It has been a long process, but the Letters to a New Vegan book manuscript has made great progress. After contributing to the collection, I soon joined Melissa Tedrowe as co-editor and had the greater privilege to read so many touching, inspiring letters from vegans around the world. My original contribution will not be included in the book, so I am sharing it here for all of the new vegans, would-be vegans, could-be vegans, and my fellow vegans–if any of them care to read it.
Dear New Vegan,
The most important thing that I have to say is, “Thank you.” Your choice to end your role in the exploitation of non-human animals is brave, an action of insight and strength in the name of compassion. Simply put, it is remarkable.
I went vegan in 1999 as a sophomore in college. As someone who cared deeply for companion and wild animals alike as a child, it somehow took me almost twenty years of being alive to figure out that truly loving them is impossible while you are eating them, wearing them, experimenting on them, or using them for entertainment. I am saddened at the disconnect in my awareness for so long but also glad I recognized that the only way for me to be at peace with myself was to stop my personal exploitation of animals. That decision has directed my entire life since. I hope it does the same for you.
The world that you exist in as a new vegan looks very different from the one I entered and existed in way back in a previous millennium. The sheer quantity of vegan-friendly products, businesses, informational Web sites and books, and opportunities to gather and get active available today is mind-blowing. If I stop to think about how far veganism has come since I became vegan, I feel something akin to whiplash—in a good way!
Honestly, though, vegans are still a minority demographic in the United States and around the world. And depending on where you live, you can easily feel isolated and overwhelmed by the amount and normalcy of suffering that humans perpetrate on non-human animals. Simply open your eyes and look around, and you will find something that makes exploiting animals seem okay and even praiseworthy. It is appallingly obvious, and often cripplingly painful . . . yet we vegans are the minority who see and refuse to continue the system of suffering.
Believe it or not, it took me more than a decade to even begin to get past this hyper-awareness of being a minority and the ensuing sense of overwhelming isolation. Hell, it is far too easy to fall down that dark well of vegan melancholy when the world seems nasty, brutish, and so profoundly antithetical to everything we believe (we know) is true . . .
Nevertheless, your decision to go vegan is truly positive and worth rejoicing. It is an act of defiance in a society that thrives on status quo; it is perhaps the strongest statement against a bloodied, destructive machine that any person can make. Yet it is also the start of a life that brings the deepest joy, fostering the rare instance where one’s ethics come into alignment with one’s lifestyle.
There is so much power in this alignment, coupled with the vision to see through the veil of cultural normalization. So, so much.
My biggest mistake as a vegan was kowtowing to the sickness of society, shutting my mouth with a nod and a smile simply because I was convinced that I had no right to speak up. For so many years, I acted (and thought!) as a minority on the fringe, whose perspective and message would inevitably be ignored or laughed off.
When you believe this and accept the minority mindset, it can become hard to recognize your own strength, your own value, and your own place as a key part of something better. You may let that initial act of empowerment flicker and fade . . .
Never allow yourself to make this mistake.
Never let the dominant narrative convince you that you are a minority and should act accordingly. Never let the snotty comments, sneering questions, juvenile jokes, or inexplicable stubbornness of people around you—even those whom you care about and are sure should know better—bow your back under their terrible weight. Never let your voice be silenced nor your energy wane in the effort to liberate animals from suffering and exploitation.
Veganism is power, and veganism is empowerment. Never doubt this. Never forget this.
Looking back on the path behind me, and seeing you standing at the start of your own, I am excited to see so many others walking along with us. They are all speaking up—some louder than others but all in their own voices. There are many of us, yet we also desperately need your voice and your power . . . for the animals.