On Death, Life, and Veganism

*The Dutch translation of this story in Vegan Magazine can be found here

Veganism is a way for me to feel connected to the world—to be in harmony with it by consciously avoiding certain things. I’m not really one to talk about “oneness,” but veganism does give me the feeling of being more connected to the earth and something else. Some may call this “spirituality,” others “higher consciousness,” but whatever term you choose, what happens here is something that transforms the everyday into the scared through a change in perspective that compels us in another direction. And there’s a sense of comfort in this, and knowing that it’s there gives us strength.

When my father recently died, I became unbalanced in the shock. For me, part of being in all the emotions while we sorted through papers and clothes and his computer was thinking about the inevitability of death and it being the finite end to life, something consistently experienced until it’s not. Veganism was one of the major ways I made this finite thing we call life so liveable that it crossed over into the realm of the spiritual by being one of the least destructive ways I could live on this planet—an affirmation of life. Thus, a core tenant of my veganism was prolonging the life of the earth and the people on it; veganism had a positive function, rather than just being something that was good only because it was the absence of something negative, which, in my estimation, would render veganism neutral.

My father’s recent death made it hard to connect to veganism as a source of comfort, as something good and positive. The solace in the familiar wasn’t there, and it was hard to untangle why through the mess of feelings and thoughts. I couldn’t understand why it felt neutral beyond it just being not that important when compared to the death of my father. I didn’t question going back to vegetarianism or even eating meat, but this felt different.

 

As I thought of why, I kept coming back to the function of veganism as a thing that pushes life forward by trying to prolong it, and how death is inevitable. I will die, and our planet is dying, I thought, countering the latter with famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s assertion that the planet will survive not matter what we do to it. Here, the issue is about having a planet on which humans can survive, and since climate change is irreversible, we must focus on mitigating it. This is not necessarily doing something good for the planet and our survival, just not killing it and us as fast, which is neutral.

I came to view veganism as neutral not only because it’s not the worst thing we could do for the planet, but because I realized I take refraining from killing living beings and destroying the earth as givens—something those of us who can should be doing as a minimum standard of conduct. This is a minimum because not making the earth unliveable is a requirement for life, for survival, which is also why it takes on neutrality: we would never tell a student, all other things being equal, they were doing something “good” by meeting the minimum requirements.

The logic in taking care of our planet so we can live is circular, but it binds us and what we do to our environment. This connectedness is a spiritual move, albeit in a neutral manner, which makes me think that maybe the point of spirituality in the first place is indeed neutrality—treating things as they should be treated considering the nature of the thing in question. My father was a deeply religious, spiritual, and philosophical man, and I can picture him nodding as he read this, thinking, and then giving me a number of points of disagreement—I’ll miss that. But I’ll never forget all of our discussions and his reaction to me becoming vegan—“That’s cool!”—and his elation to see my face on the cover of this magazine, both of which were anything but neutral, and I prefer it that way.