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The Open Mind: why I went vegan

The Open Mind is a new series encouraging students to think of a time they’ve changed their opinion on a fundamental issue. In an era where views seem more polarised than ever, ‘The Open Mind’ demonstrates that critical thinking, flexibility and a preparedness to have one’s prejudices challenged remain strong and important.

Most people like to think they are fairly open-minded. If you’d asked me if I was being closed-minded at my first job at a family-run pizza restaurant in a small town in Devon, I’d have wondered what you were talking about. And yet, at the end of each working shift, when we were offered a free pizza of our choice, I had the same every week: meat feast with extra cheese, no exception. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that I was taking part in the biggest, most harmful, and longest running system of exploitation the world has ever known. My closed-mindedness was costing the lives of others, the health of the environment, and my own health – and all I had to do was choose a different option from the menu…

Ask yourself this: are you against animal cruelty? A year ago, I would have answered that yes, I love my dog and would never endorse animals being needlessly harmed – unaware of the needless harm I was causing myself. When my sister turned vegetarian, aged eight, I didn’t think much of it; but in my steps towards open-mindedness, I have become aware of the ludicrous double-standard we hold towards animals. If we are upset by those who harm cats and dogs, why do we not only allow, but actively pay for, the very same to happen to pigs, cows, and chickens? 

The answer is a painful truth: we have been convinced by the most successful propaganda campaign in history that eating animal products is normal, natural and necessary – and even that there is something humane in our grotesque methods. Through aggressive advertising and tradition, we are taught to care for dogs and cats, and to worry about koalas and rhinos, but to foster a violent apathy towards ‘food animals’. Why is it that we express outrage at the Yulin dog meat festival, yet actively support the same actions towards other animals? The striking hypocrisy would be funny if it wasn’t so damaging.

After realising what I was doing by supporting this industry, I decided to change my behaviour, and the oppressive mindset behind our discrimination of animals and our discrimination of other groups quickly became apparent to me. History has shown how we have denied rights to people of colour, we have denied rights to women, we have denied rights to the LGBTQ+ community, and we have denied rights to the differently abled. In each case, progressive thinkers have realised that discrimination on these grounds is not acceptable, as the differences between us, while real, are not morally significant.

Is it not blindingly obvious that refusing freedom and consideration to innocent beings is not morally permissible?

When will we learn to skip the stage of denying rights? Is it not blindingly obvious that refusing freedom and consideration to innocent beings is not morally permissible? Make no mistake: the vast majority of the suffering on this planet is that of non-human animals – simply due to the gargantuan scale of the industry. It is a damning indictment of our species that we persist in our campaign of closed-mindedness and continue to discriminate against others for our own gain.

Incredibly, I found that once open-mindedness led me to veganism, it, in turn, led me to be more open-minded in other aspects of life. I began to read about the topic, and the more I read, the more obvious its importance became to me. I began engaging in conversation with those vegans and non-vegans alike about the countless issues surrounding animal agriculture, constantly learning more and more. Ultimately, this led me to go as far as changing course at university in hoping to have as big an impact as possible in this area. One small act of open-mindedness has changed my entire direction in life.

Seeing my family open their minds to kindness, turning vegan one by one, was truly inspiring. My sister, readily open-minded and compassionate, needed little convincing. After that, my parents weren’t far behind. Many people seem to become increasingly inflexible with age, but with empathy and open-mindedness, anyone can do the right thing. My parents are keen environmentalists, so the way the animal agriculture industry is destroying the planet became a large factor in their change. A recent Oxford University study, the most comprehensive analysis of farming to date, concluded that going vegan is the single biggest thing an individual can do to help the environment. 

This destruction is entirely avoidable, and only continues if we keep paying for it. The way we treat animals has irreversible consequences for our planet, and for what? The fleeting sensation of a meal which will be immediately forgotten and could have been easily replaced by an equally satisfying vegan option? Thinking that this is a legitimate excuse for the immorality of our actions is the most harmful misconception the world is currently facing.

Living a vegan lifestyle also greatly reduces your chances of developing many of the most harmful ailments we face as a species, including the biggest killer in the world, coronary heart disease

I realised that the ethical and environmental arguments for veganism were airtight, but they aren’t even the only benefits of making the change. Living a vegan lifestyle also greatly reduces your chances of developing many of the most harmful ailments we face as a species, including the biggest killer in the world, coronary heart disease. It also drastically reduces your chance of developing breast, prostate or colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, hypertension and strokes. Aside from personal health, this also places enormous strain on the NHS, which could be using its limited budget to help those whose needs are not simply avoidable in the same way. 

Posing a more existential threat to our species are pandemics and antibiotic resistance, both of which are caused primarily by animal agriculture. The vast majority of our antibiotics are given to farm animals as a purely preventative measure, leading to dangerously strong bacteria which we might not be able to fight, and keeping animals in such close proximity creates the perfect arena for viruses to develop. If Covid-19 has disrupted your year, ask yourself: where did it come from, and how can we avoid the next one?

The tragedy of closed-mindedness is the stubborn truth it leads to: everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change. Complain about politicians and corporations not doing enough about the climate emergency, but do so knowing that you are doing everything you can do as well. Luckily, one of the beautiful things about veganism is that is solves so many problems in one simple change: vast environmental damage, many of the horrible diseases we suffer, and the needless torture of a literally uncountable number of animals – these all go away when we stop paying for animal exploitation. If you consider yourself an animal lover, if you consider yourself an environmentalist, if you consider yourself a moral human being, then I implore you to be open-minded about this issue.

Evil survives in the world for a long time, but it doesn’t live forever. When history looks back at this insidious industry, it will see each of us as either an oppressor or a liberator. Which one will you be?

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