1st November 2023

Like many people, I had no real perception of veganism beyond Quorn and tofu, until a chronic illness diagnosis forced me to make many changes for the sake of my health, and the way I eat is one of them. I began to realise that we’re fed by a food industry that pays no attention to health and treated by a health industry that pays no attention to food. Soon, I understood enough to recognise that my body needs food with life in it, not death, so I adopted a plant-based diet for my health, and then a fully vegan lifestyle for the animals. 

It was a shaky start. I’d often find myself being vegan until 3pm when someone would whip the cakes out at work, or the only thing the coffee shop had left was a cheese sandwich. I didn’t understand the issues with dairy until I did my research and quickly found enough tragedy to get me past that tricky afternoon tea break.

A gradual awakening

My awareness of how far vegan ethics go was limited at first, but eventually went from understanding the issues surrounding meat, then to dairy, clothes, makeup, cleaning products and even toothpaste. Yet a few months in, I was still rocking up to a vegan fair in a leather jacket – I hadn’t made the connection completely yet.

When I did, I just wanted to help the animals humans are hurting. I began using my skills to support sanctuaries, and that in turn led me to Freedom for Animals. They soon enlightened me on the issues around animals being used in entertainment and zoos, the con in conservation, and the cruelty of confining any other species for human interests – whether in theme parks or research labs.

Now I realise that being vegan is a commitment to preventing any exploitation of animals, and this naturally extends beyond changing our diets to opposing them being used for entertainment in zoos, aquariums, and circuses. 

It’s not a fad

Evidence of people choosing to avoid animal products goes as far back as 2,000 years ago, indicating that veganism has a long history of practice and advocacy. Religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism incorporate vegetarian principles into their beliefs, seeing it as a path towards non-violence and compassion for all living beings. 

Established in 1944, The Vegan Society is still going strong and becoming even more relevant today as veganism grows globally. Their definition of veganism is: ‘a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose’. 

And it’s the ‘any other purpose’ that Freedom for Animals’ campaign work focuses on.

A modern mind-shift

While vegans are still a minority, awareness of the compassionate lifestyle that’s been under our noses for thousands of years is growing. 

People used to say: "if slaughterhouses had glass walls everybody would be vegetarian" and modern media is giving us that transparency in a way. Documentaries, books, and online content are all exposing the harsh realities of factory farming, animal testing, slaughter, and other forms of exploitation and cruelty that have been hidden from the public until now. 

The environmental impact of animal agriculture is also coming to light as a leading cause of the climate crisis. This global concern is so real now that kids all over the world are holding ‘school strikes for climate’. Add to this the many health benefits of a plant-based diet and adopting a vegan lifestyle has never been more relevant.

Exploitation or entertainment?

Putting the lifestyle benefits aside, veganism is about seeing animals as sentient beings who deserve dignity, freedom, and the opportunity to live a life free from exploitation. So, by opposing animal use in zoos or entertainment, vegans are being consistent in their commitment to animal rights. 

Looking back, going to zoos and safari parks were a natural part of my childhood. Every summer holiday there would be one magical day when mum and dad would make us bacon butties before whisking us off to Whipsnade Zoo. I loved the bacon butty and howled with laughter as the monkeys tried to rip dad’s car wipers off when we drove through their enclosure. But despite how much happiness the butties and the monkeys brought me as a child, they’re not worth the suffering they cost the animals. Neither have any place in the vegan lifestyle I lead now.

Freedom for Animals has a long history of opposing animal exploitation. Particularly for entertainment, an area of animal rights that is not as widely campaigned about as food or fashion. The charity says: 

We were instrumental in achieving the ban on using wild animals in circuses and proposed alternatives, even helping to finance the UK's first animal-free circus. We also oppose industries such as zoos, aquariums and bird of prey displays that misrepresent animal exploitation as conservation or education.

The charity’s educational work and awareness-raising promotes a more compassionate attitude and relationship between humans and all other animals.

More than a food fight

Once you get past the ‘it’s all about tofu’ trap, it’s obvious that veganism is about so much more than food. It’s not a diet, it’s a rejection of violence, and that means opposing the exploitation of animals for any purpose, from food to fashion, and entertainment. 

What started as a decision about my diet has become way bigger than me. It’s about respecting everyone’s – both human and non-human animals’ – right to live in peace. And we could all use some of that. 

Freedom for Animals investigates, exposes, and campaigns to end animal exploitation in the UK and beyond. You can support our work and help us fight for a world without cages by making a donation today.

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