What have you done for animals lately?

What have you done for animals lately?

At its most personal level, living an animal-friendly life means avoiding products derived from the flesh and skin of other beings, as well as their milk and eggs. Now, most people consider themselves animal-friendly but, logically speaking, one cannot contribute to the suffering and exploitation of animals and still reasonably consider one’s self a friend to animals, which means that a lot of people out there are deeply confused. The equation simply does not compute. Fortunately, thanks to the persistent work of fine activists everywhere, more and more people are solving this puzzle by going vegan.

See, being vegan is all about reconciling your actions with your beliefs, living consistently with your ethics. If you care about animals, then it makes perfect sense not to contribute to their commodification. It’s that simple, but it’s so powerful in practice. Being a happy, healthy, confident vegan saves real lives and tells everyone around you that not only is an animal-friendly paradigm possible, but that it is right. It’s a beautiful thing.

But what next? Many vegans don’t know where to channel their desire to awaken animal awareness in others, or how. Sometimes it starts by reading books like Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, and learning more about the basics of veganism and animal rights so that one can better educate their friends, family and co-workers who ask them about their veganism. When patient vegans set a great example and answer the inevitable questions openly and honestly, they occasionally come to find themselves surrounded by people eager to live consistently with their ethics, too, as many of us have discovered. For some people, that’s enough activism to balance with their daily routine.

Prioritize your discretionary time based on a future self looking back at whether hours of your life vanished into thin air or whether they accumulated into achievements you’ll be proud to remember.

But frequently, passionate vegans want to do more. Mired in the minutiae of their daily lives, they don’t see what they can do to help. If that’s you, it’s time to prioritize. Ask yourself what’s really important to you. Assess how you’ve been spending your time. How many hours of TV did you watch this week? How many celebrity-fixated magazines did you read? Did things that matter more to you languish as you engaged in something mindless? While unwinding from a difficult job and the stress from exposure to animal cruelty is important, sometimes we tend to overdose on activities that are better described as passivities.

How many minutes and hours do timekillers like this take away from what you really want to achieve with your life? What do they contribute? Prioritize your discretionary time based on a future self looking back at whether hours of your life vanished into thin air or whether they accumulated into achievements you’ll be proud to remember. That might prompt a rather profound rejiggering of your schedule! The amount of time freed up when we prioritize around what matters can be rather substantial.

I don’t mean to suggest never engaging in a guilty pleasure, but we can’t let them dominate all our free time and hold us back. Maybe you could just cut down your TV viewing to the two or three shows per week that really mean something to you, or that contribute something quantifiable to your life (and definitely time-shift your programming). Same with magazines. People might add very little to your quality of life, much less your mind, but you may feel that Newsweek keeps you in touch with what’s happening in the world. Cancel subscriptions as appropriate. When you want to recreate—that is, refresh yourself—engage in activities that actually restore you and make you a healthier person, such as exercise and meditation.

Having eliminated the idle filler you will never miss, you can now fill your discretionary time with animal-friendly activities that you yearned to incorporate into what once seemed like an impossibly busy schedule. Take that time and put it to use. Look around your community. Where can you help? What is it that you even want to do? If there’s not an outlet for that particular kind of activism in your community (or online, for that matter), is there a way to physically support a regional, state, national or international organization? Some people take jobs with animal protection groups, accepting pay cuts to spend more time doing what they care about, while others volunteer skills such as graphic design, letter writing, event planning and simply showing up and doing whatever needs to be done.

If you prefer to keep it closer to home and no one local is doing what you want, what’s stopping you from doing it? Some friends of mine have in the past year built up a veg presence in their communities, using meetups as a way to gather people together and create a community that helps make them all feel less alone. One organization, FresnoVegan, has already made it into newspapers, and its founder has been asked to speak at a local university screening of Shaun Monson’s Earthlings.
Don’t fret, introverts! Local activism can be as simple as gathering like-minded individuals together so they don’t feel quite so alone. b-Veg, a new group in Bakersfield, aims to make the notoriously veg-unfriendly town feel a little more hospitable, even if if means the group’s members count themselves lucky to have a P.F. Changs at which to meet. Hey, that Ma Po Tofu is really good!

It has become glaringly obvious as I grow my own new organization, the Boston Vegan Association, that the time is right for healthy vegan communities to spring up everywhere. And community is essential to happy, lifelong vegans and activists. Happy vegans stay vegan, and happy activists can do more good in the world.

So, remember, you don’t have to accept the status quo. You can make a difference. Just start pushing a little bit, create some momentum, and you’ll find you’re not doing it all by yourself. But you will have been the spark that got something going in your community, something that fills a need for you and, likely, for others.

And that’s what I call living an animal-friendly life.

Eric is the publisher of An Animal-Friendly Life and co-founder of the Boston Vegan Association.

Originally posted on November 23, 2007

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