Nicholas Hallows explores how veganism and minimalism share a consuming link.
Minimalism is a philosophy based on the principle of only keeping things in your life if they either serve a purpose or bring you joy. The early Stoics practised this philosophy and it has recently been popularised by the likes of The Minimalists and Marie Kondo. By removing the excess from your life, it encourages you to focus on more meaningful pursuits – the good news is you get to decide what those are. For me it has been my health, meditation, writing and relationships.
The journey often starts with decluttering the excess physical items that you may have acquired over the years. For example, rummaging through your wardrobe and donating all the items that you haven’t worn since 1972, chucking out the bits and bobs lurking in your kitchen junk drawer, which would otherwise sit there until the apocalypse, and removing dusty and dilapidated furniture from your living space.
However, there is much more to minimalism than just decluttering; like veganism, minimalism encourages conscious consumption. When you start letting go of your worldly possessions you begin to realise just how much you have unwittingly accumulated, whether it be clothes, DVDs, CDs, gadgets or other knick-knacks. I have first-hand experience with this prolonged but ultimately rewarding process – I’ve just spent a year jettisoning all of the possessions I’d stockpiled since childhood. I re-sell, recycle and donate whenever I can, but I still dread to think of the mountain of unnecessary waste that will burden the planet long after I decompose.
We are living beings, so we can’t completely avoid all forms of consumption without going cold, hungry and homeless. However, our choices to consume should be carefully considered.
Waste not, want not
A lot of people consume food completely unconsciously. I don’t mean they eat in their sleep (some might), rather they pay little attention to what they are putting into their bodies, where it comes from and the effect it has on the planet.
I only started reading ingredient lists when I went vegan; until that point I had no interest in saturated fat, vitamins and food groups. When you open your eyes to veganism, it highlights the wasteful carnist tendencies of society. Let’s face it, the consumption of meat and dairy is totally unnecessary for those living in the ‘developed’ world where we can easily access a variety of nutritious plant-based alternatives.
There is no nutrient in animal products that cannot be found in the plant kingdom. Yes, you might need to plan carefully to ensure you’re getting enough B12, iodine and vitamin D, but arguably everyone should, regardless of whatever diet you follow. And you can rest assured that by removing animal products from your plate, you’re cutting the risk of a whole host of chronic diseases.
Perhaps some would argue that eating meat, eggs and dairy brings them joy and is therefore permissible as a minimalist. Firstly, there’s no minimalism rulebook so it’s not my place to chastise anyone who makes this choice. What I will say is this: so much more joy can be found from intentionally eating food that is not born of suffering.
Many vegans talk about their altered perception and enjoyment of eating when they take animals off the menu. There is no more guilt about taking the life of a sentient being in order to fulfil a craving, your choices are having a lesser impact on the environment and no one is going to argue that upping your intake of fresh, whole plant foods isn’t going to be good for your health. And guess what? Vegan food can be just as delicious and bring just as much joy to your taste buds as any other food. Veganism isn’t perfect, yet.
We still need to be conscious of our plastic and palm oil consumption as well as other environmental impacts concerning how our food is grown, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. As Voltaire and many others since him have said, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
I encourage you to take a conscientious look at the things around you and the things you consume. Are they necessary or could you happily live without them? Do they bring you joy or are they just another distraction from living a more meaningful life?
If you consume consciously and compassionately you’ll be minimising the harm you’re doing to the animals, the planet and your health while maximising the many benefits of living intentionally.
Nicholas Hallows has been vegan for over 15 years and works for vegan campaigning charity, Viva!. Nicholas writes about minimalism and intentional living for his blog, Escaping Excess. escpngexcss.com