Winning Essay


by Phill Spear

How did I become vegan? One minute I was a young red-blooded, rugby loving, beer swilling Kiwi male and then all of a sudden – vegan.

I believe that being vegan is about love; having love for all other sentient beings. So it seems appropriate that my conversion started with love, when I met my wife, Viki. I quickly figured out she was vegan but I didn’t ask too many questions. She didn’t push her views on me either. But after a while the questions were gnawing away at me. I’d never met a vegan before and the idea of veganism piqued my interest. Well, curiosity killed the cat.

Viki fed me information about the consequences of my meat eating lifestyle as I asked for it and it’s fair to say I was confused. My whole world was being tipped upside down – I was the guy who used to eat steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner  – maybe dessert too. I tried to argue with her but I realised that every point I argued had so many holes that I was just being set up for easy pickings. I tried and tried but eventually I had to resign myself to failure. As much as my taste buds hated it, I agreed with her. My philosophies were changed forever. But I was still surrounded by a society that pushes people to conform to stereotypes. How could I possibly be a ‘real’ man if I didn’t eat my Steak & Cheese pie? If I gave up meat I would be a stick-thin skeleton man, living on a diet which primarily consists of lettuce?

So, why am I vegan? Why don’t I consume animal products? The reasons are numerous and the explanations lengthy; from the shocking realities of factory farming, to the health risks associated with meat and on a larger scale, the health of our planet. But the first thing that hit me in the face when I really started thinking about these issues is the simple moral equation that takes place when we consume animal products.

And it’s a pretty basic equation.

Animal products do not provide humans anything that is essential to our survival which we cannot get from natural sources. Animals are also sentient; they strive for the same basic things that we do, such as freedom and companionship and also hold an interest in not suffering. So why would we take their lives to create and consume unnecessary products? How are they so significantly different to us that we believe that we can murder and exploit them as we currently do? Our only difference is our physiology. But surely that is a completely irrelevant factor to use as a basis to justify discrimination. Much like racism and sexism, we must, as a society aim to eradicate speciesism.

Growing up, I was always told to ‘treat others as you would have them treat you’. And I think that’s a great guiding principle for anyone in their day-to-day dealings with others. But it seems reasonable to define that word ‘others’ to mean any sentient being; one which can experience pleasure or pain. Imagine this hypothetical scenario. If an alien race was to arrive on Earth; a race which was superior to humans both physically and intellectually – what would happen? What if they decided that they loved the taste of human flesh? How would we react if this race decided to intensively farm humans for our flesh, for our milk, to make products from our skins? It all sounds like something out of an absurd Science Fiction novel, but think for a moment if it were actually to happen; what moral standing could the average human use to say that this is wrong? Just as our legal systems are shaped by precedents from the past, our moral and ethical viewpoints in society are also judged by whether we are consistent in applying those views. And judging by our current treatment of other species on Earth, society as a whole could not sincerely object to becoming an intergalactic farm.

Being vegan isn’t as hard as some would have you believe. With the background I have I think that if I can do it, then anyone and everyone can do it. And the realities of living vegan couldn’t be further from the stereotypes – I enjoy a tasty and nutritious diet that doesn’t hold me back from sports and other physical activities. Apart from the products I consume, nothing has changed in my life. I still love rugby, having a beer and a tasty vegan pie. So it’s not always the massive life-altering experience that you might think.

And what’s more, veganism is a great way to teach us about real love and compassion. By rejecting practices which are undeniably ethically wrong, the individual also gains a huge dose of self-respect. Not to mention the benefits gained by the animal kingdom – by creating less demand for animal products we can destabilise those businesses that profit from exploitation and therefore give our animal friends a greater chance of living free. Being vegan can actively change the accepted practices of society and consequently the world that we live in.

There are plenty of people who do care about the issues surrounding veganism but say that they can’t break their habits – the number of times I’ve heard something along the lines of “I really care about animals but I just don’t think I could give up chicken” is astronomical. What I would like to say to those people is don’t underestimate yourself. You can do better than that. All it takes is for you to really, truly care about the issues at stake. And sometimes it just takes a bit of love.

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