Today was my first time going to a local vegan festival called VegFest. Even though I’ve been vegan for nearly a decade now, I somehow never managed to make it out there. I’m so glad I finally went though. It was so much busier than I could have ever anticipated. There had to be thousands of people crammed into the span of a few blocks. There were over 40 local vendors selling all kinds of things from plants and art to baked goods and bourbon. I don’t even want to calculate how much money I spent. There were a lot of things I wasn’t even able to try because the lines were too long or they sold out before I had a chance to stop.
I highly recommend attending any vegan festivities in your area. New vegans could definitely benefit from discovering what type of vegan options there are in their area. Experienced vegans can benefit from the uplifting atmosphere of being surrounded by like-minded people and seeing just how much support the vegan movement actually has. Even in more vegan-friendly areas, it can feel like a lost cause at times. There is nothing more inspiring than gathering together with your community to celebrate.
It’s really crazy for me to think about how far veganism has come in just my small area. There used to be hardly any options for me in the grocery stores or at restaurants. If I wanted to eat a dish that was even moderately tasty I had to put in all the time and effort to make it myself. Now being vegan is easier than ever.
I used to get it when I was first transitioning if people told me veganism was just too difficult for them. It was a big adjustment in a society that catered to carnism alone. Now I’m shocked that anyone can still use that excuse. With the Impossible Burger at Burger King, dozens of different vegan ice creams in the supermarket, and hundreds if not thousands of other perfectly incredible replacements for anything you could possibly desire, how could you still ask a vegan, “so what do you eat?” or “I could never give up x or y.” Hell, even the dinky little road side ice cream shop in the middle of nowhere has nondairy options now!
Even though I can no longer hold out hope that veganism will save the earth, it can still save the animals from enduring unnecessary suffering in the short time that we have left here with them. I am so grateful to be have been reminded today that there are so many other people in this world that are fighting to end that senseless pain.
I have always lived out in the country. At my childhood home, my parents had four acres of land lined with dense woods. Although most of the woodland area didn’t belong to us, we would always wander down through the trees to the charming stream at the bottom of the steep valley. This was one of my favorite activities when I was growing up. As I got older I would explore further and further down the stream in both directions. I have many stories of adventures in those woods with my friends, my family, my dogs, or even just by myself. I treasure the time I spent there and don’t plan on selling that house or the land even once my parents pass.
Even when I moved out to an apartment while attending college, there were plenty of gorgeous deep woods for us to explore right off campus and right outside our apartment complex. My college was nestled high in the hills of West Virginia, only visible after a long drive on winding back roads. It was almost like a small village hidden in the trees. Even now I only live a short walk from the river and can wander up into the trees right behind my house whenever I want to. I’ve always had the advantage of having nature right in my backyard.
The other day at work, we were talking with a girl who was originally from a big city. She was exasperated by the lack of people and places to go in our area. She even complained that she missed looking outside and seeing houses and buildings. Now when she looked outside she would just see cows. I said it at the time and I’ll say it again, who would rather look at buildings than cows?! Its baffling to me that some people would actually prefer living in a crowded city. To me that has always seemed like a nightmare.
It’s strange to think that most people actually live in cities now. Each year humanity becomes more and more separated from the Earth. I find that terribly sad. To think that some people have lived their whole lives within the confines of New York City for instance. Even Central Park or other state parks in more populated areas don’t do the true majesty of nature justice. While I was in awe at the unique, natural landscapes in Hocking Hills State Park when I was there, it was still somewhat spoiled by the sheer number of other people there, making that serene, calming environment noisy and crowded. There is a special magic that can only be found alone in the silence of nature. It breaks my heart to think that so many people will never experience that. There are even plenty of people that have no desire to.
I believe that humanity has lost something crucial to our survival when we severed our ties with the natural world. For so many centuries we viewed the harsh conditions of the outdoors as our enemy, not realizing that it was also an essential part of us. Not realizing that it has the potential to heal as well as harm us. That we need its nourishing energy to be happy and healthy and fully alive. We have all come from the earth and whether we want to accept it or not, we are still a part of the earth.
I know a lot of people that have hopeful fantasies about humanity living in space or on Mars one day. This has always seemed like an impossible, as well as idiotic plan to me. Humans think space will save us once this planet has been utterly killed. Yet no one seems to realize what life separated from our Earth mother might really be like. I imagine life in space to be absolutely desolate and devoid of all of the things I love about being alive. I truly would not want to live if it meant being apart from the Earth. That would be no life at all to me.
And sadly that life apart is something so many humans already seem to be living, oblivious to the majesty of life that they are missing out on. Even people living in smaller towns with a grassy patch of backyard to themselves, can’t comprehend the meaningful time I have been able to spend in nature all my life. Sitting by a single tree behind a fence as neighbors drive by or mow their lawns cannot compare to being fully immersed in the deep, green forest, or all alone on the bank of a great river. The former is a sad substitute for the latter.
I believe it is because so many of us have spent our lives separated from nature that we have so easily been able to continue destroying every piece of it. So many people see this as necessary development, as “progress.” They don’t realize that what humanity builds, while impressive and amazing at times, can never compare to what nature has already provided for us. When so many people have lived their whole lives away from the natural world, it’s no wonder they are unable to grasp the importance of it.
I don’t know that there is any way to help so much of humanity realize what they have been missing out on. Like many things lately, it seems like a lost cause. However, contemplating all of these other lives I could have led, makes me so grateful for the life I have. It has truly been a blessing to grow up and experience this little sliver of existence the way I have been able to. To be accustomed to only the sounds of bird calls, rustling leaves, and running water outside my windows my entire life. To have spent so many days barefoot, with the warm soil between my toes, walking through the shallow water of a clear stream. Collecting enough wild berries at the edge of my yard with my grandmother and sister to make a pie. Always having plenty of space to garden or simply bask in the sun. To have always had loyal, loving, innocent animals at my side. To be able to gaze at a sky full of stars each night I have been alive. I would not trade this life of mine for anything.
Even though veganism has improved my quality of life ten fold, it has also forced me to grapple daily with some pretty harsh realities. Going from a primarily meat centered diet to one that consists mainly of whole plant foods is undoubtedly challenging, but it cannot compare to the challenges I face now as a full-fledged vegan. Documentaries such as Earthlings, Cowspiracy, and What the Health along with countless studies and lectures have shown the immoral, corrupted, grotesque, and unsustainable face of the human race. Yet even exposed, the lurching sickness of our legacy on planet earth continues.
When I was younger and only knew of the moral implications of veganism, I was full of fire. There were animals suffering and I knew that it would end. That I would make it end. That time would bring humanity to its knees before the immense shadow of pain we’ve created and there would be a new era of compassion on earth. I knew that my voice would add to the cacophony of animal agony and that every ounce of energy I exerted was pushing society to this inevitable peak. Each day I was breathless and flushed with anger and passion.
Then in 2014 when Cowspiracy was released, the rug of blissful ignorance was pulled from underneath me for the second time. Before this documentary I had no idea that the practice of animal agriculture was having such a devastating effect on our environment. As the documentary went through every aspect of our earth: air, water, land, my chest became heavier and heavier until my breath was shallow and rapid. It is already too late. This thought continued on repeat inside my head. The only conceivable hope humanity has is to start RIGHT NOW. I felt the urgency in my bones. For the first time in my life I desperately desired power, the power to change this damning destiny I saw laid out before all of existence.
But I wasn’t powerful, and I’m still not. And three years have passed by. And more animals are suffering as the population grows. And the Earth is still decaying under this heavy greed. And this is why it’s hard to be vegan. Veganism is the burden of knowing. It is the burden of seeing the eventual fate of our earth but being unable to change its course. It is seeing the futility of your efforts and giving everything you have anyway.
At some point each day I find myself coming back to this reality. Over every good moment hangs the specter of the future. It is daunting to plan for years that you may never get to. It is even harder to find counsel and help coping from a society that doesn’t believe you. In the beginning I was so eager to share what I had learned but soon realize this was more painful than silence. It was agonizing to hear again and again from so many friends: It will be okay. The scientists will fix it. Things will change before anything get’s “too” bad. I’m not worried about it.
Psychology has taught me that human beings are hard-wired for hope. We as a species are known for underestimating the likelihood of negative outcomes. However, even revealing to others the science behind the optimism bias doesn’t seem to shake their confidence that everything will be fine. Even other vegans seem to brush off this sobering science with ease, finding more fuel in small victories and advancements. But my fire is burning low these days. It is so tiring to struggle against this enormous momentum. I wish I had a solution for these feelings I have, a way to comfort other vegans that may be suffering in the same silent way. I hope that my solidarity will suffice until then.
I am pleading with those of you who have yet to adopt a vegan lifestyle to please educate yourselves about the dire state of our earth, human health, and animal rights. So much damage has already been done to our environment and there is no indication it will be slowing down. I truly believe based on the scientific evidence that this is a pivotal moment in human history. It’s time to choose whether we will change or perish.
And to any vegans that may be reading this right now that feel the way that I do, I am always here for you if you need consoling conversation. Just remember that your actions and choices in this life still count immensely. Although we may lose the earth, every vegan day is another day less animals had to suffer to stifle the sickness of human selfishness. And every moment of peace we can give them is precious.
Ever since I was very young, I was taught the importance of voting. In school we learn about how hard our country fought for individual freedoms and the ability to choose those who govern them. We’re taught that even though we are only one person, our say matters and can lead to change. These values are the heart and soul of the United States.
However, it seems that this principle applies in many other areas of life outside of politics, but continues to go unnoticed by many. What else has history taught us? That money makes the world go ’round. Therefore, as individuals and as a society, we need to pay attention to and be cautious of what we spend our money on.
For each item that you buy, you are casting your vote that you would like to see more of this product and everything that went into making it and getting it to your local stores. In this way, becoming a vegan can make a practical influence on the world. This is the connection I think many people are failing to make. It may be easy to love animals, yet still find it easy to eat meat because there is such a large distance between the practices of factory farms, the act of killing an animal and seeing its pain and suffering.
Sadly, ignoring the harsh realities behind the steak on your dinner plate will not make them cease to exist. Each time you stop at McDonald’s, buy deli meat, or pick up some bacon for your breakfast the next morning, you are casting your vote as a citizen of this society. You are saying you approve and support the product and its means. We can never expect these horrible atrocities and business practices to stop if we continue to finance them. We need to stand up and make an effort to produce the change we want to see in the world.