I’ve been boycotting animal products for almost a year now, and while it’s been rewarding, it’s also been a rollercoaster ride of internal dilemmas. It turns out being vegan means more than replacing your brie with Daiya and your chicken nuggets with Gardein chick’n.
If I kill a cockroach, am I contradicting myself? Am I really making a difference by not consuming animal products? Is it rude to refuse food given to me that’s not vegan? Are my dietary restrictions holding me back from certain experiences?
What’s more, being vegan does not necessarily mean I am any more ethical than a carnivore. Not eating meat does not mean I am not participating in the unethical treatment of the planet and of the animals that live on this planet. There are a range of ethical issues with how crops, including fruits and vegetables, are grown– like genetic engineering, environmentally harmful farming practices, and the mistreatment of workers who grow and pick the products. So what do I do? If everything I eat has some sort of adverse effect, what is left to consume?
I have come to realize there is no way to be 100% ethical. However, I have also come to realize the passivity of vegan/vegetarianism. When I became vegan, I thought of it as a form of activism. I saw the reality of the industrial agricultural system and decided I would never be a part of it again. But my perspective on vegetarian/veganism has changed. Instead of finding a way to solve the problems that stem from industrial farming practices, veganism has caused me to look away from the issue. By boycotting animal products, I have become a third-party member; an outsider to the very issue that I am trying to change.
I believe instead of eliminating the consumption of animal products entirely, we should support small and ethical farms. By purchasing meat, dairy and crops from these farms, the demand for responsibly raised/grown products will increase, and it will also take money away from the huge industrial farming companies.
However, this solution leads to another question: is this even feasible? If everyone in the world bought their produce, meat and dairy from local farmers, could these farmers feed everyone? I have yet to reach a conclusion to this question, but I have a feeling this would be very difficult to do. After all, the industrial agricultural system we have today derived from the need to feed the masses as we moved away from rural lifestyles to more urban ones. But perhaps if more people began to take a stand against unethical practices by supporting local farms, industrial farms will be forced to adapt more responsible processes and we would not need to rely solely on small farms to feed us.
So do I move away from veganism and begin buying from responsible farms, becoming an ‘ethical omnivore’? Or, do I continue to reject meat/dairy because a universal small-farming model just isn’t realistic? And do I need to even label myself? All of the questions that rise from veganism/responsible consumption make me exhausted. Sometimes I just want to throw my hands in the air and say, ‘Screw it all. Let me eat whatever is available and not think about it.’ But I can’t do that. The cognitive dissonance is too strong. So I continue on with my internal conversations/arguments about the best actions to take to make a difference in the world. Woe is me.