Doing What We Can

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I can’t be the only vegan who does this.

You’ve just left your local coffee shop, having ordered your customary medium hot coffee with soy milk. You walked out holding your paper cup — or, better yet for the purposes of this post, a styrofoam one — wondering if anyone else in line deduced your veganism because you said “soy milk” a little extra brusquely when you placed your order.

Shortly after walking out the door, you drink the whole thing in one gulp, ignoring the fact that you’ve now burnt a hole clean through your neck because it just tastes that good.

So you’re strutting down the street with this empty cup and no recycling in sight. You’re in one of those cities that for some ungodly reason only puts trash cans on the street, just begging people to add to that mile-high trash heap just outside the city limits instead of being responsible and recycling.

And then you have that thought: I’m vegan, I’m already doing what I can to save the planet, I’ll just throw this away and hope no one judges me.

It’s tempting to justify our own wastefulness, since we’re much less so overall in comparison with the rest of the population.

But it’s a fallacious line of argument. We ought to do what we can to help preserve the environment every minute of the day. Does that mean that you have to watch yourself like a hawk, constantly wondering if there’s a more ecological way to do what you are doing? Not quite. Do we have to do absolutely everything we can to reduce the amount of resources we use? Definitely not. But it does mean that we should take some time to evaluate our choices, and make reasonable improvements to our practices.

I think this perspective also offers a more compassionate approach toward nonvegans. Most people eat meat for every meal, every day. So we should be somewhat happy that there are people who practice Meatless Monday, and happier still that there are millions of vegetarians out there. As long as the goal is to eventually completely eliminate all of one’s contribution toward the suffering of animals or the destruction of the planet, all efforts are laudable.

And we should hold ourselves to that standard, too. Our goal should be to further reduce our contribution to human and nonhuman suffering as well as the degradation of the environment to the extent that we are capable of doing so. Just because we’re vegan doesn’t mean we get a free pass to otherwise be as wasteful as we want.

We don’t need to be pure, or free of moral transgressions, but we do need to keep in mind that veganism often isn’t enough. We must think about what we can do every minute of everyday to improve the world around us, not just when we sit down for a meal.







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  1. Quite true. We have to avoid setting ourselves to such a high standard that we fail. As long as we’re doing what we can to reduce our footprints, we don’t have to be hard on ourselves if we stumble.

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