism objectively, removing the emotional connection to their "entitlement" to have a personal choice to exploit animals?
Vegans do their very best to avoid exploiting animals in all regards. This includes not consuming any animal products in their diet, avoiding animal-derived clothing, not using cosmetics tested on animals, and steering clear of entertainment that exploits animals for human amusement.
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Lee Lin Chin's anti-vegan Australia Day lamb ad
This year's Australia Day lamb ad, starring Lee Lin Chin, attracts complaints over its treatment of vegans.
The most compelling reason to become vegan is ethical. In 2012, the Declaration of Animal Consciousness was signed by some of the worlds leading scientists at Cambridge University. They declared that animals have conscious awareness and can experience affective states. This means that animals have the ability to experience feelings and emotions – they can feel pain, experience terror, and love just like we do as human beings. As such, when we exploit and slaughter animals, they have the capacity to comprehend what is happening to them. Can you imagine such terror? Would you subject yourself or your loved ones to such treatment?
With this in mind, vegans are the true moral bastions of society. They have made a conscious and logical decision, based on scientific facts, ethical analysis and human decency, that cultural traditions, religion, habit, and certainly taste buds, do not justify inflicting torturous cruelty upon a fellow sentient being. How is this something to ridicule, and not instead something to strive for, in a supposedly evolved and modern society?
Black slavery, indigenous genocide, the stolen generation, homophobia, racial vilification and gender inequality are all examples of vulnerable groups being exploited by a group who considered themselves to be morally superior.
Animals are the most vulnerable of all and have been exploited accordingly. Everyday, some 410 million animals (livestock and marine animals) are slaughtered by humans around the globe. This is equivalent to wiping out the entire Australian population every 1.3 hours. Vegans are simply fighting to stop the biggest and most systematic exploitation that this world has ever seen.
Interestingly, those who opposed each of the aforementioned forms of discrimination were vehemently ridiculed and abused in the early days of each respective movement. However, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Because at the end of the day, the exploitation of a vulnerable group is morally bankrupt and never justifiable.
While I am a proud vegan now, it hasn't always been the case. I have been vegan for about 3½ years, but prior to that, social conditioning saw me consume copious amounts of animal flesh and dairy products in my diet. I was under the illusion that our abuse of animals was just how things were. It was the status quo and therefore I perceived it as acceptable. However, if the status quo supports the oppression and discrimination of a vulnerable group, it is never acceptable. History should have taught us this much. Why is the most sophisticated species on the planet unable to learn from their own historical injustices?
As a society, we have a tendency to disregard any idea that doesn't fit the preconceived bubble that firmly surrounds our head. This is how historical injustices occur. By failing to put ourselves in the position of those being oppressed and discriminated against, we are unable to see the error of our ways and make terribly immoral decisions. It is then left for future generations to look back in absolute disbelief at how inhumane our behaviour was.
Detractors of veganism often like to tout the fundamental right of personal choice: "I respect your choice to be vegan, now respect mine to eat meat". What such proponents are failing to consider is that when a personal choice has a victim, it is no longer just personal. Just as it is morally bankrupt to have the opinion that women are inferior to men, it is equally unacceptable to subject a living, feeling, and consciously aware animal to death, just so your personal choice can be satisfied. So, the next time you think to ridicule a vegan, consider that it is people like vegans who have led the charge for every great inequality that the world has ever seen. People who weren't prepared to let morality be obscured by the status quo. Without people like vegans, we would still be living in a society where women could not even vote.
To once again quote Gandhi, "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated". As it stands, our moral progress is deplorable. At least vegans are trying to improve this progress; which is why I am proud to be vegan.
Jordan Lees is a vegan activist and law student.