When I think of what I want for animals suffering in captivity, it’s their well-being, their freedom, their contentment, their happiness in life. I want for them not to suffer, and I want them to live full, exuberant, free lives with their family and friends, unencumbered.
A conversation with a friend recently taught me about the philosophy of “Ethical Hedonism.” This philosophy combines the joy of pure pleasure with the ethic of non-suffering for all beings. Oh, more of that, please!
Hedonism is a double-edged sword that excuses people for saying horrid things like “Mmmm… bacon!” but also allows me to indulge in an exquisite afternoon with sun cascading onto my skin and warming my soul. Introduce the idea of “ethical” into that equation, and we have something quite wonderful.
What if being vegan were the ultimate hedonistic choice? I often don’t feel welcome in the vegan community, if I’m to be honest, because I’m not spiritual. I don’t have a religion or a “practice.” But I am most definitely a hedonist who loves the flavors and aromas and sensations I experience in the kitchen. And I love sharing those things with other people. If this were a religion, I would be its foremost evangelist. And I’d have converts.
Let’s take that further, out to our enslaved animal friends. What if they could live the most hedonistic lives they could? Loving the feeling of being in their own skin instead of having their bodies tortured and mutilated; loving the feeling of being together with their families and friends instead of being separated in cages apart from any soothing contact; loving the feeling of having the autonomy to turn left or turn right or just stay here and eat a bit of grass? All these animals are hedonists too—they experience everything we do. Can people imagine what hell we force these sweet beings to experience, from birth to death?
I wonder if there’s another untapped community of people we vegans can talk to, a community of people who know how beautiful it is to be alive and free. Or for that matter, people who know what it is to be incarcerated and lose all autonomy. Perhaps there are two communities we can speak with: 1.) the outdoors folks—backpackers, kayakers, climbers—who pack beef jerky in their kits but would be open to thinking better of it, and 2.) the incarcerated population, who have no choice in what institutional food they eat but would like to rehabilitate and better themselves.
Having a philosophical framework of ethical hedonism serves the vegan movement quite well. It gives us inroads into communities we may not have touched otherwise. Vegans are not deprived. We do not live ascetic lives of boring food and boring activities. Deprivation is not living fully. Vegans live fully, excitingly, sensuously, tastily, gloriously kind and conscious lives.
Hello. My name is Stacey Anderson, and I’m an ethical hedonist vegan.
Dr. Stacey Anderson is a Master Vegan Life Coach and Educator certified by the Main Street Vegan Academy, a professor in public health at the University of California San Francisco, and a bad-ass cook of wonderful foods. Stacey loves hiking, kayaking, cooking, writing, and showering her husband and her two rescue cats with all the love in the world.