1st January 2021

Going Vegan: The Cognitive & Emotional Precursors to Behavioural Change

Are you thinking of going vegan for 2021?
When people make new year’s resolutions what they are usually trying to do is change their behaviour. But how we behave is governed by what we think, and how we feel. So if you are thinking of changing how you behave with respect to other animals by going vegan, then the first thing you need to do is change how you think about and understand other animals.
We have all grown up in a world where we only thought about them in terms of how we can use them, whether that is for food, clothing, labour, entertainment, etc. The industries that profit by our use of other animals, carefully hide who they are and how they transform them into the products we consume. They profit from objectification which means they turn the essence of other animals including their feelings, personality, and uniqueness, into a resource for us to use. They exploit and kill them without regard for their personal experience and wishes for their own lives. That is why the industry uses terms such as harvest or process when what they are referring to is killing or slaughtering, taking the life from someone who didn’t want to die.
So the first challenge is to research the concepts of animal sentience which is how other animals experience physical and psychological feelings and how they experience their lives when we use them as our resources. What we do to them is horrendous so this aspect of going vegan is quite an onerous task. But it is essential. Radical and lasting change does not happen for frivolous reasons.
When we examine the feelings and experiences of other animals, a whole new world opens up to us, so as well as facing up to the great injustice we inflict on them, there is the joy and awe of getting to know these exquisitely sensitive beings for who they are.
Once we begin to recognise that in all the ways that matter they are the same as us, we acknowledge that they share our fundamental rights not to be owned, used, exploited or killed. We think about them as our equals. We feel respect for them and we want justice for them. These changes in how we think and feel are necessary precursors to living vegan. Many people make the mistake of beginning to be vegan by trying to buy more vegan products or eat more plant based meals. While this is very worthy and well intentioned, tackling the behavioural changes of veganism without first researching the topics of animal use, the concept of sentience, the phenomenon of speciesism (which is at the root of how we harm them), has a much lower chance of success. We need the motivation of the goal of fairness, and an understanding of the role animal use plays in environmental destruction, loss of biodiversity, climate change , human health issues and zoonotic diseases such as pandemics.
If you do one thing today, please read about who animals are from reputable sources (e.g. vegan sanctuaries and evidence based animal rights books, websites, films etc). Familiarise yourself with the consequences for them when we are not vegan; learn what happens when we use their eggs, buy dairy products, wear wool, leather or silk, eat their flesh, entertain ourselves at their expense or buy products that were tested on them. Research every aspect of animal use. Then when you decide to change to living vegan you will be motivated by the goal of ending your participating in their oppression. You will not experience feelings of deprivation or inconvenience because your mindset will be very different to that of someone simply trying out a new brand of cosmetics or the latest dietary trend. You will change from someone who thinks that other animals are inferior to us, cute at best, but not really persons in their own right, to someone who regards their interests, feelings and lives as being as important as your own.