What is a vegan lifestyle? When we talk about veganism, many people hear the word “diet” as the most important part of the conversation. After all, one of the most well-known aspects of the vegan lifestyle involves not eating meat or animal byproducts. Yet by centering diet as the soul of veganism, we might be doing a disservice to vegans. There’s far more to the ethos of veganism than simply controlling what one puts in one’s mouth, and ignoring these other facets of the vegan lifestyle denies its power.
If you’re thinking about going vegan or if you already consider yourself a vegan, it’s important to understand why you make specific choices as a human and as a consumer, and why you choose to avoid things that other people consider commonplace. No, you don’t have to become an academic scholar, nor do you need to tell everyone you meet about your vegan lifestyle. However, part of the movement involves living your values. Instead of just expressing them, you demonstrate them through what you choose to do and not to do.
Let’s take a deeper look at the vegan lifestyle and what it truly means to those who practice it.
What Is a Vegan?
The Vegan Society defines the vegan lifestyle as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” That’s pretty comprehensive.
Vegans lead with intent. They do their best, however small, to create a world in which no animals are harmed by service to humans.
And it goes far beyond diet. Vegans have been behind many protests against circus acts and other entertainment venues that force animals to perform for human entertainment. A circus has nothing to do with diet — unless you count popcorn and cotton candy — but everything to do with animal welfare. Animals forced to perform for human entertainment often show no signs of enjoying the work or wanting to perform. Consequently, the trainers have to use pain to evoke the desired response from the animal.
The vegan lifestyle involves actively avoiding any practice that damages animal welfare or subjugates animals for our benefit as humans.
What is a Vegan Lifestyle?
A vegan lifestyle is a creed and a way of life that denies that other animals exist for our use. We were all put here for our own purposes, and animals other than humans contribute just as much as we do to our ecosystem. Vegans believe that we can live side by side with animals rather than as “apex predators.” Instead of exerting dominion over animals, we can help them live their lives as naturally as possible.
The vegan lifestyle does involve diet. Vegans don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy, or any other animal byproduct, including the honey that bees produce. However, it’s much more than that.
We know that animals are used to create many consumer products, from soaps and cosmetics to clothing. Vegans wear synthetic fabrics, for instance, instead of wool made from sheep, llamas, alpacas, and other animals. It’s true that these animals aren’t killed for their fur. However, they’re terrorized during the shearing process, which they don’t understand, and are left without their natural protection from the elements.
Just as the vegan lifestyle is about intent, it’s also about mindfulness. Before buying something at the store, a vegan considers whether or not it has had a deleterious impact on animals in any way.
Vegan Numbers Are Growing Rapidly
According to statistics from 2017, the incorporation of vegan foods into meals across all American households has risen by 40 percent. Furthermore, nearly half of all Americans support banning slaughterhouses, and in some countries vegan populations have increased by as much as 600 percent. The data is clear: more people are going vegan every day.
This evolution creates significant demand for consumer products that fit the vegan lifestyle. Businesses, including factory farming operations and slaughterhouses, operate on supply and demand. If nobody wants to eat meat or animal byproducts, these businesses shut their doors because they can’t justify continued operations.
Part of the vegan lifestyle means refusing to put dollars into the hands of people who would hurt animals in any way. As more people take up the vegan lifestyle, vegans’ voices become louder and more difficult to ignore.
There Is So Much More To The Vegan Lifestyle Than Just the Healthy Food
Nobody can deny that vegan food is delicious. It’s whole, plant-based, and diverse, which means you can’t possibly get bored if you’re open to all the foods available to you. However, the vegan lifestyle doesn’t revolve around food alone. As mentioned above, it’s an ethos or creed that helps people to live their values. Vegans know what they believe, and what they hold sacred, and they do their best to ensure that their behaviors follow their hearts.
It’s important to understand the vegan lifestyle, because it’s easy to say that you love animals and support their rights but still to chomp down on an all-beef burger for dinner. It’s similar to an environmental activist driving a gas-guzzling car and drinking water from disposable plastic bottles.
When other people see that you’re living a vegan lifestyle, they might become curious. Most people don’t enjoy hearing lectures, but they emulate behaviors they admire and respect. That’s the key to turning your vegan lifestyle into a statement that spreads to those around you.
Let’s look at what it means to put vegan beliefs into practice as a lifestyle.
Displaying Personal Conviction Through Action
When it comes to living your beliefs, there are three stages:
- Belief: What do you believe and what do you value? Are you concerned about animal rights? Do you believe that animals shouldn’t be forced into servitude to humans? If so, those are concrete beliefs.
- Intent: The next stage involves what you want to do about your beliefs. Do you want to create a happier, healthier world for all animals? That’s your intent.
- Action: While intent is important, action matters more. What will you do with your intent? Will you adopt the vegan lifestyle?
When people talk about their beliefs and ideologies but act in direct opposition to them, others don’t take those people seriously. There’s a dissonance between belief and action, and intent is often the missing link.
When you’ve defined a belief for yourself, such as that all animals should be treated humanely, you then need to think about how that belief will manifest. What changes do you want to make? How do you want other people to treat animals?
From intent follows action. Once you create an intention, the next logical step is to act out that intention through your habits as a consumer and a human being. The vegan lifestyle isn’t just about what you put in your mouth at mealtimes. It’s about how you show other people what you believe.
Acting on Your Love of Animals
Very few people will say they “hate” animals or want them to suffer. Nevertheless, omnivores outnumber herbivores by a significant margin.
There’s a cognitive dissonance in cuddling your cat right before digging into a steak or enjoying a bucket of fried chicken. Just because a chicken or a cow doesn’t look like your family pet doesn’t mean those animals don’t experience the same emotions and instincts. All animals want to live. They desire to thrive with other animals of their own kind, form emotional bonds, care for their young, and protect each other from predators. By consuming animals and otherwise using them for our own benefit, we deny them those basic rights.
If you live a vegan lifestyle, however, you make a statement with every product you buy, every article of clothing you wear, and every piece of food you eat. Instead of just saying how much you love animals and wish the best for them, you’re contributing to their cause.
Reducing the Environmental Impact of the Animal Industry
Many of the industries that vegans fight against contribute to pollution, deforestation, reduced habitats, and other impacts on animals’ lives. For instance, animal testing has become a huge strain on our collective resources, requiring large labs in which to house and feed animals. The same goes for dairy farms. These operations consume massive amounts of fossil fuels, contribute to contaminated soil, and introduce large quantities of ammonia into the environment. None of these things is healthy for humans or other animals.
The vegan lifestyle is directly tied to environmentalism. We want to preserve the earth for all creatures, including our own descendants. By selfishly farming animals and using up resources without thought for the future, we contribute to a world far less hospitable than the one we enjoy now.
If you believe that we should reduce our carbon footprints and protect animals, the vegan lifestyle is the perfect way to live your beliefs and show that veganism is more than just a diet.
Embracing the Idea of “Doing No Harm”
We don’t have to hurt others to survive; human beings have proved that through centuries of living on this earth. Despite political and social divisiveness, we’re still a social species. Humanity has only survived because of our ability to care for one another, whether that means staying awake at night to make sure a predator doesn’t ravage our village, or shouting a warning to a stranger who’s about to step in front of a moving car. The fact that we still exist despite the innumerable ways in which we could destroy each other is proof positive of our destiny to live peaceably.
This doesn’t mean, however, that doing no harm to our fellow humans is enough. We also have to realize that harming animals and the environment leaves just as obvious a stain. We’re wired to bond with other animals. We domesticated dogs before any other creature, and for centuries we’ve worked alongside canines in mutually beneficial relationships. Dogs enjoy working with humans, just as horses and many cats do, because we care for each other.
The problem, though, is that many people pick and choose. If you embrace the belief that you should do no harm to another sentient creature, it’s impossible to separate dogs and cats from cows, chickens and fish.
Holding All Lives as Sacred
One of the purest ways to embrace the vegan lifestyle is to ask yourself one question:
Are you willing to slaughter an animal yourself to feed your family, when other alternatives exist?
If not, you’re a good candidate for the vegan lifestyle. You don’t want to slit a cow’s throat, boil a chicken alive, or gut a fish from head to tail, so in your mind you’ve separated the animal from the food in the supermarket. A chicken breast doesn’t look like a chicken, so we’ve allowed ourselves to compartmentalize. Once you take a more holistic view of the world and realize that all lives are sacred, however, eating meat and using animal byproducts become repulsive.
Ancient cultures often hunted animals because they had no other choices. They lived in areas where crops couldn’t grow, for instance, so they had no other food sources. These peoples often prayed over the animals they killed — even revered them — and vowed to use their bodies in as many ways as possible to honor their unwilling sacrifice. They viewed all lives as sacred but were forced to kill to survive. Anyone who has the ability to read this article doesn’t live in such circumstances. Other food choices exist, so honoring animals means not needlessly exploiting them.
How to Help the Cause
You’re excited about the vegan lifestyle. You’re ready to commit. So what do you do to ensure you live your beliefs and help spread the word about veganism?
Educate Yourself about the Vegan Lifestyle
Start by learning everything you can about the vegan lifestyle. The Sentient Media articles you’ve read are a great start. Learn about nutrition and healthy living, research ways to get the foods you love without harming animals, and find any supplements you need to make sure you meet your body’s requirements.
The vegan lifestyle is a practice. You might screw up. Maybe you find yourself out to dinner with friends and accidentally order a dish that has milk or eggs in it. Don’t beat yourself up.
Practice veganism. Learn how to read labels and ask questions. Before you travel, research vegan-friendly supermarkets or restaurants in your destination city so you’re not forced to scramble. Take snacks with you on the go. Plain nuts, dried fruit, and similar foods are perfect for slipping into a pocket, purse, or briefcase. Carry water, too, so you don’t get dehydrated.
It’s not a coincidence that people who openly live a vegan lifestyle are also advocates for healthy living and good nutrition. They talk about hydration, exercise, sleep, and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Remember, it’s not just about diet.
Share With Your Family and Friends
You don’t have to proselytize over the Thanksgiving dinner table. Most people don’t respond well to that approach. Simply let your friends and family know that you’ve adopted a vegan lifestyle and ask them to respect it.
Who knows? Your loved ones might start asking questions and learning more about veganism. That’s a great start. Live by example — live your beliefs — so others can witness what you’re willing to consume and what you’re not.
Join a Vegan Community
Surrounding yourself with people who believe what you believe can be immensely helpful. For one thing, you can learn from one another about how best to live a vegan lifestyle. For another, you can keep yourselves on track.
If you go to the gym with a few fellow vegans, you’re unlikely to suggest a trip to Taco Bell afterward for beef quesadillas. You’ll keep yourself honest while enjoying the company of people who believe, as you do, that all animals deserve rights.
You Can Help Ensure That Animals Are Treated Well
Keep your eye out for situations in which animals are mistreated. Adopt unwanted pets from a local rescue organization, report animal cruelty to law enforcement, and refuse to patronize businesses that serve animal products.
Donate to an Organization That Fights Against Animal Abuse
Your dollars matter. Organizations that fight against animal abuse need your money to further their efforts on animals’ behalf. Donating even a small recurring amount, such as $5 or $10, can make a huge impact on the lives of animals in your community and around the world.
Become an Advocate for Animals by Joining an Organization
The vegan lifestyle doesn’t require advocacy, but if you’re moved to get involved in a more active way, consider joining an animal rights organization. These groups help fight against animal cruelty on numerous fronts, and you could become part of their work.
Veganism Is More Than a Diet
Veganism isn’t just about a diet. It’s about a way of life. If you believe that all animals deserve to live their lives free of obligation to humans, you’re on the right path.
Subscribe to the Sentient Media newsletter to learn more about the vegan lifestyle and animal matters in which you might be interested. Don’t hesitate to join conversations about veganism, animal rights, animal cruelty, and other issues that impact our animal friends.
Are you ready to adopt the vegan lifestyle? Have you already?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.