We have limited time and resources. We can spend it worrying about ingredient lists, arguing philosophy, praising veganism, and enforcing definitions / excluding people from being "vegan." Or we can work to help others take steps to reduce the number of animals bred into factory farms and butchered in industrial slaughterhouses. In other words: we can focus on and promote our personal veganism, or we can get new people to take start taking steps that help animals. (See also http://whyveganoutreach.blogspot.com/2013/04/lincoln-and-first-step.html)
2. How long have you considered yourself vegan, how has your attitude towards vegans, as a group, evolved over that time frame?
I stopped eating animals sometime in the Stone Age – back in the 1980s – and evolved to veganism a few years after that. At that time, I was a total vegan clubber – worried about justifying and praising my veganism / attacking and “winning arguments” with meat eaters, etc. I would repeat anything and everything I heard that sounded vaguely pro-vegan, or anti-meat, regardless of its veracity or its impact on others.
It took me years to realize that how I felt about veganism, or the issues that seemed (to me) to be related to veganism, were ultimately irrelevant. The animals mattered. Period. And if I wanted to help as many animals as possible – to reduce as much suffering as possible – my actions had to be focused on the animals, not me or veganism.
Psychologists have a good idea why and how people change, and it isn’t by being confronted by an egotistical absolutist who cares only about their definition of veganism. People change when they open their hearts and minds to change, and we can help this by reaching them where they are, focusing on the first step they can take, rather than talking about the last step we took.
3. Why did you initially embrace veganism?
When I was a freshman in college, my roommate was a vegetarian. He told me about the cruelty of modern agribusiness. I didn’t change at first, and there was a false start, but I eventually did stop eating animals. This evolved over time – I gave up factory-farmed eggs, buying “free-range” from the local health-food store. I bought only Amish cheese. And then I gave it all up – I finally got to the point where habit and convenience didn’t outweigh wanting to make choices that caused animals to be killed.
4. Why do you currently embrace veganism?
I actually wouldn’t say I “embrace” veganism. For the reasons I discuss in AML (http://bit.ly/meaningfullife), my goal in life is to reduce as much suffering in the world as possible. But my personal food choices are only a small part of that. Being a good, joyous example; writing constructive booklets and essays; doing and promoting effective and efficient outreach; living simply so more money can go to the animals – that is what I seek to embrace.
5. How did you perceive veganism, as a lifestyle, before you were vegan?
Hard! Bordering on crazy and impossible!
6. How do you perceive veganism, as a lifestyle, now?
I know many vegans like to say, “Veganism isn’t a diet, it is a lifestyle!” They then go on to say, “And the lifestyle is X, Y, and Z,” and X, Y, and Z just happen to align with their personal views – their politics, their other habits, their philosophy, etc.
Not surprisingly, I was like that, too. It took me a long time to realize this was, at best, a waste of our limited resources. But worse than that, this attitude just serves to put up barriers to others. It is much less likely for a new person to consider taking any step when we insist on the last step, and that step has to involve many things other than what we eat. (See also http://www.veganoutreach.org/advocacy/definingvegan.html)
Now I only care about more people learning the hidden cruelties of modern agribusiness. This is how more people can take the first step toward helping these animals. Reading and/or worrying about debates about veganism … well, this isn’t an efficient use of my limited resources.
7. What was your attitude towards food before you were vegan?
I would guess I had a pretty typical Midwestern attitude toward food before I met Fred, my first roommate in college. I really didn’t like vegetables (except corn on the cob), steak was the “special treat” food, etc. I was a middle-class kid who dreamed of a good career, a bigger house, a fast car, a fancy stereo system, trips and good food, etc. That first week of college, my parents and I planned to celebrate my future graduation at the city’s five-star French restaurant.
8. What is your attitude towards food now, as a vegan?
We have such great, amazingly tasty food today. I look forward to meals – choosing is difficult! It is so much different than when I first went vegan, I can’t begin to tell you. Between being poor and the lack of options, it was rough. For a while in Cincinnati, there was a little place – Take Outrageous – that had this amazing deep-fried tofu sandwich with a sauce we thought was infused with some addictive drug. We would each have one, and were absolutely tormented because we couldn’t afford another. Now, I eat things that at least that good nearly every day, and I don’t have to fret about affording my next meal. Life is good, baby.
9. What role does “personal purity” play in being vegan?
See this: http://whyveganoutreach.blogspot.com/2013/03/npr-and-vo-more-on-being-vegan.html
10. Do you feel camaraderie towards others who identify as vegan, why or why not?
Although I obviously have great sympathy for people who, like me (http://www.veganoutreach.org/articles/youngmatt.html) have a different focus than my current work, I tend to feel the deepest connection to fellow utilitarians dedicated to practical, efficient, and effective work to reduce suffering.