Vegan for Life
By Robert Bass, Ph.D.
October 10, 2005

Robert Bass, Ph.D, teaches in the Department of Philosophy
 at the University of North Florida. He specializes in ethics and
game theory, and is especially interested in the moral questions
relating to the environment and our treatment of animals.

If you look at a photographic negative, the colors are reversed, nothing seems quite as it should, and the image may be unrecognizable. Once you see the picture developed, you recognize the face of your best friend.

Thatís a bit like a common impression of vegans. We donít eat dead animals. Or their products. Pork and beef, seafood and fowl are out. So are milk and cheese, eggs and caviar. And it doesnít stop with what we donít eat. We try to avoid leather and wool and fur. We donít use them to cover our bodies or our furniture or our floors. It sounds like a long list of negatives, of doníts: Thou shalt not this; thou shalt not that. Why would anybody want that?

You get a better picture by reversing the colors, developing the negative. The incomprehensible prohibitions turn out to be the boundaries of something positive, visible in its true colors and proper proportions. Instead of a list of doníts, we see an abundance of healthy, delicious foods, with plenty of options for home and clothes and personal care. We do not grudgingly practice a creed of self-denial. We select from an embarassment of riches.

But that is still just a flat, two-dimensional picture instead of the solid, three-dimensional reality. At the heart of being vegan is a kind of compassionate awareness. We share this planet not only with billions of fellow human beings, but also with uncounted billions upon billions of other creatures, with lives, wants, enjoyment and suffering as real as our own. Humans have had and used the power to crowd them out, push them aside, sometimes driving them to extinction, and often, making them into tools for our use, servitors of our desires, food for our tables, clothes for our backs. As vegans, we look, we pay attention, we see the unnecessary suffering imposed on our fellow creatures. We respond in compassion, refusing to pretend that might makes right, refusing to turn away and ignore what we know. The vegan message is ultimately very simple:

Look. Pay attention. See the unnecessary death and suffering. We donít have to contribute or help to keep it going. We can stop being a part of this. And so, thatís what we try to do.