Originally published September 22, 2015 at 12:56am
Although this article was originally published a year ago, it seemed appropriate to post some ideas and pay homage on the originator of the term, vegan, Donald Watson, on the World Vegan Day.
A fellow vegan expressed aggravation about a demographic of vegans who state "It is our responsibility as vegans, to be concerned with the plight of war torn refugees", and hence, the aggravated vegan asked the opinion of ethical vegans about "Why would some vegans consider the plight of refugees a vegan matter, when the definition created by Donald Watson specifically applies to concern for the plight of animals?" Here is the definition according to Donald Watson; VEGANISM: a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
I'm going to respond to this question with a question, and the wisdom that applies for any other intersecting social justice matter:
"What Would Watson Do? Veganism is an expanded consciousness, one that assumes all humans care about the plight of other humans, and its natural evolution is the extension of including all sentient earthlings into humanity's ethical consideration standards. Unfortunately, it has been limited into a selective one strictly about non-human animals by too many people who claim the vegan identity. Although I never had the opportunity to meet the man while he was alive, I'm pretty sure Donald Watson would compassionately acknowledge your expressed present limitations on global social justice issues to being primarily concerned with animals, and encourage your consideration to do your best in recognizing and rationally responding to injustice in all its ugly representations everywhere. You can do it. Why limit yourself?"
Too often in our culture, we seem to think of situations limited in ways as; binary, either/or, or black and white, and not consider the spectrum or numerous possibilities that actually exist. While as vegans we may not choose to become the champion of every injustice existing across the globe, we can acknowledge their importance and choose not to participate in them, or remain silent, or ignore them when we see them. It is similar to an article published by Stephanie Earnst, only in this instance of refugees, instead of veganism as the focal point, you can see this situation is viewing other intersecting social justice issues through a vegan lens. The following link to Stephanie's article, "A Vegan but not an activist sure, an animal lover but not a vegan, nope" is a very important article for better understanding vegans and making the intersectional social justice connection.
Although Donald Watson was not a self-proclaimed messiah- as least, not the kind supposedly anointed by a "God" or "holy oil"- he most certainly was a deeply connected and conscious leader who found a gap in western language to describe an expansion of consciousness extending the same level respect towards all sentient earthlings in recognition of their inherent right not to be enslaved or treated as property and unnecessarily killed- a right not limited to just the human species, as is typical in most places in the world. While a certain fragment of Eastern cultures such as Jains and Buddhists called the consciousness Watson sought "Ahimsa" (ahimsa meaning; nonviolence towards all sentient living beings- 6000 years ago Mahavira of the Jains, stated "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill, any creature or living being), Watson created a name (vegan) for an individual who lived with ahimsic (although not acetic) consciousness.
There is a pragmatism included in the vegan definition in recognition that our foundations have been built on a flawed system and that modern Americans were not going to put on face masks, sweep the paths before their feet, and eliminate modern transportation in attempt to avoid killing insects. Modernization will eventually equal veganism.
Other related articles you may find of interest:
References for this article
Statement on the origins of the term Ahimsa, Book: "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris, page 23