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Lets Break the Vegan Stigma

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Let's talk about something that seriously bugs me. I have lived a vegan lifestyle for more than 25 years and people rarely recognized that fact. I didn't advertise it. I told myself it was because I disliked labels. Life was life and we all lived it the best way we knew.

But that's not entirely true ... actually not true at all. Having lived as part of both the vegan and macrobiotic communities of this country, I think it's time to have a discussion about compassion, a word often thrown about, but that seems to have little to do with the actual living of these healthy lifestyles.

In macrobiotics, it is said that by living according to the laws of nature, we are choosing to create a bigger life, one steeped in ancient wisdom, compassion and freedom of choice. We make a lighter footprint and strive to create harmony in all phases of life. And yet, I repeatedly see a kind of 'them and us' attitude that excludes anyone not of the same mind. In accordance with macrobiotic thinking, we are all part of one whole -- all connected to each other in the web of life and that what happens to one happens to all.

So why the exclusion of anyone not choosing this lifestyle? How can we ever hope to achieve 'oneness' if one or another group continually sets themselves up as superior and better because they choose to eat brown rice or meditate or eschew animal products? Is anyone really better, smarter, on the fast track to enlightenment? How can anyone ever hope to attract people to gorgeous, gentle, healthy lifestyles that make a light footprint and leave the world a better place if we refuse to let them in because they don't know or understand?

And then there's vegan, another label I proudly wear -- except when people are yelling at other people for their choices. When books like Skinny Bitch can thrive, where has compassion gone? I cringed my way through the books in this series and realized that they were quite successful in conveying their message: that you are a fat and stupid waste of skin if you are not vegan. Really?

These Dr. Phil-like authors set themselves up as paragons of virtue and goodness as they demean their fellow humans. There is enough in life to make us feel bad about ourselves. I don't know about you, but belittling language, funny as it may be to others, is not my cup of tea and not the way I want to be perceived. And while some say that these books did the job -- conveyed the message that meat production and consumption is at the root of a lot that ails us, both as humans and a planet -- it came at a high price to our image as compassionate beings.

As a committed vegan, I am deeply concerned about the way we treat our animals, and how we produce them for food. It is a horror show on many levels, from cruelty to the fact that meat products have been turned into monstrosities that bear little resemblance to their original form. If we think for one moment that farming and producing more than 10 billion animals for food annually can be done in a compassionate, healthy and humane way, then we are more out of touch with reality than I feared. Michael Pollan says it well when he says that the chicken of today, having been engineered to contain more breast meat bears little resemblance the chicken we recognize in fairy tales. That should scare us.

And yes, organic meat is better for health, more humanely raised with no hormones, antibiotics or steroids to deform them, right up until they are 'humanely' slaughtered. Please spare me the rationalizing. If you want to eat meat, eat it, but be aware of what you are doing and don't kid yourself. The animal on your plate had to be killed. If you are okay with that, then it's your karma -- and cardiovascular system.

I also care deeply for human health and there's not a lot of good news about animal foods' affect on our collective well-being. We all know that. As vegans or macrobiotic people who say they are committed to health -- of humans, the planet, all living things -- how can we justify reserving all our compassion for animals and serving up only disdain for people? How can we hope to enlighten people and help them to see another way to live when we are constantly blinding them by shaking our fingers in their faces? How can we hope to achieve harmony when we care only for the welfare of some animals and not for the welfare of others (humans, for example)?

One of the most chilling movie scenes in recent history was in (of all films) 'Sex and the City,' where one of the character's fur coat was splashed with red paint at Fashion Week by an enraged, ugly vegan. Trite, I know. A caricature, to be sure, but more the image of vegans than the truer image I know of gentle, compassionate people who care about all life.

Some vegans tell me that I am not 'vegan enough' for their taste because I refuse to berate people who wear fur (as gross as that is to me, that is their karma); I don't protest with violence; I don't feel contempt for anyone not playing in my sandbox, so to speak.

The philosophy of catching more bees with honey (vegan pun intended) would draw people to learn more about these lifestyles. If we are peaceful, attractive, inviting and open to all we meet, do we not stand a much better chance of them hearing what we have to say and thereby affecting greater change? Seriously, who wants to be scolded? And who wants to scold? It's exhausting to be so self-righteous -- for the scolder and those who must endure it.

For me, the time of 'them and us' is over. It's time for all those who live compassionate lives to show their fellow humans the same compassion we show to cows, pigs, chickens, puppies and kittens. Compassion opens the door for understanding and with understanding people can -- and will -- make better choices. But they can't, and won't, if they are constantly under attack, made to feel that they are inferior to more 'enlightened' types and left feeling that they are worthless and evil.

Compassion is not selective, but the gift of all sentient beings to each other. Think about it.