Updated: Sep 12, 2019
"You are not a vegan!!!!!!".
Someone dropped this message into my inbox recently. It was from a fellow vegan. Some people think that vegans are compassionate beings. Sadly, vegans can be quite the opposite and not just towards people who eat animals, but against people who also associate with being vegan.
The person was one of my e-newsletter subscribers and had just received an email from me about the foods that I recommend be fed to cats and dogs.
The accusation by this person concerned me because I respect the person who sent what I considered to be a critical opinion of me in terms of my ethics. And because of the harsh way that some vegans judge other vegans.
After receiving the email, I felt called to publicise the judgement against me, in an effort to spread the message of compassion over judgement. And so here is my message. You can watch a video version on my IGTV channel. Here is the first part:
As a long term vegan/vegetarian, I have witnessed the judgment that some vegans have towards other vegans - vegans who don't stand up to their level of perfection. Veganism stems out of compassion. Compassion for animals. Yet I won't deny that some vegans yield zero compassion for their fellow human beings, if they eat animals. There can be a total disregard for people's individual journeys and strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong. And basically, that if you don't match up to their expectations, you are ripe for criticism. In fact, you deserve it, and they are entitled to treat you that w
I am someone who has dedicated my life to improving the lives of non-human animals. And a fellow vegan has taken it upon themselves to impose their expectations, their rigid-ness on me. They are judging me harshly because I don't accord with what they believe to be the right way of doing things. The right way of being "vegan". This judgmental approach doesn't do anything for the vegan movement. It is not helpful in opening people's hearts and minds to change. If you'd like to know more about this, I recommend this article about how to be a non-judgmental vegan.
From the age of 11, I started a journey to reduce my negative impact on animals. I realised at that point that I was, that my family, that everyone, was eating animals and that these animals that we were eating were no different to the cats and dogs that I shared my life with at the time. And so, I made the decision then to stop eating animals.
I was only a child and so I was under the control of my mother. I couldn't just stop eating animals completely. Mum was happy for me, she accepted my decision, to stop eating animals but she imposed the condition that I had to gradually cut out one animal species at a time. Cows were the first to go from my diet. And by the time I was 15, I had cut out all animal, fish based meats - I was a vegetarian.
And this was not an easy journey. I copped it at school. People who lived closely with me criticised my decision, made fun of me, would tell people at my school that I wasn't actually a vegetarian, that I ate meat at home. For someone between the ages of 11 and 15, this was challenging. But I stuck by my decision because I loved animals and I did not want to eat them. I didn't see that it was a necessity. So I continued on my vegetarian journey.
Then in my 20s, I came to the realisation that I could no longer eat products from cows and chickens. What I mean by that is that I could no longer eat products that contained dairy or eggs. And this was thanks to an email I received from Animals Australia about the cruel reality of dairy and egg production.
I made the point then, after being vegetarian for sixteen years, to stop eating dairy and eggs; to become vegan.
I always wanted to be a vegan but I loved Tim Tams and ice-cream. And at that point in time, 15 years ago, there were not the substitutes that we have available today. And so since then, I have not, with one exception, which I will come to, I have not consumed the flesh or other excrements from animals.
The one exception is honey.
I don't have honey in my house. I don't buy it. But if I go to a cafe and I order a chai on coconut milk or a dandelion latte, sometimes they will put honey in it. I'm not going to make a big deal about it. I take it. Because I feel that there are greater issues out there that are more deserving of my energy.
So that's me in terms of my diet. Is that vegan? Sounds like it right? But apparently, according to this person, I'm not a vegan.
The reason that this person says that I'm not a vegan is because in my role as an animal naturopath, I recommend to people to feed animals to their companion animals. Therefore, it seems, that I'm not a vegan...?
I don't need the vegan label. I know that I do everything I can, and still strive to do more, for animals. I don't eat them. I don't eat their body parts. And I don't buy any products that contain animal ingredients or body parts.
When there are clients who come to me and they want plant based diet plans for their dogs, I will assist with that. I will guide them and help them to see if their dog can be healthy on a plant based diet. I won't do it for cats because I don't believe a plant baed diet is appropriate for cats.
So maybe that doesn't make me a vegan?
Do I feel anguish that I am promoting the consumption of animals for companion animals?
Yes I do.
From the point of view of protecting cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, ducks, turkeys and so on, I would much rather a world where there were no companion animals (as much as I adore cats and dogs). Because these animals are suffering in part due to the food that companion animals eat. But I believe that the consumption of animals by human beings has a much greater toll.
I always encourage my clients to feed the most "ethical" food they can afford. And what that means is, if they choose to feed their companion animal meat, that they feed meat from free range, organically raised animals. Not from factory farmed animals. That is a welfarist approach, but it's also a realistic approach when I'm working with mainstream, about how to reduce the impact on animal suffering.
I know, I very much know, that organically raised animals suffer the same death, the same end to their life as any factory farmed animal. I know that. But I'm doing the best I can in consideration of my obligation to do no harm to the animals I help through my human clientele.
We are patrons for the cats and dogs in our care. We have a responsibility to them, to help them be healthy. To help them to thrive and be happy. We have a responsibility for that whilst they are here on this planet with us. We have a responsibility to care for them. And to honour what they need to thrive, because that is their right.
Am I choosing companion animals over other animals by advocating the consumption of food animals to companion animals? You could say that. But conversely, if I decided to deprive a cat of her natural diet, wouldn't that be putting the interests of, let's use a cow for example, over the interests of a cat?
The issue is the same.
Who has standing over the other. Who is more important? The cat or the cow? There is no level of one is more important than the other.
It all comes back to what is our responsibility? What can we do to best serve the animals in our care without disregarding the other animals that also coexist with us on this planet and also deserve that we take their interests into account and honour the responsibility we have to care for them also.
Going back to me and considering factors other than diet, apart from my decision not to eat animals, what else have I done for animals?
I volunteered for a university animal welfare group - a university where I was not a student, I had in fact long finished university by then.
I started learning about what I could do as a lawyer to help animals and what did the law look like for animals.
Then I got a job working for an animal charity as a communications officer and as their lawyer, focussing on factory farming and the commercial kangaroo industry. I picked up my life from Brisbane, quit my job from a law firm that is considered one of the best in the country, and moved to Sydney for this job.
When I was in this job, I toured the country educating people about the laws as they relate to animals, how deficient they are.
I worked with lawmakers to improve legislation around the protection of animals.
I spoke to the media and gave opinion on the atrocities that were happening to animals at that time. Things like the big live export expose in May 2011. I gave my opinion, and that of my employer, to help create awareness so that people knew what was happening to animals.
I have given my time freely to help animals.
I have helped save dogs from death row.
I have written submissions about legislative change that does not serve animals.
I have assisted people and organisations in court proceedings on the basis of protecting particular animals.
I have helped people transition to a plant based diet.
I have debated animal rights issues alongside some of the most eminent people in the animal protection movement.
I have spoken at, and attended, animal rights rallies, encouraging people to stand up and fight for the rights of animals.
I'm no armchair advocate.
These are just some of the things that I have done in my life in aid of improving the lives of animals. And my life is far from over. I have a lot more planned for how else I can make a difference for animals.
I continue to advocate for animals through my work as an animal naturopath and plant based coach, lecturing on animal law, assisting animal protection groups and through my dietary and lifestyle choices.
I've committed my life to helping animals. And I don't need the vegan label to continue living my passion. In my heart of hearts, I still consider myself a vegan. And I'll keep doing the good work to help animals irrespective of one person's view, or many, as to whether I am a vegan or not.
So am I a vegan?
That is a label. I don't need that label.
If you don't think I'm a vegan, that's your prerogative. And if I'm doing the wrong thing by animals, I will suffer karmically for that. It is not for you to be the judge or jury. I am a human being. I am not perfect.
So call me what you will.
Don't call me anything.
Respect me, love me, despise me, hate me. It doesn't matter.
All that matters is that I continue doing the work that I do, and doing everything I can to help animals.
Thank you, dear reader, for giving up your time to read right to the end. I appreciate your time and interest.