My Vegan Story: What led me to veganism?

There’s this thing happening on the internet to kick off 2015 called #myveganstory where people who have made the switch post about what the catalyst was for them to do so. Here’s mine.


In 2005 I did Introduction to Philosophy at Murdoch University and the subject for week 2 was “Do Only Humans Matter?”. After reading Peter Singer’s 1979 essay ‘Equality for Animals’ I had decided unequivocally that humans have no business killing animals for food. But strangely, I didn’t adjust my behaviour accordingly and continued to eat meat for the next 7 years. Sometimes at the table the thought would occur that I was going against my intellectual and ethical understanding of right and wrong but the thought would leave almost as soon as it had appeared. Such is the strength of cultural conditioning, cognitive dissonance and the primitive refusal to give up old habits when it comes to something so primal and essential: eating.

In 2012 I met a girl who was a vegetarian, and I started again to discuss Singer et. al., but not in a serious way, almost as if it were all just theory. Because after all, I didn’t have to actually see animals suffering, I could just pick my meat up from the supermarket or the restaurant and not think about it. Nele suggested to me that we all have a responsibility to know where our food comes from and to be realistic about the ramifications of this. And with this point I couldn’t disagree.

I spent a few days scouring Youtube for videos of abattoirs, food videos that related to the environment and lectures on food ethics. About two weeks later I bought a bad ham sandwich as a quick breakfast from the Perth Railway Station and couldn’t eat it because it was so revolting and badly made. I reflected on the suffering that I witnessed with my eyes on Youtube and it started to make its way slowly into my heart. I discarded the ham sandwich and felt not shame nor guilt, but a sense of inanity that an animal had to suffer and die for food… even such horrible food. After this I was a vegetarian.

The logical inconsistency of being a vegetarian and not a vegan began to catch up with me and after a terrible cappuccino in Hamburg, Germany I ditched milk and eggs as well.

In a way it’s a frightening world being a vegan. One in which there is suffering on an unimaginable scale, a scale at which humans have never before been asked to suffer… and no one seems to care. But in another way there is a sense of pride that you were one of the first to open your heart and your intellect and see the world as it truly is, and to live a life that at least causes the least amount of suffering possible (not 0% suffering but as close to the mark as possible).

Nele and I are now both vegans and she is also now my wife.

I’m happy that it happened. It’s not a religion, it’s not for self-righteous people: it’s a social justice issue.

‪#‎newyearsresolution‬ ‪#‎veganeasychallenge‬


The ethics of ebola and Excalibur.

Last week a mixed breed dog named Excalibur was killed in Madrid by the Spanish authorities. The dog belonged to Teresa Romero Ramos and Javier Ramos, the former a nurse who contracted ebola and the latter her husband who was put into quarantine in case he too had contracted the virus. Excalibur, their brown, mixed-breed dog succumbed to the wisdom of the Spanish government based on very scant evidence that dogs can carry the virus and display no symptoms.

Excalibur Spanish Ebola Dog

Excalibur, the Spanish Ebola Dog.

The internet’s response was one of disgust and indignation that this could be allowed to happen, an innocent dog killed based on the low and unproven likelihood of its carrying a virus. Teresa Romero was diagnosed on Monday, Javier quarantined on Tuesday, by Wednesday notoriously intense and aggressive Spanish animal rights campaigners unsuccessfully attempted to blockade the apartment complex in which the dog was living while twitter was spewing global outrage. Excalibur is now dead.

It is understandable for people to have a visceral reaction to the death of a dog. If we have owned a dog then we can very easily imagine our own put into the same situation; innocently relaxing at home, wondering where its owners are, as a team of government officials breaks into the apartment and rips it away from this world. He’s the first dog to die of ebola and, in all likelihood, he didn’t even have it.

My own cross breed shelter dog, Marvin.

My own cross breed shelter dog, Marvin.

Usually animal activists get upset that people can’t seem to see that the suffering of dogs, cats or dolphins is just as saddening as the suffering of cows, pigs and chickens. But this case is interesting because of the West’s infamously unsympathetic attitude to the death and suffering of thousands of West Africans. All we seem to be worried about is whether or not the virus will reach our shores and not whether or not we can do anything to solve the crisis as it’s actually happening in Africa. Defeating the disease at its source would be a much more effective and longer term solution than simply letting it spread in Africa while trying to protect our own borders. In this case we care more about the suffering of one dog than we do about thousands of people.

The outrage at the death of Excalibur demonstrates simultaneously our great human capacity for empathy and our gross failure at executing it and it demonstrates it in a way that I’m sure many people can understand. But if we step away from an immediate emotional response and look at the situation with cold rationality then, one would hope, our empathy would be activated and the appropriate conclusion would be reached. We should prevent the death and suffering of those in Africa, we should never kill a dog or human except in cases of self defence and we should not kill cows, pigs or chickens except in cases of self defence.

Most people would read this and say that we can’t prevent all suffering and I must be some kind of ‘bleeding heart’ for suggesting it, the solution is so simple that it sounds ridiculous. But that’s exactly the point, what is ridiculous is to express our empathy selectively. Our compassion knows no bounds, why on earth should we impose boundaries upon it?

End racism, end speciesism, end carnism. Rest in peace Excalibur.