Friday, 30 April 2010

Chin up, vegans!

Wow, a newspaper full of positive news! And here we were thinking there wasn't any...

I got into a discussion with a friend recently about my veganism, and he said to me: ‘I don’t mean this in a horrible way, but what you’re doing doesn’t make any difference. It’s not going to change anything.’ And then he just stared at me with a ‘sorry to rain on your eco-friendly parade’ kind of expression.

Ouch. And here I was thinking individuals could change the world. (I’m sure that’s what I learnt in A-Level History...)

For a moment, I imagined myself from his perspective. Does he really look at all of the changes I’ve made in my lifestyle and dismiss them as pointless? Does he think that my passion for this issue is simply a waste of time and energy? Does he think of me as a naive little do-gooder who's unaware of the fact that for every pot of houmous I buy there’s someone out there buying two packets of beef burgers?

I think he thought his comment was akin to telling a 5 year old on Christmas Eve that Santa wasn’t real; it’s not a nice task, but it has to be done. There aren’t going to be many presents this year, so it’s time for the cold hard truth...

Well, as much as I appreciate my friend's honesty, I couldn't disagree more with his opinion, and if anyone needs a reality check, it's him, not me.

So many people believe that we lack the power to usher in positive change. They think that we have no choice but to go along with the masses, failing to recognise that we are the masses. The fact that we have the opportunity to make a choice that can change things, a choice that can ease suffering and bring about compassion and mercy, is a truly amazing thing. We seem to have lost our sense of joy in the fact that we can make that choice, and have also forgotten the huge responsibility that comes with it. Underestimating our worth as individuals and the difference that we can make to the world does a great injustice to ourselves and others. Our agency is a gift that we should grab with both hands.

As a vegan, it’s easy to feel disheartened. After all, once you start seeking the truth about what goes on in factory farming and animal testing, you build up more knowledge which leads to a greater sense of conviction that what you’re doing is right, resulting in you growing all the more frustrated by the ignorance (often wilful) of those around you. Not everyone goes searching for this information, even though they know it’s there to be found. And even if you bring it to them, it’s difficult to inspire in someone else the desire to find out that truth for themselves, to get them to rethink their worldview, and (hardest of all!) to change the contents of their shopping basket. When faced with the horrendous truth about the scale of animal suffering in our world today, I feel pangs of guilt about the fact that I don’t do more to convince other people to go vegan. But experience has told me that the passion we have for ending this injustice simply cannot be inspired in someone else by winning an argument. We can plant the seed, we can answer questions, we can be patient and loving when talking with them, but we cannot make others change. Trite as it sounds, it has to come from within.

So many vegans I have spoken to have felt frustrated and hurt by the dismissive or judgemental attitude they've received from friends and family in response to their veganism, and I know that many people that read this blog don’t even know another vegan personally. That isolation can be really hard.

Throughout the Bible there are references to fact that doing the right thing often isn’t the easy thing, and that we will experience difficult times when we follow our moral convictions. It’s tough. But I sincerely believe that we are part of something huge. We might feel like we’re just drops in the ocean, but eventually the tide will change. Every decision we make to buy compassionately is a victory. Every time we choose a vegan option at a restaurant, we are sending out a message . Every time someone finds out that we are vegan, we are showing that it is a choice on offer to them, and that they don’t have to accept mass scale animal cruelty as a fact of life.

Being a vegan is part of living out my faith. I can't control what other people think about that decision, or whether or not they think it will actually change the way things are, but I know in my heart that I think it's the right thing to do. Other people's opinions are out of my hands.

Even though it’s easy to feel disheartened by how few vegans there are in the world (comparatively), we have to remember that we are not responsible for the decisions or views of others, only for our own. We have to do what we believe is right, even if it seems like we’re fighting a losing battle. As soon as we start thinking that we can’t make a difference, that our moral choices don’t matter, that we as people don’t have a say, that’s when I think we’ve really lost something.

I take a lot of strength from that fact that we're all in this boat (made from recycled materials) together, and I’d just like to say thank you so much for the comments and thoughts people have contributed to the blog so far – it’s so uplifting to know that people are reading and to feel the support of the vegan and Christian community. I am sending you all a virtual vegan cupcake (chocolate, obviously!).

God bless you all.

Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!