It seems that every few weeks, a news story breaks about an undercover investigation inside a factory farm. Just this past week, the DC-based group Compassion Over Killing, revealed footage taken by one of their investigators that caused the USDA to shut down a slaughterhouse near Fresno, CA. This time it was dairy cows being slaughtered for hamburger. COK's undercover video documented horrific abuse: a cow being suffocated by a worker who is stepping on her muzzle, cows too weak to walk or even stand being jabbed with electric prods, cows still fully conscious having their throats slit.
When confronted with these images, most people turn away, disgusted and sad. Yet time and time again we hear of the abuse, torture and neglect farm animals endure. Many of my friends not involved in animal rights ask me: How can this be?
The answer to that question is many-fold: desensitized farm workers, "standard" farm practices that are exempted from animal cruelty laws, the phenomena of seeing animals as commodities rather than sentient beings. My question back to them is always the same: What are you going to do about it?
I've often said with regard to my animal activism that I'm not asking others to live by my ethics, I'm challenging them to live by theirs. I believe that most people abhor animal cruelty. The only way to make sure that gruesome scenes like these never take place is to stop supporting the industry that perpetuates them. It's time to go vegan.
At this point, many people become simply overwhelmed. They can't imagine their life without meat, dairy, and eggs - the very staples of their diet. So, I'd like to try and make it less daunting for people to make the transition by offering a couple helpful suggestions.
1) Your transition to veganism need not be overnight. In fact, most of the people I know who are vegan made the switch gradually. Author Kathy Freston offers up a terrific idea. She suggests giving up one animal at a time and "leaning" into the change. You can do this over several months. For example, each month a new animal gets left off your plate. This gives you time to adjust and think about your food choices without being overwhelmed. It might take six months or so, but if you stick to the plan, before you know it you'll be vegan.
2) Have someone guide you. Author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau recently released her book The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. The book is fantastic and tells you everything you need to know about getting started, but what's even better in my opinion is the accompanying website. There, you can pay $20 and be enrolled in a program where you receive emails every day with videos, recipes, etc. that aid you in making the switch.
3) Go online. This may seem ridiculously obvious but there is a never-ending universe of vegan recipe websites (theppk.com is one of my favorites), message boards, blogs, etc. Most people are more than willing to help you out, offer support, trade ideas, whatever. I'm constantly fielding questions (and happy to do so) via Twitter @VeganAri.
Should you choose to start making the transition, please keep in mind this is not about restriction or scarcity - you won't be doomed to a life of eating iceberg lettuce and tofu cubes. A vegan diet is abundant with new and different flavors as well as many transition foods that mimic the flavors you're used to. Gardein makes an entire line of plant-based meats that'll fool even the most hardcore carnivore, for pizza try mozzarella shreds by Daiya. Ice creams that are coconut-based are even creamier than the traditional variety. Enjoy the discovery process, allow yourself room for error, and always think of it as an adventure - an adventure in compassion, following your values.