Before I go through these stages, I want to make sure that the definition of Veganism is clear as based on the creator of the word, Donald Watson:
“We can see quite plainly that our present civilization is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilizations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies.”
“[Veganism is] A way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals.”
There is a strong distinction between adopting a plant based diet and being Vegan, as we can see from the words of Donald Watson above. I am always astonished that people who adopt a plant based diet for health reasons call themselves Vegans. The word is so watered down nowadays that I think it is time for Vegans to defend the meaning of the word.
I have nothing against people who want to improve their health. After all, that is how I help people every day through my health coaching work. However, this, to me is just a tool to get them to become Vegans. As happy as I am that President Clinton has gone on a plant based diet, I can’t tell if he has shifted to Veganism for ethical reasons at all. We have also seen examples of so-called Vegans going back to their old omnivorous ways once they thought it “didn’t work” and realized that these people adopted a plant-based diet but were never Vegans (as we understand it to be, for the animals) in the first place. Being Vegan is about others, not ourselves.
People can get to Veganism through what I call “back doors”: environmental reasons and health reasons. Or through “the front door”: Ethical. That was my case. Then I discovered the health and environmental benefits were a welcome bonus. I will focus only on those who come through the front door directly into Veganism. There are various stages of how we evolve as Vegans. Your experience may be different than most but you will likely find something to relate with.
Stage 1: the “omg” stage.
You were exposed to the cruelty of the meat industry and decided that you couldn’t participate in it. Therefore you decided to go Vegan on the spot or Vegetarian because you most likely don’t know about the egg and dairy industries at this point. Perhaps you have not met a Vegan who told you the whole truth and you are left in limbo trying to figure out what to do. That is a likely scenario if you became concerned about animals but knew no one else who could help. This is still common for a lot of people new to animal rights. And that is why we so need Vegan education above all else.
Stage 2: “I wish I could make them…”
If you have not gone Vegan yet, you have now because you finally learned about the cruelty of dairy and how babies are torn from their mothers etc… If you were already Vegan in the first stage, you probably got the information faster. You now feel a lot of anger. The first reason for your anger is that you have been part of all this cruelty and second, you have become sensitized to the cruelty around you and it is painful, as one would expect. The blinders are off, what can you do? You feel like yelling at your best friend because she/he “doesn’t get it”! Your family drives you crazy and frankly, the world is crap. You want to take a bulldozer and destroy the animal abusing industries.
I call this stage the normal anger stage. All of us, as ethical Vegans, have been through that in one way or another. If you have not, you’re made of steel or something.
Stage 3: the “I’d rather go naked than…” stage.
You need to do something about it. You just don’t know what. But the anger has to be channeled and transformed into action. You want to join protests hoping that people who hear you will change. So you go to all these protests where activists yell at the animal abusers and shout slogans “what do you want? Animal liberation”, “when do you want it? Now!” And so on…
You’re in that stage where you feel if you go out there and participate in this, people will actually change or at least you will feel better because you are “doing something”. There is truth in both. Some people may actually hear the message and think about it and you will likely feel better for doing this. You may even get caught up into the sexist campaigns where they tell you if you go naked for the animals, you will make a difference. You just don’t realize yet that there is no difference between commodification of animals, women or black people. You have not made the link between the issues and buy into the welfarist agenda of gratuitous shock demos.
This is also the stage where you either stay stuck in this same paradigm of protest or move on to something else which is true Vegan education.
Stage 4: the “Vegan Toastmasters” stage
Welcome to Stage 4; if you actually moved on from stage 3. You have tempered your anger and realized that you are not really making much of a change around you by protesting and screaming at the institutional abusers. However, you start to realize that talking calmly about Veganism by using logical arguments is in fact more effective. A friend may have heard you and thought about what you said. Your parents may start changing. You may also find ways of articulating your Veganism by using peaceful means of reaching people. It could be through writing, tableling, doing Vegan outreach education and talk to people on the street. You try to become a more effective speaker so you can clearly give the message. There are tons of ways we can get people to go Vegan which don’t involve screaming at them for things that we used to do ourselves. That is the stage where you make the essential connection between all the forms of exploitations in the world being the result of a mostly patriarchal culture of domination. You are at the age of reason. At this point, the anger is used to give you strength as effective communicator.
Stage 5: The “Mahatma Gandhi” stage
If you’ve come this far, you have now realized that peace on Earth starts with peace in yourselves. Unless you learn to be centered, calm and inspiring, you will never inspire others to be the same, let alone to go Vegan.
“We Must become the Change We Want to See”. Mahatma Gandhi
How do we expect to change others when we don’t change ourselves? It is easy to be angry when we see the violence we are trying to fight against but projecting that violence out there doesn’t change hearts and minds, it closes them. The chances are that you became Vegan because either someone or something triggered your inner compassion, not because someone yelled at you that you were a monster. Let’s extend the same kind regard to others.
Excellent interview with Donald Watson by George D Rodger, chair of the Vegan Society, here: http://www.veganmeans.com/vegan_who/Donald_Watson.htm
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