I often get asked this question and feel that behind it is the assumption that being veganism is just a phase that people go through, a lifestyle that they will eventually outgrow. If that’s the case, I find the question slightly condescending. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances when I would have no choice but to eat animals. If for some unknown reason I found myself living in the wild, I might have to hunt and kill animals for my health and survival. You could only survive on berries for so long. But I really can’t imagine that situation arising and I definitely would not put myself in that kind of situation.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m committed to veganism and see no reason or valid argument to abandon it as a lifestyle. As a lifestyle, it is based on non-violence towards non-human animals and I think that should be a life-long commitment for anyone who lives in modern society. So long as the option exists to consume food and use products not connected to exploitation, cruelty and suffering, we should always go with those choices. We can’t make those ethical choices all of the time – any choice we make as a consumer could be linked to the suffering of some human or animal – but we should do our best. We should always strive to be conscious and informed consumers.
Perhaps I get asked the question “Do you think you will always be a vegan?” because I haven’t followed the diet for that long – about three and a half years now. Nevertheless, I don’t think that my getting a late start is a reason to doubt my honesty about how committed I am. I would bet that most vegans were not born into the lifestyle, but were drawn to it at a much later age when they were able to appreciate the reality of animal agribusiness and all of the arguments against it.
If I do ever give up veganism, for reasons other than health and survival, I could only imagine feeling incredibly guilty and hypocritical for making that decision. Sure, I’ve unintentionally consumed animal products and felt pretty bad about it, but I’ve never consciously wanted to eat meat or fought against some urge to eat it. The main two reasons that people continue to eat meat, dairy and eggs are for their taste and because it is convenient or the social norm. If one day I ate meat for any of those reasons, it would involve disregarding my beliefs and show a serious sign of moral weakness. We can only do what we desire and I have no desire to give up veganism.
I have also been in a situation where I was out for a meal with someone who had dietary restrictions for religious reasons. One example was someone who was Jewish who followed a kosher diet – for this reason, they would not eat the non-kosher steak that was being served. Like me, they went for the vegetarian/vegan option. This was a point of discussion for us. When he told me he had the pasta because he was kosher, I felt no need to interrogate him about it, but just left it alone as his own personal choice.
When I told him I went for the pasta because I’m a vegan, he responded in an accusatory tone and said at least he had a good reason, unlike me, since veganism is ridiculous. I had just met the guy, so didn’t want to get into a heated debate. But I wanted to be honest, so I said that I could understand his reason for being kosher since it is something traditional and cultural and is probably important to him for those reasons. Yet even though I could sympathise with his position, I could not justify it. I explained that avoiding non-kosher meat and pork is a dogmatic choice if only done because it says so in the Torah. I said (as politely as possible) that my dietary choice had strong ethical arguments supporting it, whereas his had none.
I just find it strange that many people will accept and welcome someone’s religious dietary choice, but will show confusion and hostility towards someone’s ethical dietary choice. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being asked questions about veganism; it helps to constantly remind me of the reasons for making that choice, as well as to dispel any prejudices that other people might have about the lifestyle. Not all vegans are hippies and hipsters. But if someone asked a Muslim, “Do you think you will always be a Muslim?” or “Do you not see how nonsensical it is to avoid pork just because the Koran says so?” they would probably be offended. In the same way, it would be condescending to ask a gay rights activist if they would ever stop campaigning for gay rights. We would never ask a feminist, “Do you think you will always be a feminist?” The question either expresses doubt as to the person’s loyalty to the cause or it fails to appreciate the urgent need for the cause; whether it’s gay rights, women’s rights or animal rights.
As a society, we should criticise consumer choices which deserve criticism, such as religious dietary choices, adopted for no reason other than custom. We should especially criticise the consumption of kosher and halal meat which involves a more violent and cruel method of slaughter compared to the traditional method of stunning. It’s disappointing that religion continues to receive special treatment. People are afraid to offend someone who is passionate about their religious beliefs, but not someone who is passionate about their ethical beliefs. But that’s okay – I don’t get easily offended.