Promoting Vegan

After being vegan for some time, I realized I was going to stick with this lifestyle the rest of my life. As time went on, being vegan began to define me and my goals – at least partially. Whenever something begins to define a person, it’s natural to want to share that as s/he shares himself with the world. Sharing beliefs of a compassionate life style must be done with patience and compassion and never with judgement. Everyone is at a different stage in life with different priorities and ideas. We must respect each other, to earn respect in return

I follow Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the world’s largest marine conservation organization. Capt. Watson recently addressed promoting the vegan lifestyle and the vegan practices of Sea Shepherd. The following words express all the things I believe about “promoting” veganism summed up by the man that brought you Whale Wars.

It seems that my postings of late on climate change, plant based diets and the need to address real solutions to the reality of climate change has stirred up some controversy.

Stirring up controversy is always a good thing in my book. It stimulates thought. And I always enjoy the amusing cavalcade of rebukes and defensive criticisms. 

My job is not to win popularity contests. I’m not here to say things everyone agrees with. For four decades I have said things many people do not wish to hear. I do things many people do not like to see being done. I make enemies, lots of them and making enemies is simply the price of addressing issues that need to be addressed. 

For example some of my postings have brought forth anger and condemnation by those who eat meat and even by those who do not eat meat with some animal rights people saying that promoting veganism through conservation is as unacceptable as promoting veganism for health reasons.

I think promoting veganism is acceptable for many reasons.

I don’t think a cow, a pig or a chicken really gives a damn as to the reasons that a person should not eat them. What is important to the animal is that they are not eaten.

Some people felt I insulted them because they believe they have the choice to eat whatever they wish to eat. Some called me crazy and I suppose I can be seen as crazy through anthropocentric eyes that deny the ecological insanity that we have created that affects our planet’s entire eco-system.

When someone eats a hamburger they are also consuming 600 liters of water. When someone eats bacon or chicken they may be eating a dozen fish that had been converted to fish meal to raise that pig. When someone eats meat they are contributing to groundwater pollution, dead zones in the sea and to the creation of greenhouse gases, especially methane. 

However I am not condemning anyone. I am simply observing the consequences of ecological laws and the impact of numbers on our global environment. These numbers include 7.5 billion people up from 3 billion people from the year I was born in 1950 and growing by one billion every decade.

These numbers include 65 billion domesticated land animals and billions more of wild sea animals slaughtered each year to feed the 7.5 billion. They also include statistics like the loss of 40% of phytoplankton populations from the ocean since 1950 and a loss of 90% of the ocean’s fishes and whales and 50% loss of non-domestic animal biomass since 1950. 

It is difficult to grasp the concept of slaughtering 65 billion animals every year. Even more difficult to imagine the amount of water used (600 litres to produce one hamburger for example as cited previously), the amount of fecal material produced, the amount of energy used, the amount of methane produced, the amount of groundwater pollution created, the extend of marine dead zones caused, the amount of energy and fossil fuels used to transport and raise these incredible figures. 

65 billion animals every year and billions more from the sea. That is an unbelievably high number of slaughtered animals. 

I should stress that I am speaking for myself with my postings on my personal pages. My views do not always reflect the policies of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The Sea Shephed policy is very simple and very clear. All meals served on Sea Shepherd ships are to be vegan. 

Sea Shepherd promotes a plant-based diet as a solution to protecting our ocean and Sea Shepherd does so by setting an example. Sea Shepherd is not an animal rights organization. Sea Shepherd is a marine conservation organization specializing in up-holding international conservation law.

You do not have to be vegan to support Sea Shepherd. You do not have to be a vegan to be a shore volunteer. You do not have to be a vegan to crew on our ships. Sea Shepherd does not force veganism or vegetarianism on anyone.

It is my firm belief that people must make decisions about their life style from a point of self-realization and self-awareness. No one can force any viewpoint, belief, or demand in a constructive or positive manner on anyone else.

Veganism will not be advanced by proselytizing veggie-Jesuits.

I simply point out the issues as I see them and I post them for people to think about and to debate.

I do intentionally provoke and I do challenge attitudes to stimulate debate and most importantly self-reflection. 

As for rights, I am an advocate of rights for all of nature, for animals, for rivers, for trees, for grasses and for people. More importantly I advocate for adherence to the laws of ecology, i.e. diversity, interdependence and an understanding that resources are finite.

I think we do have to address the contradictions of eating meat, but I also think we need to address the contradictions of many things we do in our human societies like using fossil fuels and mindless consumerism.

The thing is that each and every one of us is a hypocrite. We have no choice. We are born into a hypocritical society and we participate in this hypocrisy from the day of our birth. We are raised all of our lives in a putrid swamp of hypocrisy and constantly battered with the lies and manipulations by politicians, corporations and the media.

There is no need to feel guilty about any of it, because feeling guilty will not solve the problem. We may as well feel guilty for the act of being born. 

When people call me a hypocrite for one reason or another, I do not deny it. I am indeed a hypocrite. I burn fuel oil, I sometimes use plastic, I sometimes buy things I don’t need.  

The point is to try to do the best I can. My personal approach is adopting a vegan diet, trying not to use plastic, not flying on planes and not driving a car unless absolutely necessary. I’ve not flown on a plane now since July 1st, 2014. 

I have a problem with vegan proselytizing and I admit that I have been guilty of doing it myself but I have also realized that it is a pointless exercise and accomplishes very little. A better alternative is to live by example.

Which is why we offer the experience of a vegan life-style on our ships. 

Non-vegans are welcome to come onboard and some have adapted to veganism by simply having the opportunity to experience it. Some have not and one of the things that has dissuaded a few from adapting a vegan life-style is non-constructive condemnation by some more enthusiastic vegans. 

This takes the form of little cliques of vegan crewmembers that ostracize other non-vegan crew by ignoring them and basically treating them as outsiders. I call that competitive purism, an unconscious attempt to exercise a smug form of self-righteousness.

These little cliques have been an occasional source of complaints over the years despite the Sea Shepherd policy that Sea Shepherd practices veganism, we do not preach it. We lead by example. So much more could be accomplished without judgmental peer pressure. 

Most vegans were not always vegan and they forget that the people they condemn are people just like they used to be before they made the decision to switch to a plant based diet.

I think that facts should be presented and opinions can be expressed without various points of view erupting into hostilities or resentments.

I get messages all the time that a Sea Shepherd crewmember was seen on shore eating a hamburger or someone smuggled a can of spam onboard the ship. I’m not sure what the point is of these messages from indignant informants. Over the last few months some Faroese people for example have reported to me that they saw a person wearing a Sea Shepherd shirt eating a piece of cheese or a hot-dog. It is a little silly that a person who has killed a whale is tattling on someone who they claim is eating a hot-dog even when on some occasions Sea Shepherd people are seen eating tofu dogs. The point is that not everyone is pure nor do we expect them to be. Human beings have been raised in a society where hypocrisy is epidemic. Some Catholics support abortion and divorce. Such actions are hypocritical within the values of their religion but that does not mean they do not believe in Catholicism. 

Sea Shepherd does include non-vegans and non-vegetarians on campaigns. The point is we do not control their lives. We simply endeavor to present alternatives and to lead by example.

Seeing someone who is a Sea Shepherd volunteer eating a hot dog for example is not a revelation of hypocrisy on the part of Sea Shepherd. The fact is that the Sea Shepherd policy is consistently 100% vegan. 

Vegetarianism and veganism are growing movements but they remain in the minority and if these movements are to grow and become mainstream, people within must lead by example and they must be tolerant.

When people ask me why I eat what I eat, I explain to them that my knowledge of the problems caused by meat production and the way meat is produced including the cruelty have motivated me to refrain and to urge others to refrain from supporting this industry. I am primarily concerned about the impact that meat-eating has upon bio-diversity in the Ocean due to over-fishing and the fact that 40% of the fish caught is fed to domestic animals. I also tell them it is much healthier. 

Sometimes people can be defensive and accuse me of forcing my beliefs on them. I reply that I am not forcing anything on anyone. Expressing an opinion and delivering facts is not enforcement. Also my not eating meat is not a belief, it’s a decision based on my understanding of the negative consequences of eating meat and fish to the environment especially the marine environment. 

If another person does not understand or appreciate the negative consequences of eating meat on the environment, there is nothing I can say that will convince them otherwise. They must come to the realization themselves. 

I know that it is just a matter of time before humanity adapts to a plant based diet simply based on the law of finite resources. Ecology combined with economics will force conversion due to cause and effect. It’s inevitable. The real question is will that conversion be timely or too late?

But I think we can hurry the process along quicker through understanding, intelligent discussion, and a healthy debate than by being dismissive of each other’s points of view.  

Converting the world to plant based diets is one of the solutions to climate change that a great many people do not wish to hear. I intend to make this position loud and clear at the Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of November.”

– Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder