Down to Earth Advice from Four All American Vegans
We are typical American family: Mom and Dad, teenaged daughter and a pre-teen son. We live in the burbs. We drive a mini-van. We eat white bread, love baseball and a good barbeque on the Fourth of July. To look at us, you’d never suspect that we are vegan, and that’s just the way we like it. Why? Because we are living proof that the stereotypes so often associated with veganism just aren’t true. Not only can you be a vegan and relate to the average American, you can be the kind of vegan the average American can relate to as well.
Contrary to the images that come to mind when most people hear the word “vegan,” we aren’t health food nuts. We aren’t obsessed with Omega 3s or “gluten free” and we couldn’t care less what grains ancient people used to eat. We don’t visit Ayurvedic or homeopathic “healers.” We aren’t Hare Krishna or Buddhists. We are typical Americans who have made the simple choice to swear off eggs, meat and dairy products, and to consume the abundantly available alternatives to those foods instead. In fact, if you peeked inside our house while we are eating dinner you might not be able to tell we are vegan by looking at our food, either. Our meals look the same as those most Americans eat and in many cases taste very similar, but they are made with alternatives to animal ingredients instead of real ones. We eat hot dogs and hamburgers with French fries, fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes and gravy and BBQ ribs with cornbread and coleslaw. For dessert, we enjoy cookies, cupcakes, jello and, of course, apple pie a la mode.
As long time vegans, the authors of a vegan cookbook and the parents of two vegan-since-birth kids (our daughter, Riley is 18, our son, Willoughby, is 14), we are asked a lot of questions about being vegan. Some of them are simple questions about vegan products, such as “Are there any vegan chewing gums?” or “Do you have any recommendations for a good egg replacer?” Others involve social issues pertaining to veganism such as “How do you handle holidays with non-vegan family members?” or “How do you respond when friends or family are unsupportive of your choice to raise your kids as vegans?” Because some of these issues are common ones, we decided to make our answers public, to start a “Ask a Vegan” column to post our answers to these and other common questions we are asked and to encourage the submission of others.
Is there something about veganism you’ve always wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask? Have you been researching veganism and have questions about it, but are feeling a bit overwhelmed or intimidated by all the dogma unrelated to veganism that is so often associated with it, such as having to swear off processed foods, white flour or sweeteners that don’t meet someone’s preferred glycemic index? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll keep it convenient. We’ll keep it ethical. And we promise to never, ever scold you for loving your food deep fried or covered with a sugary glaze. In fact, we’ve only got five rules: 1. No meat, 2. No dairy, 3. No eggs, 4. No honey, and 5. There are no other rules.
For us, being vegan is simple, delicious and more convenient than ever before, and we want to help you feel the same way about it, too. We’re happy to help, so please, don’t hesitate to ask!
Here’s a question about vegan dogs:
How do vegans handle the feeding of dogs, natural carnivores, and the whole no meat due to animal cruelty issue? A holistic vet suggested that we should occasionally feed our dogs low fat cuts of rare meat in addition to their regular diet of dog food. As carnivores, meat is natural and healthy to feed them. Their body was designed for its digestion. But we can’t feed them meat without getting it from some place that slaughtered them cruelly. How do vegans handle this dilemma without forcing your beliefs unnaturally on the animal? By the way, I consider the human/ “pet” relationship to be mutual. You cannot own a living spirit (animal or plant) without its consent to a degree. Please consider this in your answer because that has been my largest questions and hindrance to considering the vegan lifestyle.
Our dog Pickles was vegan for 14 years before he passed away. He had no idea. All he knew was that “chicken” seitan with kibble was his favorite meal and he would gobble it up in seconds.
Vegans often handle this dilemma – the killing of animals for dog food – by not feeding such food to their dogs. We don’t. Our current dog is vegan, as have been every other dog we have ever had the pleasure of sharing our life with. Every morning and every night, our little Oswald eats a mixture of Halo vegan kibble mixed with some chopped, faux meats. The Halo is to ensure he receives all his needed nutrients, the faux meats are because he enjoys them a lot, just like we do. It would never occur to us (or him!) that we are somehow “forcing” a lifestyle upon him by not feeding him the product of another animal’s misery or death. He is healthy, receiving all the vitamins and minerals he needs to remain so, and no one is hurt in the process. On what basis are we morally obligated to also provide him the products of another animals’ pain, suffering and premature death? In reality, it is those who believe it is justified to kill one animal to feed another who are inflicting their lifestyle, one based on a low regard for animal life, onto the animals who are killed. Who suffers when a dog is made to go vegan? The dog who has absolutely no conception that the food he or she is being fed was produced without causing bodily and mortal harm to others? Or the animal whose life is cut short, whose most basic and fundamental right – the one you and I cherish above all others – is taken away so another animal, none-the-wiser that this was done on their behalf and perfectly content to have eaten food that did not require such an atrocity be committed – can be fed a mere meal?
Oswald. Lover of Anything Chik’n: Chik’n nuggets, Chik’n fingers, Chik’n strips. He doesn’t know and couldn’t care less that they aren’t made from real chickens. He doesn’t even know what chickens are. All he knows is that the food he eats is delicious.
The pervasive, casual and indiscriminate killing of cows, chickens, pigs, fish and other animals raised for food often blinds us to its barbarity. One way to overcome this cultural conditioning is to consider such a scenario if it involved dogs or cats instead of chickens or cows. Would you believe you were inflicting your lifestyle onto your dog companion if you refused to buy a product produced with the meat of cats or even other dogs in favor of a food that contained neither?
Lastly, we would ask you to reconsider what is wrong with encouraging one type of lifestyle over another? We believe that being vegan is morally superior to eating animals and that it is our greatest hope that someday, everyone will be vegan, too. In fact, we hope there will be laws making a lifestyle based on the exploitation of animals illegal. Perhaps what trips you up is the word “lifestyle.” The use of that word is meant to obscure the issue, to suggest that by promoting veganism, one is inflicting their own preferences on another, such as requiring all people to be straight, or to follow a certain religion. As Americans, we are conditioned to reject intolerance, to be accepting of people’s differences. And to the extent that one’s choices do not impact the welfare of others, this is, in fact, a moral imperative. We are morally obligated to respect another’s sexual orientation, for example, because not only is being able to act on that preference essential to a full and happy life, but in its expression, no one else must be harmed. But when one’s choice about how they want to live their lives requires denying another individual the right to live theirs as they choose or even to go on living at all – one’s ”lifestyle” choices require an infringement on the right of another to also have those same freedoms. In our dealings with our fellow humans, we recognize that this is a line that should not be crossed. In fact, it is a line we deeply respect and is the moral center of our legal code to which all laws must defer: the Bill of Rights. We have laws that mandate certain behaviors so that the strong do not exploit the weak. Animals should be included in this protection and someday, they will be. But in 2015, we have yet to evolve to that point and thus disrespect for such views is erroneously perceived as a right as well.
Throughout history, “You don’t have the right to inflict your lifestyle onto others” has been the rallying cry of the oppressor in response to those working to safeguard the rights of the oppressed. Had the people who have fought to make our world a better place laid down their cause in obedience to this admonition, we would still have slavery. Women wouldn’t have the vote. Children would be still being working in factories. Disabled people wouldn’t have access to public buildings. And it would be legal in the United States to eat dogs and cats because immigrants from other countries where such animals are eaten would argue that by prohibiting such, our American “lifestyle” is being inflicted upon them.
History is not over. With billions of non-human animals suffering and dying at the hands of humans in bewildering array of contexts, we betray them if we buy into the faulty logic that we owe tolerance to intolerant views that subjugate one group of individuals for the benefit of another. We believe killing animals is wrong, and as such, it is our duty, and in no way inappropriate, for us to expose the harm that is enabled by others not believing and most of all, practicing, the same. Doing so is how we encourage others to think about inherited societal mores which, in reality, do not serve the values of kindness, compassion and respect for differences that they have been raised to believe in. That is how change is fostered so that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, we arrive at a society where the views we espouse today – that animals deserve the same moral consideration as humans, the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we now collectively recognize we owe to one another – are viewed to be as self-evident as our contemporary embrace of those ideals for one another.
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