I have a friend who works at a vegan restaurant as a chef. His restaurant sells Hawaiian pizza and mint chocolate icecream, all without the dairy and meat and whatever includes animal-derived ingredients. Frankly speaking, I’ve never been to his restaurant, but he tells me about incidents at the restaurant now and then. His stories stretch from complaints about the restaurant smelling of meat from the employee meals (which were stir-fried veggies in soy sauce by the way,) to customers remembering faces of employees and then questioning the employees why they were eating nonvegan foods at other restaurants. As it can easily be deduced, my friend is not vegan. Neither am I.
After all these stories, he told me, “I respect them, but I don’t understand them.” Regardless of me not being vegan, his words sounded somewhat offensive. In reply and a slight sense of defense, I told him, “I respect them, I understand them. But I don’t think I’ll be able to go vegan.” His reply to my statement was rather interesting – he told me that that’s not understanding. Because if I truly understood, I would have gone vegan. This reply, from his side, was nothing really that serious. However, it did leave me thinking for quite a while. Had I been arbitrarily interpreting the notion of understanding? My solution was yes.
The first reasoning behind this solution was that veganism is nothing too hard to approach. I have several friends who are vegan, and also some who are parttime vegan, making attempts to go vegan once or twice a week. There also exists a wide plethora of vegan meals, from the conventional salads to vegan meat. To make an honest conclusion, I have overlooked, or avoided how easy and enjoyable veganism can be. I gave myself many excuses as well, for instance the comparatively higher prices of such meals or the lacking accessibility. Truth is, a slight jump in my Engel coefficient wouldn’t hurt, and there are multiple vegan restaurants just outside the gates of our school. Even our school’s consumer cooperative sells vegan meals.
The second reasoning behind my solution, and probably the more important one, is that me misusing the notion of understanding has led to an illusion of solvency. Me, thinking that I ‘understand’ vegans, has really done nothing to solve the problems that veganism attempts to solve, such as animal rights that are being harassed in animal factories or climate change that sprouts from deforestation for grazing land. However, because I think that I ‘understand’ veganism, vegans, and the problems that they have found in the status quo, I still feel enlightened. I still feel like I am making a change, and thus I leave guiltfree. I stop right there, and do nothing else. I think that this may be the bigger problem, because this mentality keeps me from making valid choices towards a viable solution. Furthermore, such an illusion of solvency and the mentality derived from this causes similar issues in multiple other current issues. Me ‘thinking’ that I understand feminism but stopping there doesn’t make a change. Me ‘thinking’ that I understand the necessity of biodegradable straws is not enough to solve a problem.
One of the quotes that recently stuck me was that ‘You can’t expect a change, when you don’t put in the efforts to make one’. We need to face what these efforts actually need to look like, because simply thinking that ‘I understand the problem’ is not enough. Firstly, detecting the problem and understanding the solution are two different things. Secondly, detecting the problem is the bare minimum that we can do, because these problems are tangible harms that we go through. This is not just about veganism – it’s about any value that anyone’s fighting for. I’ve been anticipating changes without making one myself, and it’s about time that changes.