When I first became vegetarian a little over six years ago, it was a huge change for me. For three meals a day, I committed to doing something different than I had done for the previous 27000 meals of my life. To me, giving up meat was extreme, especially early on when I tried to figure out what else I could eat other than soy hot dogs.
After a little while, though, it felt very natural and I realized that vegetarianism wasn’t that big of a deal. And while I thought that someday I might possibly go vegan, the idea of veganism still seemed extreme to me.
When I finally made the transition to veganism, it also turned out to be not that big of a deal. Today, it seems like the most normal thing in the world to me, definitely not “extreme” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, to anyone else that hasn’t made the transition to veganism, whether omnivore or lacto-ovo vegetarian, it still seems very far “out there.” The phrase “vegan extremists” is not terribly uncommon:
“Fish is a great source of protein and it’s one of the few foods that almost all people will agree is good for you – except some vegan extremists – with the caveat that you have to be careful about where the fish comes from and what kind it is.” (also includes this comment from a reader: “To heck with vegan extremists! Put the fish on my plate!”)
“Vegetarian and Vegan extremists, as well as fur-haters (people who throw red paint at people who wear fur) have a heavily intolerant view on animal testing, they firmly believe that any testing is inhumane, they pass pictures of animals in torture-like devices and are very active in trying to make meat-eaters and fur-wearers feel like murderers, just because they don’t abide by the vegetarian/vegan extremist point of view.”
And, of course, the “don’t they have anything better to do” variety of comment:
“Please beware that the vegan extremists are not going to go away. Like extremists of every stripe, they want to impose their values on others. Many have nothing but time to kill (so to speak) and plenty of $$$ from a few high profile backers.”
We regard sports and activities as “extreme” if they are death-defying, ones that if performed without experience and the utmost caution would cause the average person to meet a painful end. Indeed, death itself is probably the most extreme thing that any of us will ever face (and the one thing that we will all face at some point). It’s the end of this life, and even if you believe in the afterlife, you can be sure you’re in for a drastic change when the reaper calls your number.
Likewise, we look at torture as extreme because in many cases, it’s a fate worse than death. It makes the victim wish for death as a quick release from the suffering.
If one looks at the animal exploitation industries–that is, the meat, dairy, and egg industries, the vivisection and animal testing industries, and the fur industry–a few obvious things come to light. The vast majority of the animals used in these industries undergo treatment that would be considered torture by the mainstream if inflicted upon humans: confinement, sharing cramped cages, force feeding, starvation, rape, use of foreign substances, lack of medical care. For whatever reason, when these acts are committed against non-human animals, they’re considered “standard industry practices” and not torture.
But even if agreement can’t be reached on the treatment of these animals, one thing is undeniable: 100% of them face the most extreme of extremes: death. And not a natural death that most of us hope for, but an early, painful, unnatural death at the hands of another. This death would be at best considered torturous and at worst, murder. Again, since these acts are not being committed against humans, most of us accept them as the normal part of life.
So the question at this point is, “Why is veganism extreme?” It’s extreme because it causes us to radically change how we live our lives.
But forget that for a moment. Forget any personal change required in becoming vegan (because, after all, would we consider inconvenience if it involved our next door neighbor being tortured?). Consider only the actual actions involved in a.) eating meat, wearing animal products, and supporting animal testing and b.) practicing veganism.
Torture and death are extreme. Meat, fur, and animal testing involve both. Therefore, these actions should be considered extreme.
Veganism bypasses all of this. Veganism opts out of exploitation, torture, and death. Veganism strives for compassion. Veganism is peace. Veganism is not extreme. Eating dozens of animals a year (even more if you’re into chicken rather than beef) is extreme.
Sure, we’re all still freaks for the way we choose to live our lives because it’s so drastically different than what most people do, but it doesn’t make our lifestyle extreme. In fact, it’s our very choice to abstain from animal products and the suffering that’s associated with them that makes us the antithesis of extreme.