I vividly remember the moment I became passionate about both animal rights and the environment. At the risk of sounding trite, as a ten-year old watching the polar bears drown - my most beloved of animals - via a Greenpeace infomercial, I curled into a ball and bawled for all of the helpless animals across this great big globe of ours. And ever since, both causes have been foremost in my heart. Increasingly, however, I'm finding that the label 'vegan' - which I wear proudly - is not always totally aligned with both those principles.
Yes, absolutely, becoming vegan is the greatest action each of us can take in our day-to-day lives to ensure a healthier planet. But the definition of vegan is as follows: A person who refrains from using any animal product whatsoever for food, clothing or any other purpose. Aligning a respect for nature along with all our animal friends on earth, for me, has become less straightforward than I initially contended.
I respect how nature works. Animals eat other animals, and while I can't stand to watch it, I do accept that. It isn't inherently bad to eat meat, in my book. But, what is unspeakable is the way in which we raise animals for food. With zero respect for the beingness of each animal we consume, we devalue their life to the point that we stuff them in heinous environments, abuse them, inject them and treat them when they are alive as though they were already dead... because they will be soon, right? Wrong. I am wholly disgusted by this system and will never let the end of my fork make me a participant in such actions.
Now, the other side. My vegan brother recently brought some eggs back from the local "Be Love" farm where the chickens enjoy the chillest of awesome chicken lives from an organic, sustainable farm (I've seen them myself!). As two vegans, we looked upon these gorgeous eggs and thought, "we can't eat these because we're vegan." We just wouldn't feel right about it. So we didn't. Then, I walked by my local ice cream shop, Scoop, and marveled at their flavors made using dairy from a small, local farm I've been to where happy cows roam in open space. And I passed up that Cowgirl Creamery stand at the farmers market citing my mantra, "I'm vegan." All this has got me thinking about how this label can put us in a box. Because I wouldn't have an ethical dilemna in scrambling up a couple of those eggs, enjoying a scoop every once and awhile or spreading a dollop of farmstead cheese onto my organic artisan baguette. But, then, I wouldn't be vegan anymore... it seems.
For vegans with eco values, it's a dilemma worth exploring. And, while the idea of eating a dead animal will never appeal to the ethical side of me, I'm considering relaxing the terms of my veganism to include dairy products that are produced in a sustainable way from local farms that I know treat their animals with respect, and maybe even reverence. Afterall, if we vote with our dollars, these are the dairy establishments I would like to see thrive. And, I may even salvage an old pair of leather boots who might have otherwise seen landfill one day. For, while I am 'vegan', I am also an environmentalist and someone wholly capable of thinking outside the box. Just saying...