The Veganism Debate, Continued
Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa
The last year has seen two ROAR articles attempting to grapple with the question of veganism. First, there was last edition’s “Hard to Swallow Pills: Veganism Edition,” discussing how “vegans place themselves atop a golden pedestal… ignoring the reasons… disagreements occur.” There was also the year before’s “Meat and Solipsism,” which made a striking argument critiquing the foundation for veganism, vegetarianism, or any of its variants, stating that if you are never truly certain that an animal feels pain, then you need not care about whether or not you are causing them pain.
I should give a disclaimer before I begin commenting on both: I have been vegan for six years and obviously carry my own biases. As a vegan, though, I found both articles to be compelling reads; it helped me explain how many of us are perceived, and how our choices and diet are both vindicated and criticized. Reading “Hard to Swallow Pills” and “Meat and Solipsism” has also caused me to reflect upon questions which I do not regularly consider each time I drink almond-milk hot chocolate or pass on the cheese at a restaurant. While you are living a particular lifestyle – whether it is your religion, your diet, or another aspect of your life – you fall into a routine; the lifestyle becomes second-nature to you. Consequently, you find that you can go on for months, or even years, before questioning its merits and its disadvantages, or reasoning why you chose it in the first place. I certainly found that to be the case in how I had begun to approach veganism. Both articles begot a dialogue in my mind more intellectual than it was personal. I knew already that I had no intention of changing my diet, but I also knew that I would not be satisfied until I could address the arguments raised by both authors. This Roar article is my attempt to do so; it is an attempt to justify what to me has become second-nature and to discuss why vegans are called to justify their diet at all.
First, perhaps we should consider the argument raised in the first article: “many vegans” hold the “baseless” “attitude” “that they’re somehow better than everyone else.” The author continues to note that “not every single vegan maintains this opinion, but enough do for them to have gained this reputation.” While this has not been my personal experience of this community, I can understand that a lot of the media frenzy has depicted veganism as a trend, “a tiresome parade of hashtags and aesthetics perpetuated by a generally condescending crowd of ‘influencers,’ ” as the article described it. Reading this was painful, perhaps because I fear that the media image of veganism replaced a genuine appreciation for the situation of many vegans. Instagram may glorify the diet, but in the cafeteria, there are two, maybe three of us here. In my school in the United States, there were maybe just one or two more. The community is such a minority that apotheosizing yourself in the way this article describes is not an option if you would like to coexist with the people around you. Even bringing up the fact that you are a vegan may bring about a series of half-joking remarks about how you cannot appreciate the finer delicacies of life, or must be crazy, or are simply confused about your morals. I say half-jokes because I, like many of the other vegans I know, have laughed along half-heartedly, shaking our heads. In reality, I dread these moments; I dread the fact that I need to laugh at a moral decision I made six years ago so that I don’t come off as too serious or too sensitive. Perhaps the author of this article, a vegetarian herself, has faced similar incidents at school; perhaps not. I ask, however, for their empathy. The more the lie is propagated that vegans glorify themselves and think they are superior, the more likely it is that they will be mocked when they describe their diet in a real-life setting. We encourage thoughtlessness by promoting the image on Instagram of “influencers” instead of considering the lives, morals, and choices of real people.
My concern with the second article, in a practical sense, is that we often don’t make decisions because we are certain that what we are doing is “correct” and its alternatives are wrong. It prompted me to consider why I chose to be vegan. Can you be certain that the human beings around you experience emotion just as you do? As that author pointed out, you can’t, because you can’t prove (or disprove) this to yourself. But even if you can never be certain about other people’s emotions, you probably still try to be more considerate of the emotions of some people (friends, family, etc.) than of those of others. You have drawn a distinction between how you treat these two groups of people that is not grounded in truth or certainty. It’s grounded, instead, in your personal interests: having the support of friends and family, getting along with the people you see on a daily basis, and so on. Here, the second author may have favored his interest in being certain of his actions over the interest in preventing the pain of other beings. But that can’t mean that he has never considered the second interest. I would imagine that in interacting with friends and family, he would try to avoid causing them pain, or to reduce their existing pain – even if he cannot be certain of their pain. On principle, he may view all that is not himself as the same: something with a questionable existence that is not a viable entity in his system of morality. Yet in practice, he has likely drawn a distinction between kinds of beings it “pleases [him]” to ignore the pain of, and the beings whose pain concerns him and prevents him from being happy. The only substantial difference between him, a staunch non-vegetarian, and me, a vegan, is that we have drawn that distinction differently.
In closing, I would also like to observe that the two articles the Roar has published in the past year have been focused on a vegan diet. I do not say this to encourage the editors to shut down publications on the varying moral choices high school students in this community make; I think that begets a critical and engaging dialogue. I understood and rationalized my choices better because these two editorial writers questioned, challenged, and explored them. However, I would like to point out something: we have never discussed the morals of eating meat in this magazine. Why? I have considered taking a stab at it once or twice, but I shied away from the topic because I realized it may make readers feel uncomfortable or threatened. What I have realized, however, is that perhaps this is, in its own way, a “tyranny of the majority,” that we can question the minority’s ideas without a backlash but remain silent on moral questions that a large portion of this community faces. Today I hope my article, just like the past two, is one step closer to ending that silence.