Diet trends come and go, as do food fads. An increasingly globalized world has led to the proliferation of ‘foreign’ chic restaurants that capitalize on cuisines traditionally found only on other continents. This globalization and increased awareness has also led to the rise of the vegan lifestyle that eschews all products produced with animals in favor of healthier, ‘greener’ ingredients and materials.
Veganism is not something inherently modern. Veganism can be found within several Asian, Indian, and indigenous diets. The ‘new’ vegan lifestyle is intended as a radical, sociopolitical response to not only the treatment of non-human animals in various industries, but to ‘throwaway’ culture as well as Big Agriculture. The new vegan lifestyle is intersectional and grassroots and is an attempt to return to sustainability as a model of living, rather than mass consumerism.
Becoming a vegan is an intrinsically radical action, because it simply involves rejecting so many products that are produced and consumed on a colossal scale. A vegan tends to recognize that the shelves stocked with frozen meat at a supermarket come from CAFOs, not the cartoon farm portrayed on many of those packages but a concentrated animal feeding operation. It is a euphemism for a place that can be smelled from very far away, a place that generates many gallons of wastewater and a place where hundreds and hundreds of animals and human workers suffer together. A vegan also recognizes that the problem is not simply the meat industry. The problem is also the dairy industry, where even ‘free-range eggs’ come from chickens that often have prolapsed uteri as a result of selective breeding and artificial lighting that cause them to produce so many eggs. These chickens do not ‘roam around outside the hen-house’ on a romantic family farm, and they are not happy to give their eggs away, or have their sons killed because they are considered ‘useless.’
The problem is also the cosmetics industry, where animals are tested on, the pharmaceutical industry, where they are ceaselessly experimented on, and the fur and leather industries, where they are brutally killed to be worn by those wealthy enough to afford to wear the skin of what was once many living, feeling creatures. Many, many other products also contain surprise animal ingredients, such as tattoo ink and prophylactics. Vegans recognize the many ways in which humans exploit other animals and choose not to participate in that exploitation, and in many cases, fight against it.
Animal sanctuaries are generally nonprofits that seek to establish a shelter for rehabilitated and rescued animals, and in many cases the animals are available for adoption. In many other cases, the animals have several serious health conditions, and despite volunteers’ best efforts, they die. The silver lining is that they died freely, and in an environment far removed from their former prisons and places of torture. Many vegans choose to volunteer at or establish animal sanctuaries out of their deeply held compassion for other animals.
This integral goal of compassion is what unites these vegans. There are many disagreements among vegan philosophers and scholars, the welfarist versus rights debate, and disagreements between vegans and vegetarians, who simply do not eat meat. These are all valuable discussions to have and several books and resources are available for those interested in veganism, in philosophy, or are simply wondering why people choose to become vegan. Authors such as Carol Adams and Lori Gruen are wonderful to read for people interested in intersections and philosophy. .For people interested in sampling some delicious, healthy, and earth conscious vegan recipes, the Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero is wildly popular. Also, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer is a classic. These authors will certainly get interested parties started on a vegan library, and hopefully a vegan lifestyle as well.