Vegans from all over North America come together to share their stories for I’m Vegan, a documentary web series.
Below, Gary L. Francione is Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. While traveling about N. America meeting people for I’m Vegan, the crew stopped for an on-camera chat with the professor about animal rights and veganism.
What is a vegan?
A vegan is a person who avoids using and consuming animal products for any purpose, including food, clothing, and entertainment.
In a nutshell, becoming vegan brings one’s behavior into alignment with the belief that it is wrong to harm animals unnecessarily.
Everyone agrees that it’s wrong to harm certain animals unnecessarily. For example, no one finds it morally acceptable to take out one’s frustrations on a dog by kicking that dog. We know that the dog is harmed by this act, and know we cannot justify it because it has served no necessary purpose.
But dogs are not the only animals who can be harmed. All sentient animals can be harmed, and we harm them when we use them as our resources. But, despite our belief that it is wrong to harm animals unnecessarily, we unnecessarily use billions of animals as resources every year. Because we have no need to use or consume animals for food, clothing, or entertainment, the only way to live consistently with our belief that it is wrong to harm animals unnecessarily is to not use or consume them–we must be vegan.
For an expanded discussion on why veganism reconciles our behavior with our beliefs about animals, read this short pamphlet at Scribd.com or down at the end of this page.
The above is based on the work of Gary L. Francione, who identified the problem with using animals as our property in his book Animals, Property, and the Law. In addition to this seminal work, Professor Francione–who also blogs and podcasts at abolitionistapproach.com when he is not busy authoring books (including his forthcoming The Animal Rights Debate)–wrote the following works, which ought to be read by anyone who takes animals seriously:
Anyone can be vegan.
The American Dietetic Association stated in 2009 that appropriately planned vegan diets are “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” You don’t need to live in a larger city with natural food stores and vegan restaurants to be vegan. Vegan foods are merely foods from plants, and those can be found everywhere.
Your vision of a typical meal will likely shift to account for a totally plant-based approach to eating, but a new repertoire of recipes will have you up and running in no time. You may also encounter some foods with which you are unfamiliar that may become dietary staples. It will be useful to shop around and familiarize yourself with these sorts of ingredients, like tofu or quinoa.
Search the web for a wide variety of vegan cooking blogs and recipe databases, and/or borrow books from the library. Of course, a wide selection of vegan cookbooks is also available for purchase at your neighborhood bookstore or online. You can put together satisfying, healthy meals using easy recipes that call for ingredients you can find at any grocery store.
As far as clothing, new vegans may find it challenging to replace dress clothes and coats with vegan alternatives, particularly because wool and leather are such frequently used materials. But, because animal products are not necessary to human health–nor are they generally required to conform to any corporate dress code–there’s no justification for not making the extra effort that may sometimes be involved to source vegan belts, shoes, ties, purses and so forth, much of which can be found online.
And, of course, opting out of animal use in entertainment is as simple as not supporting activities that use animals (zoos, circuses, rodeos, etc.).
How do I become vegan?
Some people become vegan with no delay. It is quite understandable that, upon recognizing that using animals conflicts with one’s beliefs, one would want to immediately stop using and consuming animals and their products. When taking this step, make sure to do so responsibly. You don’t want to leap in without first looking, and then give up because you don’t like the way it’s going or the way you feel.
Get together some recipes that look satisfying, delicious, and fairly easy to prepare. Plan for the shift in where your calories will come from so that you are still consuming the proper amount per day for you. Be mindful of how to source various key nutrients while eating a plant-only diet. We invite you to learn more about vegan nutrition using our online introduction.
For those who simply cannot bring themselves to become vegan immediately for whatever reason, but who want to start moving in that direction in a responsible way (in terms of doing the research and making the proper dietary adjustments at a pace you can manage), below are some alternative approaches to transitioning. These approaches are provided in recognition that some people will have psychological barriers to becoming vegan all at once.
Bear in mind that these should be thought of merely as potential paths toward becoming vegan as quickly as possible. Make a concrete plan and keep your eye on the goal. Anything short of being vegan is inadequate to reconcile our behavior with our beliefs about harming animals.
- 1. Try starting with a vegan breakfast every day.
Enjoy cold cereal every morning? Try simply switching to a brand and flavor of non-dairy beverage that appeals to you and check the ingredients on cereal boxes to be sure you’re avoiding those varieties which contain ingredients from animals. Have a banana or an orange with that, or a small glass of juice. Oatmeal with walnuts and fruit makes for a good start to the day, with lots of protein, fiber, and even essential omega-3s. For an even bigger omega boost, see if you can find some flax seeds to grind up and toss in as well.
If you drink coffee with creamer, use the non-dairy beverage instead (some stores even carry soy creamers, though this is not as widely available yet). Switch to an unrefined sweetener, as white sugar is typically refined through charred animal bones.
One advantage to this approach is that you’ve already switched a third of your meals to plant-only, and with minimal effort. From there, move up to another meal, and then the next. Before you know it, you’ll be eating a plant-only diet!
Note that this is just an example. You could start with lunch or dinner instead.
- 2. One plant-only day per week.
This starts you out a little slower, first eating all-vegan meals one day a week in week one, then two full days per week in week two, and so on. The transition would take seven weeks at this rate.
One pitfall with this variation is that you may find yourself constantly comparing plant foods with animal products instead of giving yourself the chance to re-conceive an entire meal category in vegan terms all at once. For example, if you have a tofu scramble one day and an egg scramble the next, you’ll be inviting unhelpful comparisons between two very different foods, and this may provide unwelcome mental obstacles to your vegan transition.
You may find it helpful to mix and match these approaches. Week 1 could involve switching right away to all-vegan breakfasts, getting you a third of the way there, and then switching all your lunches to vegan in Week 2. Meanwhile you could be adding one new vegan dinner to your menu every week for seven weeks, until all your meals and snacks come solely from plants.
However you choose to transition, remember that the goal is do so as quickly as you can manage, in a way that keeps you focused on the fact that all animal use is wrong, and in a way that leads you to being vegan and sticking with it for good.
Please feel free to write with your questions and comments.