Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Being 'A Good Vegan'...

A new job, for me, always heralds the arrival of a new coffee mug.

Some folks get a whole new wardrobe. Some a new computer. Me, I get a coffee mug. But hang the expense...sometimes I use it for tea too!

This is my latest acquisition in action:

It's from Compassionate Cooks and is easily the best mug I have bought in several jobs. Capacious with a large, palm-friendly handle, this mug is going to hold all the coffee or tea I can drink on the job and then some. And it spreads the message without me having to say a word: "Be kind to animals - Don't Eat Them". Nice and simple - a philosophy you can take to the bank!

Which brings me onto the topic I was mulling over this morning - practical veganism. I'm currently reading Joanne Stepaniak's book 'Being Vegan' in which she emphasises the difference between veganism and vegetarianism. One is a way of life, the other a way of eating. And I think this is the first time I have seen that distinction set out so clearly. Within the vegan community, I get the sense that vegetarians are considered 'pre-vegans' or maybe 'not-quite vegans', but Joanne draws a very firm line between the two and I think I'm tending towards agreeing with her.

The difference is fundamental and goes a long way to explaining how vegetarians can continue to eat animal products - eggs and dairy, specifically - wear leather and use products which are tested on animals, such as big label cosmetics and detergents. I had always been unable to reconcile this apparent incongruity, unable to understand 'selective compassion'.

But what I'm learning from Stepaniak's work is that vegetarianism really is about diet, whereas veganism is a whole lifestyle founded in compassion and active harmlessness. I particularly like this last part - active harmlessness - as it moves veganism out of the realm of passive avoidance (of animal bodies and secretions in 'food', of animal skins as clothing etc) and into an active realm of making life better - for animals and human animals alike.

I have always felt strongly that it is not sufficient to simply switch from a ground up cow burger to a veggie burger, but that I had to do more. I have to spread the message, to show folks how their actions - like mine - affect others around them. To be a good vegan and to make a difference.

And so, I came upon a post by Agnes, the high priestess of homemade vegan ice cream and was saddened to learn that she's received flak about a recent recipe. Apparently the Guinness in her Guinness ice cream is not vegan and some people have slammed her for being a 'bad vegan'. Since she's disabled comments on her blog, I hope she's able to get to this open letter.


Dear Agnes,

I am a fan of your blog - I guess that goes without saying. And I was sad to read your latest post as it's obvious that you feel pretty bad right now. Your 'Mea Culpa' is wholly unnecessary and here's why...

Veganism, to me, is not about 100% purity - it's about minimizing suffering and exploitation. It's about making big choices every day to step outside of the meat-eating culture and refuse to support the institutionalised torture of the sentient beings whith whom we share this living experience. It's about doing the maximum we can to make life better for animals - human or non-human.

It is not about obsessing over minute ingredients.

It is not about alienating those who might otherwise be drawn to veganism by being the difficult diner, the scourge of waitstaff, the sotto voce grumbler or whiner.

And it's not about being holier-than-thou and judgemental.

It's about showing people that the vegan lifestyle is fun, expansive, fulfilling, easy and healthy. That what we put in our mouths very literally becomes part of us. And if that food is full of life and energy then we become different people than if we 'nourish' ourselves with the results of pain, torture, terror and death.

It looks like you've felt forced to hold up your hands and admit to being 'a bad vegan', but that's ridiculous. You obviously spend a great deal of time on your blog and who knows how many people that has inspired to **at least try** a cruelty-free option. You are 'walking the walk' and doing immeasurably more than all of the the critical label-readers and nit-pickers out there.

OK folks, so Guinness may not be vegan. Let's move on. Give everyone credit where it's due and don't let's slam each other for perceived infractions of a code. Because that kind of reaction is decidedly Not Vegan!

Take heart, Agnes, and keep up the good work!


And Stay Vegan, Friends!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

One Chapter Ends and Another Begins...

Today was my final day at work. On Thursday I start my new job, so today entailed a lot of leaving. It took me pretty much the entire morning to do so in fact. And some of yesterday too.

There is always a get-together. A small celebration of someone's time with the organization, so I half-expected a few words and a glass of something slightly less caffeinated than my usual beverage of choice at work....

....a full-blown vegan extravaganza, however, I did **not** see coming.

Yes, you read that right!

The folks at my (now former) company catered a full vegan meal and it was lovely. Just lovely.

I hope they won't mind me sharing some of the pix....

This is my former boss, smiling so happily. I miss you already, Tom!

And see how wide people grin when there's great cruelty-free food on the table!

This is some of the spread, sadly I didn't get any close-ups as I was in a state of overwhelmed confusion at the whole thing and not quite in my right mind.

It's an odd fact that you really only learn how truly good people can be at certain, defining moments. Yesterday was one of those moments. Everyone at my organization is busy and overstretched, but still they took time to do something for me. Some people cooked at home and brought food in, others special-ordered 2 vegan cakes (I am usually the baker, and I would have made my own cake if I'd thought about it!!!), and still others brought a heart appetite and made it a really fun and relaxing lunch. And I am feeling humbled and grateful and sad to be leaving and excited to begin the next chapter of my life....all at once.

And perhaps becoming vegan has helped me in that regard too. I feel it's made me humbler, more open to seeing the compassion in others, quicker to offer kindness and more able to accept it from others.

And I really like that.

Tom, Rachel, Suzette, Chris, Jennifer, Tim, Humera, Katie, Angela, Bhavin...everyone...I will miss you all!

Stay Vegan, Friends!