One of the most common accusations against vegans from pre-vegans is that they care for other animals more than they care for humans. They seem to believe that we have not space for everyone in our hearts. It always strikes me as stunning that pre-vegans can even make these kinds of comments.
If you ask non-vegans what they do in particular toward the advancement of their fellow humans, a lot of them don't actually claim to do anything special or out of the ordinary. And yet, some maintain an accusation of vegans working only for non-human animals, with little consideration for their fellow man. In my twenties, I worked with Amnesty International, then later moved on to environmental work, and then arrived at veganism. I had to become vegan to realize that everything is in fact connected and indivisible. When we go vegan, we often automatically and by extension, care for many intersected issues.
In fact, our hearts are big enough, if we open them, to embrace the interconnectivity of all causes. We can't look at one problem without recognizing that it is linked to others. For instance, going vegan directly saves human lives. Many don't realize that their consumption of other animals for unnecessary reasons, literally takes food away from poor people, many of lot of them children, and that their "food choices" are in part behind the most disgusting of human rights assaults: starvation.
After all, most of the grain, corn, and soy currently grown in the world, although often genetically modified, goes to the feed animals we domesticate and consume. Meanwhile, poor countries can't afford to buy their own grain and sell it to the west, and they starve. By going vegan, we can choose not to further participate in these egregious human rights violations.
Cornell researchers have calculated that we could feed 800 million people with just the grain that goes into the feed of non-human animals. So, while we have one billion people who suffer from diseases of affluence (obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc), there are about one billion people currently suffering from diseases of poverty (starvation, actual protein deficiency, etc.).
Another link to what's on our plates, is women's rights. We can't ignore the fact that what we do to female animals is interconnected with how women are treated in the world. When we have people who forcefully (read rape) impregnate female animals and then steal their babies, their eggs, their milk, we have to realize that the same is done to human females. Women are raped every twenty seconds somewhere in the world. Girls go through genital mutilations (for some religious and cultural excuses). Women are still forced to have multiple children because they aren't allowed to take take contraceptives and their husbands or partners make it impossible for them to be able to. The list goes on. What we do to other animals, we eventually do to ourselves as a species. Everything is connected. When we commodify and exploit other non-human animals, it follows that we often extend that same mindset of ownership and exploitation, for our fellow humans.
By going Vegan, we reject this. I believe people's hearts are big enough to include many causes. If I decide to become a classic music fan today, I can still care for good old classic rock. My heart widens. It's restrictive and unproductive to think that we can care for only one cause or set of beings at a time.
Veganism is in fact a fantastic way to extend our circle of compassion, because it makes clear the interconnectivity of all causes, whether we are talking about animal rights, women's' rights, or human rights. Veganism is all inclusive and should be un-concerned with separating issues. On the contrary, it makes us conscious that there is no way to care for one issue or being, without caring for another.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He recognized and connected the dots. His widow and son went on themselves to become vegan. Other great leaders, like Cesar Chavez or Mahatma Gandhi, also recognized the interconnectivity of causes and did the same.
Embracing veganism is merely an acknowledgment that we are all one on this planet-- non-humans, humans, nature. What affects one group or cause, affects us all. When people connect these dots, we can breathe easier and plan for a better, more inclusive world.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.