Several years ago I was taking a class at Arizona State University on health behavior change theory. It was part of the curriculum for the Exercise and Wellness undergraduate degree program I was pursuing. One day the professor mentioned that we typically have control over only 16% of the things that affect our lives. He mentioned an earthquake (I believe it was in New Zealand) that was in the news at the time that had resulted in many deaths and serious injuries, as an example of something that the people affected had no control over. I’m not sure where the 16% figure came from, but I understood the general idea he was trying to convey that day in class—that we are born into a complex world with powerful forces to which we must adapt, and in seeking solutions to our problems we tend to focus on the things we really cannot control while neglecting the fewer, but very important things we indeed can control and change.
We live in a world of absurdities, widespread violence, political gridlock, climate change, conflict, and confusion. None of us really understands it, knows how long we’ll live, how long our loved ones will live, or how long our species will endure. All these things create stress that if not properly dealt with leads to unhappiness and poor health.
We long for control over our lives. We seek purpose and meaning. As much as our culture gets in the way, most of us want to do the right thing and make a positive difference in the world. Veganism is a way of living we all can commit to that’s comprehensive, all-encompassing, and sets a beautifully simple moral baseline—that we should not unnecessarily impose pain, suffering, and death on other sentient beings—consistent with existing moral truths almost all of us already accept. It’s part of that 16% of things in our lives over which we have control. Veganism, understood and carried out in accordance with its original meaning as a moral and political rejection of violence, is deeply empowering, liberating, purposeful, and meaningful.
Clearly our largest use of animals by far, the tens-of-billions of land animals and a roughly estimated one-trillion-plus fish and other sea animals that we kill annually, worldwide for food, qualifies as “unnecessary.” Leading nutrition authorities including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirm that vegan diets are adequate and healthful for all stages of human life. We hear regularly of the benefits of eating fewer animal products and more plant foods, both to human health and the environment. Compared to diets that include animal products, vegan diets require far less land, water, and energy investment, and result in much less groundwater pollution. Years ago a United Nations report concluded that animal agriculture was responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. Since then, animal agriculture has only grown in size as more people in developing nations adopt Western diet patterns. So even if you don’t care at all about the lives of animals, eating animal products is not only unnecessary, but also bad for your health and environmentally destructive on a large scale.
As comprehensive as veganism is, there is a reason why its core principle is referred to as a “baseline.” Being vegan is the minimum we need to do as individuals. We ought to also consider adopting or fostering homeless animals if we have the means to do so. Animals stuck in shelters are there because of us. We created the institution of domestication (animals bred and raised for our use, e.g. for food or clothing, as pets or biomedical experimentation subjects, etc.). It was a mistake to do so and like any mistake one that should not be perpetuated, yet the domesticated individuals who are already here desperately need our care. Providing that care with the attitude of “what can we do for these animals?” as opposed to the culturally normative “what can these animals do for us?” removes “use/exploitation” from our relationship with animals and in so doing not only benefits animals tremendously, but benefits us as well by providing some of that much sought after meaning, purpose, and positive difference-making in our lives.
The other thing that we need to do beyond being vegan is to educate others. Here again the 16% figure comes into play. Overall we don’t have much control over how other people think about veganism or other issues. But in the case of people close to us, we do. So focus on that. Friends, coworkers, relatives, and spouses may be more likely to listen to someone who they know personally and can relate to. You can serve as an accessible, living example of veganism, helping those around you to start thinking outside the conventional paradigm about animals.
Recognize the areas of your life that you have control over. Indeed, you can make a difference. Please go vegan, adopt or foster an animal if you can, and find ways to share veganism with others around you.
* * * * *
The six principles of the Abolitionist Approach to animal rights may be read here.
Learn how to be vegan here and here.