It’s that awkward moment filled with hope and frustration, you are trying to explain to yet another person what being Vegan means. You are reaching out with your heart spending so much time delicately explaining the general and intricate nuances of veganism all while trying to find some bridge between their understanding of life and compassion. You talk about their beloved pets, why we don’t drink other mammals milk, factory farm abuses, how non-human animals suffer, they have families, the love, etc, etc, etc. We know all the parts and pieces, we have a thousand different ways to say compassion and yet we don’t have that simple easy explanation of it all. We don’t have that one defining word that simplifies everything to a point that most anyone can understand. Compassion is a great word, but it can mean different things to different people, some can even see compassion in the abuse.
I have tried my best over the years to craft some simple creative way to try and explain veganism without going into some long story and intricate details about particulars. One of my more well polished ways that I threw out on most occasions was “compassionate plant based lifestyle”. It carried some of what I wanted to convey, but it lacked the very essence of veganism to me. It explained what we do, but didn’t explain why. The why always came across in those long stories and intricate details about particulars, which was the only mechanism I had to convey the core of what veganism was or why I chose to give myself that label.
That was until one warm summer day in the forest with my partner, talking about veganism. It was all so innocent and simple, yet it hit me like a lighting bolt in an open field. She very simply commented about how veganism was really about consent. Did you read that, let me write it again – veganism is about consent. It all seems so simple from that vantage point, it covers everything about why we do what we do. We don’t drink milk because we don’t have the consent of the cow, which even if we did I think most of us would still not want it. We don’t wear fur because we don’t have the consent of the animal whose fur it belonged to, it would be like walking around with a human skin purse. We choose not to watch animals in entertainment, but wouldn’t think stopping to take in a family of deer walking through the forest. Vegansim at it’s core is about consent, it is one of the consent cultures in our society.
In being a consent culture, it explains why so many vegans also find themselves in support of other injustices in the world aside from those being directed at our non-human animal friends. Consent is the permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. It’s about a simple respect for other conscious living beings and the understanding that we don’t have the right to impose ourselves upon them without their permission. In seeking that permission we are clearly communicating that we see and respect other living being. That is what we are striving for as vegans, to clearly communicate that we see and respect other living beings, we seek consent.