Shayna Weisz from London Vegan Actions writes for Vegan Life Magazine about how she became involved in animal rights activism and how veganism changed her life
I always felt intrinsically that there was something wrong with eating meat. When I was a child, I would never set foot in a butcher’s because I hated the stench, and I would always wait outside while my mother went in. If I helped her in the kitchen, I was always reluctant to touch the raw meat, and would leave those tasks to her. I also covered my ears at the sound of bones cracking at the table, if people were eating wings, for instance. I knew in my heart that eating meat couldn’t be right, but thought it was just one of those things everybody did. I could never be a vegetarian, that’s something that other people do. I didn’t give it much further thought, until years later.
When I was on my gap year, I met a girl who seemed really warm and friendly called Allie. When I found out she was a vegetarian, and she explained her reasoning, I found myself agreeing with everything she said. I looked up to her; she seemed so smart and together, and I suddenly realised – if she can do it, why can’t I? She made me realise that you can be totally normal, nice, and healthy, and be vegetarian! Day by day, I challenged myself to cut out the meat from my diet. It was hard at first, not only because I had cravings for it and wasn’t very sure of what else I could eat, but because so many others around me seemed to be okay with it, which baffled me. They didn’t care about what they were eating, despite surely knowing the suffering involved. But I understood that even if others around me don’t think the same way as me right now, the only way to make a difference is if somebody does finally take a stand, and one by one we can make a difference. And just like the girl who inspired me, I could perhaps be an inspiration to others, and in that way the movement will grow.
After a year of being vegetarian, I was keen to call myself an animal-rights activist, but slowly the truths of the egg and dairy industries were becoming apparent to me. I didn’t intend to go vegan, but the guilt I felt consuming egg and dairy products became too much for me, and I knew I had to remove them from my diet too. Although once again, I did have cravings to begin with, the change was easier for me this time, as I had a clear knowledge of the animal suffering involved and knew that I did not want to be a part of it at all. I made the transition to veganism while at university in Birmingham, but the environment of all the young people around me eating fast-foods like pizzas and burgers all the time made it that bit more challenging. However, I realised I had a great platform to spread the message of veganism, and so I started my own society called Veg Soc, where myself and other students would regularly go out to eat, host vegan dinner parties, or hold outreach stalls in the university’s cafeteria.
Since graduating and coming back to London, I have become heavily involved in activism. I see it as a really crucial part of being vegan, as there are not many people willing to speak up for the animals who have no voices themselves, so those who can, should. My friends and I started a group called London Vegan Actions, and we hold regular demos, protests, and outreach events around London. A few months ago we headed a big campaign against Angora, the fur used from rabbits in many items of clothing. We targeted many shops, and amongst our list of successes were French Connection, Monsoon and Lacoste, who we convinced to stop selling Angora products.
We also hold a regular outreach event every weekend in various busy areas of London, where we simply hand out leaflets and information booklets on veganism and animal rights. These are usually quite successful, and we find many people are very interested in reading our leaflets and talking to us about how they can change their lifestyles.
I have now been vegan for just over two years, and it is the best decision I ever made. I hope to dispel the stereotypes of vegans being ‘hippies’ or boring or just eating salad all day, and show people that animal rights is the next big battle we as a society have to fight, and you can be a totally normal, healthy and fun person while doing it. I still finding that the hardest thing about being vegan is all the questions I get asked, like “Where do you get your protein?” or “What if you raised your own chickens…” etc. You know the ones! But it is important that we do answer people’s questions, because their curiosity can only be a good thing, and so we must open their eyes to the truth.
One thing I didn’t know when I first went vegan was how much more there is to it than just diet. There are so many things which I had never even thought about which I now needed to abstain from. For example, wool, down, and animal-tested cosmetics. I had many items which I needed to replace, and had to do a lot of research into cosmetics and cleaning products to find out which ones were ethical. These were things I had never even considered before, but finding out about the huge scale of animal abuse that goes on in these industries was a real eye-opener for me. Everyone knows where meat comes from, but there are some things that don’t even occur to you that have an unfortunate amount of suffering involved in their production.
Another question I get asked a lot is “What about human suffering? Isn’t that more important to deal with?” which I think is a really interesting question. The fact is that the meat industry does contribute indirectly to human suffering, in that the majority of the world’s food and water resources go to animals reared for meat, and so theoretically we could end world hunger if we abolished the meat industry and instead distributed our resources fairly. People are also surprised to hear the statistic that the meat industry causes more pollution and greenhouse gases than all the world’s transport systems put together! But the other angle is that we don’t need to pick just one issue to target, we can address several at once, and being an animal-rights advocate does not mean I can’t be a human-rights campaigner too. I am also very involved in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and several other human issues.
If I could give one piece of advice to people trying out veganism for the first time it would be: take it slow, the key is progress not perfection. As I mentioned earlier, it took me a long time to realise all the different ways in which animals are suffering at our hands, but you pick up information along the way, and every day is a chance to learn and try something new. Also, don’t be ashamed to be different. It is hard being the only vegan in your group of friends, but this means you have a chance to show people just how easy and fun being vegan can be. You have the opportunity to plant the seed in someone else’s mind, so don’t shy away from their questions, or from dinner party invitations. It is up to us to pioneer this new way of thinking and living, and we should be proud in the knowledge that we are taking a stand for what’s right, and paving the way to a fairer and more peaceful future.