Introduction to Veganism

Vegans don't participate in the exploitation of nonhuman animals. In other words, they avoid anything that requires nonhuman animals — birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, and so on — to be used or killed. This includes food, clothing, entertainment, and transportation.

Vegans don't: a] Eat chickens' eggs, pigs' flesh, cows' milk, or bees' honey. b] Wear anyone's skin (‘leather’), hair (‘wool’), teeth (‘ivory’), fibers (‘silk’), or feathers. c] Patronize zoos, rodeos, aquariums, or horse-drawn carriages. e] Purchase intentionally bred cats or dogs (though adoption and fostering are important). d] Use cleaning products tested on mice or rabbits. f] Hunt or fish.


Why Should I be Vegan?
Right now millions of nonhuman animals are being used — treated like things or resources. Each is a unique individual who values his or her life. Each wants to avoid harm and feel contentment. You know this well if you have cared for cats and dogs. (Chickens love sunbeams and snuggling no less!) Experiences aside, you probably think we should hurt animals only when necessary. Reflecting on this intuition will help you understand our obligation to be vegan.

Imagine that I have caged squirrels in my bedroom. I enjoy starving them to death and listening to their mournful cries. I can have new victims trapped and delivered with one phone call, and my family has done this for generations. For these reasons I describe my behavior as pleasurable, convenient, and traditional. Yet it's quite clearly wrong. Why? Because squirrels are being needlessly harmed. This evaluation suggests two simple principles:

1) We shouldn't cause nonhuman animals to unnecessarily suffer or die.
2) Pleasure, convenience, and tradition can't make something necessary.

These principles are based on beliefs held by nearly everyone, but they don't match most people's behaviors. So the question is: What would happen if we applied them not only to exceptional cases, like my squirrels, but also to our daily lives? We would realize that over 99.9% of the suffering and death we impose on nonhuman animals isn't necessary in any sense. Most nonhuman exploitation can only be defended on grounds of pleasure, convenience, or tradition.

Excluding dire and unusual circumstances, humans have no need to: a] Eat an animal's flesh or secretions. b] Wear or use an animal's skin, hair, teeth, fibers, or feathers. c] Patronize zoos, rodeos, aquariums, horse-drawn carriages, circuses and movies that involve nonhuman performers, or events where animals are made to fight or race. d] Breed or capture nonhumans for ‘pets’ or ‘guards’. e] Perform dissections or use products tested on nonhumans. f] Hunt or fish.

Alternatives are readily available. Our food, clothes, and cleaning products can be derived from plants, minerals, and synthetics. We have each other for protection and machines for transport. We can entertain ourselves with music, games, books, crafts, and sports. Of course, there might come a time when your only alternative is boredom or mild discomfort. Choose it rather than participate in violence against the innocent. Always keep the victims in mind!

Correct the inconsistency between what you claim to believe and what you actually do. You have that power, and you have that responsibility. Allow your daily behaviors to show respect for the millions of unique individuals who are suffering and dying for no good reason.

How do I Become Vegan?
Start today! Becoming vegan isn't difficult, but it does involve some effort and planning. Anticipate reading labels, asking questions, and discussing your new behaviors with others. Eventually, veganism will become ‘second nature’. If you want, it can fade into the background of your life. Vegans certainly don't feel burdened every time they eat, shop, or seek entertainment.

Never forget the reasons behind your decision. Veganism is a matter of justice, not of ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion’. It should be expected of us because it's morally right, not regarded as a praiseworthy option. Vegans aren't heroes. They are just people doing the minimum required to show respect for nonhuman animals. The information below can help you join them.

What to Eat: Fruits, grains, vegetables, beans, seeds, herbs, and spices are nourishing and widely available. They offer endless variety and culinary potential. Try cookbooks like "New American Vegan" by Vincent Guihan or "The Joy of Vegan Baking" by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Explore blogs, videos, and podcasts like Freshly Served, Vegan Dad, Alternative Vegan, and Vegan Epicurean.

Restaurants: Find vegan-friendly places to eat with Happy Cow, UrbanSpoon, and Yelp.

Nutrition Facts: Reference the book "Becoming Vegan" by registered dietitians Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis. Also check out a guide by the Boston Vegan Association [html or pdf], a position paper by the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada [pdf], a pamphlet by the Vegan Society [pdf], or an FAQ by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [html].

General Shopping: Browse Vegan Essentials, Pangea Vegan Store, and Vegan Cuts.

Dealing with Others: Tell your friends, family, and coworkers as soon as possible. If you are forthright about your veganism, and exactly what it entails, you can usually avoid awkward social situations. For more advice read the book "Vegan Freak" by Bob and Jenna Torres.

Due Diligence: Vitamin D3, carmine, and shellac are among the substances derived from nonhuman animals that aren't always obvious. Decode ingredient lists with the glossary by VRG. Some things might be animal-derived (like stearates). Avoid them or ask the manufacturer.

Taking Medicine: Learn about pharmaceutical products made without ingredients derived from nonhumans in this note on compounding pharmacies by Gary Francione.

Alcohol & Sugar: Bees' honey and isinglass, a gelatin derived from fishes' swim bladders, are among the exploitive ingredients and filtering agents used in some alcohol. Barnivore lists brands to avoid. White sugar derived from sugarcane is often filtered with charcoal made of cows' bones [pdf]. This isn't true of agave, molasses, turbinado, and other sweeteners. Avoid sugar of unknown origins. Sugar that is certified organic or derived from beets wasn't bleached with bone char.

Additional Resources: Visit VeganKit.com and The Abolitionist Vegan Society

I believe you can become vegan in a day or two. If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't think that is possible, consider transitioning over the course of a few weeks. Perhaps start by figuring out what to eat for breakfast. Questions? Contact me! nathan {@} candidhominid {.} com

Possible Questions
What about our health and the environment?   response
Are you saying vegans have to be perfect?   response
Doesn't ‘vegan’ mean something else?   response
What is the history of veganism?   response
How is ‘vegan’ pronounced?   response