At our wedding, Ethan’s best man, also named Michael, ended his toast to us with the line, “Now go build your village.” I thought the sentiment was very sweet, but at the time I didn’t truly get the message. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to appreciate what he said and when I did, I realized we’d done that.
While I may not have built a village, I certainly joined a community when I became vegan. The vegan community is global and it cuts across all genders, religions, sexualities, races, political affiliations and ages. When we choose to live vegan we are committing to conducting our lives adhering to the fundamental belief that all sentient beings are entitled to live free from harm or interference from others. We uphold our belief that using another individual solely for our own benefit is wrong and we reject the exploitation and oppression of others by refusing to take part in systems that rely on it.
Even though religious and politically based communities share stated common beliefs or moralities (such as marriage equality), the application of those beliefs is usually inconsistent, both within the community and in its application towards others — namely, the morality applies to humans but not all living beings. Or, as is the example with Judaism, certain laws and issues of morality affect men but not women, humans but not animals, etc. This does not happen within the vegan community. We all agree that animals are not ours to use and that applies across the board to everyone.
When I came out as gay, I had many well-intentioned friends say to me, “You need to meet so-and-so. He’s gay too!” This experience is not unique to me. I have spoken to many of my friends who have had the same experience. It’s as if being gay means we have the same values and will have many things in common. After being out for over 25 years, I can assure you that not all gay men are the same. We have all manner of ideas and beliefs. However, when someone learns I am vegan and they want me to meet someone else they know who’s vegan, I’m eager to do it. I know that this person and I hold an identical core belief. This doesn’t mean we will necessarily get along and be friends, but it does mean that we have a shared understanding of what we believe to be just and we have both chosen to organize our lives around our commitment to this core principle.
When we become vegan, we invite compassion into our lives as we simultaneously send it back out to the world. When we meet another vegan, we get to see our own compassion reflected back at us. When we embrace veganism we join a weird, wonderful, special community. We aren’t following a text nor are we picking up on a fad. We are illuminating the idea that all individuals have the right to their own lives and we are embodying ways to live that are mindful and respectful of that truth.
Since becoming vegan my circle of friends has grown exponentially. I have met people from all walks of life, from a wide variety of backgrounds; people I otherwise would never have known. Many of these have become important parts of my life. When I meet someone vegan for the first time, I don’t have to wonder how he will react to my being gay. I know immediately that it won’t be an issue because vegans are all about respecting the individuality and celebrating the differences in all.
So, Michael, I may not have done exactly what you said, but I did just what you meant. The more I lead by example, by showing all the benefits of being vegan, the more I help strengthen our community and the more our vegan village will grow.
Michael Suchman, VLCE is the Co-Founder of Vegan Mos, a blog that promotes veganism by sharing original recipes for delicious vegan food, and shows the intersection between animal rights and LGBT rights. When not running the show at Chelsea Foot and Ankle, Michael can be found either in the kitchen trying out new recipes, watching Dr. Who, or taking photos the old fashioned way, with an actual 35mm camera. You can check out his photography here. After practicing in the field of Corporate Litigation for 12 years, he was tired of representing corporations over the interests of individuals. Since then, he has come to recognize that the law needs to work more on helping all individuals, regardless of species. Michael is proud to serve on the Board of Directors for Our Hen House. Michael lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his husband Ethan and their vegan dogs, Riley and Charlie.