I’ve been vegan for almost as long as I’ve been married. It’s something so second nature and natural to me that I sometimes take it for granted–at least until I’m confronted by others who can’t understand how or why anyone would abstain from meat or dairy. I’ve already addressed how I adopted a plant-based diet and when answering why I made the transition, I mostly cite the health benefits I experienced. Most people can understand or relate to my personal reasons even if they choose not to agree, but lately I’ve been reflecting on how my dietary choice is much bigger than me, myself, and my health.
Last week, we drove to Alabama to visit our aunts. On the long drive, I had ample time to read–a luxury I don’t always have time to enjoy. The first book I devoured was Plant Powered Men, a collection of interviews and essays by vegan men from around the world compiled by Kathy Divine. I read about plant-powered athletes, professionals, pioneers, entrepreneurs, and laymen and they reminded me of veganism as a philosophy and its far-reaching impact.
I care about the planet as most people do. So, knowing that a plant-based diet generates less environmental waste than other diets gives me confidence that I’m not taking a greater share of the planet than need be. But I’ve also been thinking about the animals I’m not eating. As we’ve shared before, as Muslim herbivores we don’t hold the consumption of meat and dairy to be absolutely immoral or unethical but rather conditionally immoral or unethical. The factory farm and dairy industry is pretty messed-up and I don’t think anyone can argue otherwise, irregardless of the manner in which the animals are slaughtered. It is quite possible that organic, free-range meat and dairy options have a lower environmental impact than the mainstream; however, I still feel some guilt about taking more natural resources than necessary given the current state of our planet and its people.
While in Alabama, my aunt’s pasture housed nearly a dozen Black Angus cows, and they were beautiful. Every morning, after sunrise, they would head far into the pasture out of sight and return in the late afternoon. The most pregnant of the heifers trailed behind with full udders and a slower gait. Watching their strong and steady stride, it was hard for me to imagine that their brilliance and majesty would be reduced to steaks and veal. Even harder to swallow was learning that the majority male calves must be removed from the pasture after reaching a year old; otherwise, the sovereign bull of the pasture will mercilessly annihilate his competition. When those calves are taken to their fate, their mothers moan and mourn for up to two weeks, and that just breaks my heart. I feel relieved to not have any part in modern-day animal husbandry. Many embrace these circumstances as the “circle of life” but I believe that if most people had to face the hard (and sometimes filthy) work that meat consumption entails—rearing, raising, milking, slaughtering, etc.—we’d have much more voluntary vegetarians in the world. It’s much easier to commodify an animal as a packaged product than a living, breathing, and feeling being.
The second book I consumed during our Southern promenade was Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson. I’m still processing the stories of extraordinary acts by ordinary people who toppled governments, dictators, and regimes overnight and over decades. My inner rebel was infuriated, inspired, and ignited. I’m revisiting my activist roots and realizing the significance of everyday choices. There’s still alot more for me to digest but for now I’m realizing that discussing my diet is an opportunity to talk about our connectedness to the earth and the way that what we eat affects the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lives we lead. On occasion, I talk to Omanis (in my very limited Arabic) about how my diet affects me but what I eat or don’t eat is much bigger than me. I need to muster up the courage and garner the vocabulary to articulate it as such. Here in the US, I can proudly proclaim my vegan status but back in Oman, it’s the last detail I share about myself in most circles. Somehow and in some way I need to reconcile all of these ideas and continue to steadily walk my path, reliving my pastime favorite motto: “Live simply so others can simply live”.