August 31st, 2012 by Gary Smith
(Original interview by Camilla Johansson – http://annorlundararing.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/gary-smith-the-thinking-vegan/)
Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world. Evolotus specializes in health and wellness, spirituality, animal protection, natural foods, documentary films, non-profits and socially beneficial companies. Gary started a blog in February of 2011 called The Thinking Vegan and has written for Elephant Journal, Jewish Journal and as a guest blogger for Mother Nature Network (MNN.com). Gary and his wife adhere to a vegan lifestyle and live with their cat Chloe and their two rescued laboratory beagles, Frederick and Douglass, in Sherman Oaks, CA.
How did you come to the decision that the vegan way was the right way?
That’s a long story. The first time I went vegan was more than 20 years ago in college. I opened up “Diet For a New America” by John Robbins and changed my diet on the spot. When I saw the animals in cages, on factory farms, that was it. I did it for the animals, but didn’t fully grasp veganism. I still wore leather and wool, and didn’t have a clue about animal testing. Mind you, this was before the internet and Facebook. I ate a vegan diet for three and a half years and then went back to eating eggs, dairy and fish. I can give you a list of excuses, but ultimately I am responsible for making the choices to go against my ethics.
What drove me back to veganism was my ethics. I always had a voice in my head that told me that eating animals was wrong. A few years later, I finally gave into that voice. I am so glad that I did. This time around, I understand what veganism really is, an ethical choice to abstain from using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and vivisection. The first time I was vegan, I would recommend or buy “Diet For a New America” to friends and family, but I mostly kept my veganism to myself. This time, I am active. I don’t keep it to myself.
What are the obstacles that you have come across and what are the benefits?
For me the changes in diet and lifestyle were not all that challenging. At first they may seem overwhelming, but you get used to reading labels, shopping for clothes that do not come from animals, looking for products not tested on animals and so on. Many things we try to do seem difficult at first.
I think the biggest obstacle for most people is the social aspect. If you are young and still live at home, how are your parents and family going to adjust to your choice to go vegan? If you are in a serious relationship or marriage, how is your spouse going to react to your shift? If you have to go out for lunch as part of your work, how are co-workers going to accept your new lifestyle? I think that sometimes we paint going vegan as being simple because we want people to make the change, but I think it’s important to be honest with people in that you will most likely get some pushback.
The benefits are numerous. For me, there was an almost immediate shift in my daily level of agitation. I felt more at peace with myself. I knew that eating and using animals was wrong, but did not make the change. Once I made the change, my values of compassion, justice and fairness were aligned with my behaviors.
Another benefit was discovering a community of people all over the world who felt and thought the same way as me. I didn’t know any vegans the first time I stopped eating animals, and not many more this time around. I was dragged kicking and screaming to Facebook, but that is really where I began to create this community. Community is so important for new vegans. It is vital. I highly recommend that new vegans friend others on Facebook, go to local Meetups or start one, follow vegan-friendly pages and blogs. Now, the great majority of my friends are vegans and others who fight for social justice issues.
Health is clearly another benefit. However, if the science was wrong and my life might be shortened by not eating animals or their secretions, I would remain vegan. No ifs, ands or buts.
My experience is that people perceive it as a threat when you don´t eat meat. Either they ridicule you or try to pick a more serious argument. What is your experience, and how do you handle it?
Vegans are a mirror for others. Whether you are advocating on behalf of other animals or politely turning down meat, dairy and eggs at a party, no matter what you say, what the non-vegan hears is, “You are wrong for eating and using animals. I am clearly a superior human being to you.”
Why do they hear that message? Because it’s mostly true. But seriously, the point is that everyone believes that they are a good, ethical person. When they realize that they eat animals, they become aware that their behaviors don’t match their ideal of who they think they are. And most people are not aware of the fact that they are eating animals. Eating animals is so normalized around the world via TV commercials, health classes in school, literature at your doctor’s office, and so on, that the only time they become aware of this fact is when they are talking or interacting with a vegan.
I handle this differently depending on the situation. I was born with cerebral palsy and have walked with an exaggerated limp my entire life. My politics are quite radical compared to most other Americans. I have been vegan for nine years of my life (in total). I consider myself an atheist and have not been religious since I was very young. I’ve never really felt normal and have always been outside the culture, so I am used to being confronted and challenged for one of my beliefs or behaviors. If someone shows a genuine interest in veganism or asks questions, versus trying to provoke or win an argument, I’ll spend some time discussing veganism with them. If they just want to argue, I don’t waste my time.
What do you tell someone who need motivation to make the change to a plant based diet?
It’s all about the animals for me. The motivation should be to be a kinder, more compassionate person. It is about removing yourself from the exploitation and oppression of animals and living up to the ideal you have about yourself.
I don’t spend much time talking about the health benefits or any other selfish reason why someone should go vegan. I don’t find it is effective to manipulate someone into doing something that their heart isn’t truly in. I am not interested in promoting veganism as a diet, because diets don’t work, and veganism is an ethical philosophy and not a fad diet. Everyone you have ever met has tried a diet and is no longer eating that same way. That is the nature of a diet, it is temporary.
There are millions of people all over the world who have decided that the ethical choice is vegan. Use their experiences and support as motivation.
All it should take to motivate someone is to watch some videos on the internet or documentaries about how meat, dairy, or eggs are produced, to see the horror, suffering and sadness of animals. I also find that spending time with animals at a farm sanctuary has an impact on people.
If you were to make an educated guess, how, if anything, would you say that our eating habits will change over the coming years?
We will be eating less meat, dairy and eggs. There is no doubt about that. I think that the costs of feed for farmed animals will continue to rise and hence the cost of animal products will be out of reach for many, I think that as the population continues to increase, it will be more and more difficult to keep up with the demand, I am certain that a horrific zoonotic disease will run rampant through factory farms and many people will die as a result, which will frighten many from eating animals and I think that governments will have less money to bail out big agriculture as well as provide large sums of money for subsidies.
Having said that, sadly consumption is and will continue to rise in countries like India and China as more and more people have access to better paying jobs.
I also hope that as activists, we will have developed more creative and effective campaigns and strategies that will bring more and more people to veganism. There is clearly more awareness around farmed animal issues and veganism in the media and public.
What is your advice to a vegan in the making?
There is a lot of advice out there for people who are transitioning. Each person must ultimately decide what is the most effective way for them to proceed. Some suggest giving up smaller animals like chickens first since so many are killed versus cows. Others suggest starting with one day a week of not eating any animal products. It’s really hard for me to advise someone to not just give up all animals right now. Do whatever you have to do to stop. Every moment you don’t go vegan, is another moment of participating in a system of exploitation and oppression, which is not good for you or the animals.
Eating vegan has never been easier or simpler. You can look for substitutions by replacing animal meat with soy and gluten meats, replacing dairy cheeses and milks with non-dairy versions or you can just eat simply.
Everyone is eating vegan foods every day; beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. It’s simply a matter of eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from what you are already eating. You can eat pasta with vegetables, salads with a half can of beans, bean and rice burritos, as an example.
Make sure to create a support system and get support and motivation from other vegans.
Take the time to understand how horrific the global holocaust for animals truly is. We are talking about 56 billion land animals and possibly trillions of fishes murdered for food each year globally. That does not include the millions who are tortured and murdered for clothing, to test products and in “research,” in entertainment and in hunting. Watch films like EARTHLINGS, FARM to FRIDGE, and read books so you don’t casually decide that being vegan is too hard or complicated.