Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Looking at Life Through the Vegan Lens

“It's not what you're looking at that matters, it's what you see.” - Henry David Thoreau

For most of my life, I have walked around in a comfortably fuzzy world; it’s a misty place with blurred, dull edges, and I love it here for the most part. Acclimated to my astigmatism and poor eyesight, I still prefer it this way. I recently got glasses, though, and suddenly everything is so very sharp and crisp. I am noticing faces in a way that I didn’t before but this new clarity of vision also means that the dirt on the floor is much more pronounced to me as well. There is comfort in the blurred edges and sometimes the laser-sharp clarity of the world I can see so much better now has me longing to retreat to that old hazy landscape. It’s better to be able to see but it’s not without its challenges. 

I believe that the same could be said about those of us who have altered the lens through which we see the world. This is what happens when you go vegan. I think that once you can truly see life from this new, radically different framework, the lens through which you view the world is likely to be altered forever. For some of us, when the old lens shatters, it becomes obsolete, useless to us. We can no longer pretend to see things the way we did before so we can not go back to living as we did before. Others do what they can to tape the broken lens back together, a piece of tape here, some glue there, in order to not have to discard it. A successfully transformed perspective from a shattered and replaced lens is one that rearranges how we see our place in the world; though it is unsettling to suddenly see things that our culture doesn’t want us to see, things that are pervasive and disturbing, we can remedy that disharmony by changing our lives to accommodate our new vision. Whether it was because of a searing epiphany or a more gradual toppling of the excuses we clung to, the end result is that we are not the same as we once were. We are changed in fundamental ways that are often invisible but no less tangible, and this altered perspective can often make us incompatible with accepting what we once did as “the way things are.”  We are vegan.

A fundamental aspect of being vegan means that we now see the world in new ways: we see dead cows where others see hamburgers, we see tortured birds where others see omelets, we understand that we are equals in suffering. It’s not because we necessarily want to see this way but because we often cannot “un-see” it. It is our new lens no matter the challenges because living with a clarity of vision is so essential to us.

As vegans, we are often told that we are insipid or melodramatic for seeing things the way we do, and, implicitly or explicitly, we are asked to stop making life uncomfortable for those who want to continue eating animals unabated. How can we do that, though? Simply by existing and often without words, as vegans, we represent the elephant in the room and the truth about the violence we inflict needlessly. Most would prefer not to see this. We are provocative simply by existing and we can’t help that. The dissonance between what we see and what we are asked to pretend not to see is a bizarre tension vegans are expected to simply accept as an unspoken condition of adapting to life.

Needless to say, this is hard to accept.

We are being asked to not see (or to behave as if we don’t see) something that would be obvious to anyone who wasn’t complicit in maintaining the avoidance of this, and something that we see nakedly, without artifice and without trying. That we see violence and we see killing isn’t necessarily a judgment, it is a statement of fact: we see this because this is what is happening. We’re not supposed to say, think or even see this, though. When vegans, approximately 2% of the population, are told that we are oppressing others because we speak, think and simply see the truth about the horrors that are inflicted on animals, a dysfunctional dynamic is in place. We are being asked to maintain a lie about something when we cannot avoid seeing the truth.

We are looking at the world through a different lens and this lens changes everything. It makes life challenging at times but being able to clearly see and then act on what we see is an incredible honor and privilege. How fortunate we are to have this rare vision. What a responsibility, too. That we could spend a fraction of our lives letting people know what we are able to see and perhaps help them to develop a new lens is a blessing beyond measure.


  1. From one Chicago based vegan blogger to another, great post! I especially like this excerpt:

    "We are being asked to not see (or to behave as if we don’t see) something that would be obvious to anyone who wasn’t complicit in maintaining the avoidance of this, and something that we see nakedly, without artifice and without trying. That we see violence and we see killing isn’t necessarily a judgment, it is a statement of fact: we see this because this is what is happening. "


  2. Susan HollingsheadJuly 24, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    My sentiments exactly!

  3. This is exactly when the truest and rarest of immaterial gifts start shining! There are definitely things we can't avoid through our hearts, let alone our eyes, as Marla proclaimed.

  4. This is so true. It feels very much like this to me. It's not like I want to be special, it's that I can't help but see a cow, a pig, or any living creature with a life as precious as mine or someone else's. I feel bewildered, like I'm sharing facts or arguments to a wall of people who can't comprehend - whose vision is different than mine. I keep wondering, what can I do or say to have what I see and feel revealed to them ... I try to think how it was for me, when I ate animals, what made my vision change. It seems so long ago, like I was in a foreign country and I've forgotten the ways.

  5. I was in an on-line discussion yesterday where a lacto-ovo vegetarian had pleaded with us not to assume she hadn't done her "research". And then she started on about nice little farms where everything is lovely.

    I asked where the hens from the nice little farms had come from, and what had happened to most of their brothers.

    Suddenly I, and the other vegans, who were all being polite, were repeatedly accused of (a) bullying people and (b) suggesting everyone should go vegan overnight. Which we weren't. One person had said that she personally went from meat-eater to vegan extremely quickly, but she wasn't condemning people for taking longer. The others, like me, had taken much longer and said so.

    Sometimes, people just take offence.

  6. Wow! Thank you for getting in my head and saying all the things I could not find words for!

  7. "un-see" - you can't un-see what you have seen... thank you yet again Marla for your wonderful 'wordsmithing'... I have often said you can't 'un-know' something once you know it... I hope you don't mind if I share this via my blog - with acknowledgement to you and link back of course - this is something I have longed to write, but now I've read it 'writ' so articulately!!!

  8. Thank you, acorn! Nice to meet you!

  9. Thanks so much, Cat! I appreciate it.

  10. That is so well said, Judy. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Vanilla Rose, it has become a far too common occurrence that we cannot respectfully disagree without being called "judgmental."

  12. I can feel it all the time that the world is begging us not to see! They plead for us to remain in the dark with them. Blinded without the vision of awareness. Only then can they operate in blissful peace.

    To un-see, to un-know? That's un-happening!

    Here's looking at you Marla! Thanks again for the clarifying lens of reason and compassion!

  13. Thank you, proud womon! You can share anything I've written any time you like. I appreciate it and your kind words.

  14. Thank you, Bea. You give me hope in the world!

  15. I just discovered your blog through the book Defiant Daughters and am thrilled to be able to add another vegan feminist blog to my Bloglovin' feed!


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