Vegans tend to find the practice of their ethic liberating rather than restricting. Many vegans have told me that once the shackles of an animal-based diet and lifestyle were removed, they discovered that beyond the basic premise of respect for all sentient life was a profusion of additional reasons to be vegan: personal and public health, environmental degradation, world-hunger concerns, social-justice issues, occupational oppression. These grounds may not be enough to motivate an individual toward veganism, but they are viewed by most vegans as adjunct justifications.

The following manifestations of vegan awareness may occur in any order. However, the first three must take place before an individual can fully identify with and fulfill the definition of being vegan. The remaining manifestations may never develop in some people or may evolve over several years or even a lifetime. Occasionally, if someone is exceptionally fortunate, they happen concurrently.

1.  Food

Most people begin their vegan journey by changing their diet. In fact, many people who eventually come to veganism start out by first becoming vegetar- ian. Typically, though not always, milk, cheese, and other dairy products are the last animal-based foods to be excluded from the diet. However, some veg- ans, especially youths or young adults with passionate enthusiasm, may omit all animal foods at once.

2.  Clothing

Often clothing choices are the next logical step in vegan transformation. Some women donate old fur coats to activist groups for anti-fur protests. Other peo- ple give their wool coats and sweaters; mohair hats; leather jackets, shoes, gloves, and belts; silk blouses and dresses; and other animal-based clothing and footwear to shelters for the homeless, refuges for battered women and chil- dren, and thrift shops. To continue to wear animal fur, hair, and skins, even though the animal may have died long ago, lends credence to the acceptabil- ity of using and wearing such items.

Modern society has embraced the concept of clothing as fashion instead of a utilitarian necessity. This has resulted in an annually changing look, to which we must conform to appear in step. As we adopt the new styles, out- moded styles and garments are discarded. Some vegans see this as an obsolete and deleterious custom that encourages an endless cycle of excessive con- sumption and planned obsolescence. As a result, some vegans choose to shop at thrift stores or wear their current wardrobe for as long as possible, regard- less of the latest trends.

Frequently, however, it is not economically feasible or environmentally reasonable to discard all nonvegan clothing at once. For some new vegans, it can take several months or years to cycle out all their animal-based attire.

3.  Personal Care and Household Items

Switching to vegan personal-care and household products often happens grad- ually because most people cannot afford to replace a large quantity of goods at the same time. Also, using up what you already have on hand reduces wastefulness. Most new vegans replace products one at a time until their entire house is completely veganized. However, some newcomers may give away their animal-based products all at once so they can begin their vegan journey with peace of mind and a clean slate.

4.  Human Health

Although health concerns may motivate some people to adopt a vegan-style diet, for the vast majority of people, health matters are not the reason they embrace a vegan lifestyle. Sooner or later, however, most vegans become aware of how vegan living can improve their health—both physically and psycho- logically. This generally does not happen automatically. As with all self- improvement efforts, it requires a prudent combination of thought, knowledge, deliberate action, and pragmatic implementation. Some vegans are interested solely in the altruistic aspects of veganism and don’t consider their own health of particular significance. Others believe that taking care of and extending compassion to oneself is essential to wholly fulfill vegan principles. As a result, health matters are often viewed as an ancillary factor in one’s choice to be vegan. Still others neither discount nor extol the health advantages of vegan- ism and accept any benefits they may acquire in stride.

5.  Animal Activism

During the process of becoming vegan, most people also learn about the sys- temic local, national, and global abuses regularly inflicted upon animals of every ilk. Although working publicly or politically on behalf of animals is not a requirement for being vegan, most vegans eventually become involved in animal advocacy or activism to one degree or another. Furthermore, meat eaters working to alleviate animal use and abuse often become vegan.

6.  Environmental Activism

What we eat and how it is produced is inescapably linked to the state of our environment. Many vegans become active environmentalists when they dis- cover that animal agriculture is directly responsible for the bulk of our water usage and pollution, the loss of most of the original topsoil in the United States, the consumption of the majority of all raw materials used in the United States, and the razing of tropical rain forests for cattle grazing, displac- ing indigenous people and animals and imbalancing ecosystems worldwide.

On occasion, meat-eating environmentalists will become vegan upon real- izing that their individual lifestyle choices can have a farther-reaching and longer-lasting impact than most other singular environmental actions. Once vegans acknowledge the connection between diet and the environment, addi- tional “green” lifestyle changes may also be implemented, including recycling; purchasing recycled products and/or buying items with minimal and recy- clable packaging; eliminating the use of paper towels and paper plates; com- posting; gardening; buying only organically (or veganically) grown foods; walking or bicycling instead of driving; shopping for clothes at thrift stores or buying clothes made from recycled materials or organically grown fibers; installing energy-saving household appliances; supporting environmental orga- nizations; and/or becoming politically active.

7.  Social Activism

Because the practice of veganism integrates spherical compassion, it is reasonable that many vegans are also involved with social justice issues concerning oppressed groups of people. Not only do some vegans recognize the remarkable similarities between exploitation of animals and exploitation of humans, research has revealed that abusing, torturing, or killing small animals is often a precursor to other destructive antisocial behavior. Human-rights and animal-rights violations can be powerful motivators for vegans to help break this chain of depravity.

Additionally, vegans are an isolated group, challenging some of our culture’s most fundamental assumptions and often being reviled for doing so. Inevitably, many vegans develop an understanding and empathy toward others who are also unjustly castigated.

8.  Peace Activism

Peace does not always connote the opposite of war, nor does it necessarily sig- nify a state of calm. In some instances, peace may mean the absence of vio- lence and/or a method of settling disputes without inflicting pain. Conflict is inevitable, but we do have a voice in how we resolve it. Because violence on any level causes suffering, people who have embraced spherical compassion have an express interest in establishing peace at all levels.

In addition to working to end the war on animals, vegans may be inspired to work for peace in a variety of ways. Some vegans receive training in alternative dispute resolution or mediation. Their skills can then be used to relieve conflicts locally, nationally, and internationally, including animal- and human-rights abuses, environmental disputes, ethnic conflicts, restorative justice, collaboration and community building, violence prevention, and to facilitate communication between culturally and ideologically diverse groups. Often vegans also explore the inward realms of peace, recognizing that peaceful acts emanate more freely and profusely from people who are foremost at peace in their hearts. Anger, hatred, jealousy, rage, resentment, and malice are cut from the same cloth; those who wear any of these are cloaked in strife. Therefore, learning how to manage, release, and avoid internal turmoil can be a worthwhile tool for gaining inner peace, as well as for generating external tranquillity, which can radiate far beyond our physical presence and linger long after we depart.

9.  Enhanced Spirituality

Although vegans come from a variety of religious backgrounds, many find their spiritual beliefs strengthened or intensified by their vegan ethic. Because veganism is so all-encompassing, it is not surprising that its principles form the core value system for a large number of practitioners. Some people refer to veg- anism as their “religion” because the tenets of vegan practice and belief create a compelling moral code on a par with any religious doctrine or theology.

10.  Evolving Worldview

Among the most exciting vegan manifestations is the realization that humans are not the center of the universe—that all living beings have a rightful place, and we are just one among many. Looking at the world in this new light pre- sents a significantly more intimate perspective of our relationship with the Earth and its other inhabitants, one that can be very exhilarating as well as humbling. This new outlook can conceivably be the impetus for initiating all the above manifestations. It can also be the intuitive outcome of living a vegan life.

LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Making the decision to become vegan can feel overwhelming at first. Suddenly, so many seemingly unrelated aspects of life are under scrutiny. Although some people leap into a vegan lifestyle overnight, many who come to veganism do so through a series of steps that may take weeks, months, or even years.

For most people, veganism is not an end unto itself; it is an ongoing, active process—a vibrant stream of awareness continually flowing toward greater clarity and refinement. Even once someone attains the outward man- ifestations of veganism, there are often many more internal evolutions yet to take place. None of us has so reached perfection that we have achieved the vegan ideal.

Yet, that is exactly what makes veganism so exciting—there is always more to learn, more to give, more to strive for.

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