Student: Master, what is the right way of life?
Master: This is
Student: But what if I can get better & live more consciously/prosperously
Master: Then, that is
A vegan life, to me, is an incomplete understanding of life. While I have been a vegan for long, I have carried with me a gnawing voice that tried to draw my attention to the incompleteness of my view of life. Being a vegan was not difficult nor do I debunk its value — a vegan life is the an evolved life as a human being — yet its lacunae disturbed me. What I proceed to outline is not an attempt at establishing veganism as wrong but recognising its incompleteness.
If you are a devout vegan then watch your mind & its reaction as you read the lines below. See if you are able to read this in its entirety without shaking your head or rushing to comment or dismissing this as cruel/ignorant etc. See if you are able to read this, dwell on it for a few days & then return to it & share your thoughts. These are not characteristics expected only of a vegan. These are the characteristics of an educated tempered adult.
Veganism is appropriate for urban, semi-urban & affluent settings. It is not about the money but the access & way of life. If you have been buying most of your groceries at supermarkets & online, if you can get canvas shoes & web-belts & totes, then you have very little reason to claim a need for a non-vegan life. If Amazon delivers to your doorstep, then you have no excuse to be non-vegan. Your tastes & preferences & fashion quotient come secondary to the disturbance of non-human life. These cannot take precedence over their very life.
If you dwell in forests or are an Eskimo or a fisherman living off the seas for generations (then what are you doing reading this article!?) then a vegan life is presumptuous & elitist. You are someone who lives one with Nature & are in tune with the rhythms of the universe. You do not need an -ism.
This is the first jolt to my erstwhile naive outlook that “Veganism is the THE right way to live”. It isn’t, for everybody. If it isn’t applicable to everybody, it is inherently insufficient in its universal relevance.
The final jolt to my unease was this incessant association of human constructs (which even in humans feels stupid) to animals. Honour, dignity, rights, etc. are human problems. Nowhere in the animal kingdom are these observed. In a forest, no one accords another honour. No one claims rights over something (non-violent claims). No one cares to be dignified. They simply are what their innate taxonomic/specieal qualities are. It is us humans who worry about all these & thrust anthropomorphic symbols on non-humans (look, the dolphin is smiling!).
Exploitation & cruelty are often subjective. A farmer who has raised a bull & feeds him & bathes him & protects him daily might not think it is exploitation to employ the bull to till the field. He might be shocked at such an accusation & respond with “What!? He is like my son whom I have fed & taken care of & helps me in the fields.” Castration/neutering of dogs/cats by many vegans is not considered cruel. I cannot understand how it is not vile to remove the sexual organs of an animal purely to make them more manageable by humans.
Another attribute is the definition of the word “sentient”. No one I have met in the vegan community has a consistent definition of sentient. Many scientists believe that fish do not have the brain structure to feel pain. Should we eat them (I mean the fish & not scientists)? What about mussels? Plants are sentient, too. They are known to respond to threats & nourishment, too. They are known to connect & communicate with their offspring, too. They stand tall & have honour, too! The cling to our dwellings & exhibit filial love, too! (yes, the last two was simply a plantist getting carried away)
We are the ones worrying about veganism as well. A carnivore will eat the weakest, slowest available food & not reflect on the exploitation of the meek or disabled/specially-abled. Hence, I employed the phrase “females of other species” & not mothers/daughters. I have no interest in anthropomorphising non-humans. I hope you see how this rapidly descends into a quicksand of rationale.
These 3 jolts are explained above only to bring out the intellectual/factual/logical dissonance of veganism as the way to live. I felt an urgent need to get off the high-horse of “should-be” & relook at life in its totality. I realised I could not. No one I know of is able to look at or communicate life in its totality. And even if one did, I am not in a position to imbibe it.
A friend of mine added another reason why she didn’t want to be associated with vegans (though she herself is vegan on & off) — she finds them too preachy/aggressive. Vegans do not need to be introduced at a party. I am divided on permitting that as a reason. Yes, someone obnoxious to a cause does raise amber flags but that might just be tonal policing kicking in as well. But when vegans preaching kindness to animals fail to demonstrate kindness to ill-informed or ignorant people, it does make me wonder.
In case you have forgotten, here goes — if you are living in urban, semi-urban, affluent settings & can have supplies delivered to you, you have no reason to not be vegan in your lifestyle (not just food)
Veganism doesn’t care about general ethics. It is only focused on the ethics we levy on non-human creatures. No one explains that they won’t have the coffee in S because they are vegan & the coffee powder is produced in inhuman conditions in Columbia. No one says they won’t buy skirts at W because they are vegan & the skirts there are manufactured by children in Bangladesh.
Hence, veganism is an insufficient way of life. From this sentence onwards, I will no longer call myself a vegan.
There is the fundamental truth that all creatures seek to further their line & stay alive. This isn’t a law or tenet; it merely is an observed fact. Any act of self-preservation is hence, in line with the law of Nature & is above judgement or ethical classification. For everything else (no, not MasterCard), there is a need to deliberate on our actions.
What I propose is simply called Minimalism.
Minimalism is Occam’s Razor applied to life — if I can survive with lesser, then that is the better life. Minimalism, as a way of life, makes ample space for spiritual resonance with the rest of the world. By focusing on the body & physiological needs, Minimalism shaves off layers of perceived needs created by psychological dependence & boredom. Minimalism strives to minimise the impact on the world by an individual. Minimalism starts with the body (as a baby does) & journeys towards the Divine Nature (where balance is understood in every cell).
Let’s see how it unravels to various aspects of life:
I can survive on air & water.
I can’t survive just on air & water.
I need food.I can survive on air, water & moss, flowers, algae.
I can’t survive on air, water, moss, flowers & algae. My body needs different foods.
I can survive on air,…algae, grass & wild plants.
I can’t survive on air, …wild plants. My body needs different foods.
I can survive on air, …wild plants, fruits, grains & vegetables.
I can’t survive on air, …vegetables. My body needs different foods.
I can survive on air, …vegetables & insects.
I can’t survive on air, … insects. My body needs different foods.
I can survive on air, …insects & sea creatures.I can’t survive on air, … sea creatures. My body needs different foods….
I can survive only on air, … everything edible, including human beings.
I can thrive nakedI can’t thrive naked.
I need some protectionI can thrive with leaves & bark
I can’t thrive with leaves & bark. I need some protection
I can thrive with basic jute/cotton fabric
I can’t thrive with basic jute/cotton fabric. I need some protection
I can thrive with reinforced jute/cotton fabric
I can’t thrive with reinforced jute/cotton fabric. I need some protection…
I can thrive only with jute/cotton, silk, wool, leather, plastic, human skin, etc.
Consumer Product X:
I can thrive without X
I can’t thrive without [purpose of X]. I need some means to achieve [purpose of X]
I can thrive with a low impact version of X
I can’t thrive with the low impact version of X because of …. I need a better quality option
I can thrive only with X
Experience (e.g. Travel)
I can thrive without traveling beyond where my legs carry me (and that’s a lot if you are Jean Béliveau)
I can’t thrive without traveling to my place of work
I can thrive with traveling only to my place of work & back
I can’t thrive without traveling to [some place or set of places].
I can thrive with necessary travel to [some place or set of places]
I can only thrive by traveling to every place I can reach by any means, including Mars
I don’t need to continue with more examples. I am sure the intelligent reader can apply this line of thinking to anything that s/he subscribes to. To reiterate, Minimalism ensures minimal impact on the world by an individual. It is for each person to evaluate where their body falls in the spectrum of Minimalism to make survival possible without expending all energy on merely surviving. You don’t need anything arbitrary to justify or choose what you include in your life. Your body & soul are sufficient. Hence, a Minimalist is simply someone on this journey & not someone who has arrived (as vegans often feel). One can never be THE Minimalist. Everyone will be different degrees of Minimalist over their lives.
Minimalism encourages you to analyse your every action closely. Minimalism is akin to mindfulness combined with a reassessment of whether your body needs whatever you are mindful of. Even if you are wearing plant-based clothes manufactured in ethical labour markets, Minimalist filters help you be mindful of whether you need 25 blouses for each season or 50 PETA-approved shoes or an elaborate make-up kit with products which haven’t been tested on animals.
Minimalism doesn’t seek to replace sausages with tofu rolls or cheese with nut-cheeses. This is why the news of replacing dairy farms with almond groves is a matter of joy for some groups but it has far telling repercussions that a certain Minimalist would avoid. Both. It is not about replacing one thing with another. It is to evaluate its role in keeping your body alive & progressing.
An Eskimo can be a Minimalist. A fisherman living off the ocean, can be Minimalist. A millennial in San Francisco can be Minimalist. Each of them have the opportunity to keep seeking ways to have lesser impact on this world.
Interestingly, a significant portion of the human world will fall squarely within the space of the first few lines in each of the examples above. Veganism, then becomes an inevitable & pleasant side-effect. Minimalism rids me of all the inconsistencies that veganism presented. So, while most of my outward actions will continue to resemble that of a vegan, I cannot call myself that without feeling a discomfort. Minimalism is what resonates with me.