We Are What We Feel

"You're vegan? Well.... ...what do you eat?"

This is one of the most common questions we vegans are often asked. It is also one of the most curious questions as well. Is this really the best response people have? Are people really not aware of all the non animal foods that are available today? Unless the person asking is emerging from a cave after a life of seclusion or they are just arriving from decades of living among the ice drifts of the north seas most of the people who ask this question more than likely already know the answer.

However, this post is not going to attempt to answer that question at all or even attempt to dig down into the obvious transparent quality that this line of questioning from people infers. Rather, this post will pose another even more important question.

Why are we vegans never asked what we feel?

We are constantly asked by the curious in relation to our veganism what it is that we eat if we don't eat animal products. Yet the fact remains that we are never asked what we feel. Nearly every comment or question is usually tossed to us with the intention of avoiding anything authentic, ethical or compassionate. It appears as if the omnivores of the world have all attended the exact same continuing education course titled....

"How to Deflect Any Possibility At Getting To The Essence of Someone's Ethical Veganism....101."

Well, prepare yourself to be unimpressed by the results of their schooling.

But seriously and with all due respect.... Why is it when we further express to others that we've chosen not to eat animal products for ethical reasons the question concerning what we feel is never proposed?

Maybe we simply need to begin the dialogue ourselves and mention to the questioner that our choice is not merely about what we eat but really much more about what we feel. Investigating the nature of our emotions and sharing them directly may take some practice but the work itself can help transform our conversations with others about who we are.

This M.O. may provide us with a much more gentle approach when articulating our inspiration for opting out of who we don't eat rather than what it is.... we do eat.

If we can make it clear that it is what we feel personally that moves us it may in fact dislodge the usually defensive reactions which many people have when we talk about being vegan. Discussing what we feel is very different from explaining to someone why we are vegan and it may make all the difference...in the world.

When we can go straight to the emotional aspects of how it feels for us to live on this planet with so much violence against non humans and how it feels to have our hearts broken over and over again everyday we can begin to make our experience personal for others. When we layout what we feel regarding our reasons to not participate in the exploitation of non human animals and allow the meaning to become rooted in who we are provides us a much greater opportunity to ignite the awareness of those questioning our veganism.

This is about revealing our truth and about unrolling the sentiment behind our basic convictions. Maybe its a way we can expose that extra layer of grief to other humans which we animal rights advocates and ethical vegans live with day to day. We live with the knowing how unnecessary, how brutal and how tragic the short life of a farmed animal is.

Maybe we can express that our sorrow is even claustrophobic at times because we realize we have no way of stopping the machine that kills so many millions everyday as it does one by one and life by life.

What does it feel like for instance to have empathy that extends beyond our own species? What does it feel like to have that empathy crushed, ripped and torn? What does it sound like? What does it look like and taste like?

What does it feel like to attempt to stay one step ahead of the pain we feel for animals?

Maybe there is no way possible to stay ahead of the pain but rather have the courage to stay in it. Pain not fully felt will never heal.

In fact staying with the discomfort we have over the suffering and injustice committed against non humans also keeps us pledged to fight and speak out on their behalf.

Defining our experience of being vegan and sharing those feelings may be the only door way we have. It may in fact be the most efficient way to open the door for others as well.

Now before this feels like a sudden dash into abstract or speculative ideology we must remember that nearly everything we do is really only a reaction to what we feel.

Communicating to others that we are what we feel and that our love for animals and our hoping for a more compassionate and less violent world is what brought us here.

Having compassion for others is what links us to the chain of living vegan yet it is what most often is also overlooked. Having compassion for ourselves in regard to what we feel is often overlooked as well. Discussing our feelings of why we are ethical vegans with those who question us can be a reward to ourselves and a gift to the animals who will somehow be ironically pushed out of the argument in favor of protein myths or vitamin B12 sales pitches.

Comprehending what is we feel allows us to have a wisdom and composure that goes further and deeper than we can imagine. Being able to touch our sorrows and our grief as well as our anger and frustration allows us to express our being vegan with others in a much more rational and calm way. This may be the most important angle we have in illustrating, demonstrating and teaching our veganism to others. This is not an easy task and most of us are lucky if we have 5 minutes a day when we can slow down enough to focus on what we are feeling and then to be able to express it with a no drama...(Obama) like focus is even more difficult.

Yet, it can be done and it might be the key to making a connection from our hearts to others. We live in a world of others and we do need to make the best of that world.

When we can have our priorities straight emotionally and our concentration is precise because we have connected to what it is we feel it enables us to be grounded enough to be real without being offensive. Our attention is more focused to express ourselves clearly and truthfully. Then we can begin to realize and make this point to others that our feelings of grief, sorrow and pain are actually born from our compassion, kindness and love.

Our frustration with the way humans abuse and kill animals comes from our wanting others not to suffer and lose their lives. Our empathy felt is our empathy experienced and we can begin to have insight into our sameness with the animals and our sameness with other humans as well rather than always looking for the differences.

Maybe this is what leads us to the wisdom in understanding that our sadness and anger comes from a place of warmth and goodness. We are what we perceive about the world and our ideas themselves have the power to change us and possibly others forever.

Feeling what it is that makes us who we are enables us to embody and convey ourselves in a more rational and direct way. When we pay close attention to what we feel moment to moment in living vegan we can make the detailed claims that are necessary for others to understand our subjectivity. A subjectivity based and born from empathy and kindness and from caring about those whom we love. When we can articulate this truth for others they will understand that there is nothing irrational about feeling grief or even anger when the ones we love are killed.

Explaining to others we are vegan because of what we feel rather than what we don't eat allows us to bring the reality of our motivations out into the open and to the rest of the world. It gives us the chance to connect with the fact that our feelings of sorrow, grief, anger and frustration were instigated by our caring, compassion and empathy. When we move into what we feel it can open us to a better way of sharing who we are with the world and the others who are not.........yet.

Be a sanctuary

for who you are

and what you feel.


  1. Philip,

    Thank you for writing this important blog post. The first blog on Regina was beautiful and a perfect reminder of why I choose to live a vegan lifestyle.

    My path to being VEGAN has been a long one, as it continues to shape itself each day.

    I became a vegetarian in my early twenties after taking a kinesiology class in college and learning about how "meat" causes heart disease and clogs our arteries. I wanted to be in the best of health so I cut out all forms of "meat" in my diet. I continued to eat eggs, and feta cheese because it was "healthier".

    I would see animal rights activists groups with literature and videos to pass out but I avoided them at all costs. I would tell them, "no thank you, I'm not interested. I already know". But did I really ??? Or was it just a way of AVOIDING THE TRUTH... Of AVOIDING the Pain of WHAT I'D FEEL once I knew how these animals were butchered.

    It's amazing what we humans do to AVOID PAIN (which is why there are so many of us asleep to our lives, addicted to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, and other intoxicants, wanting the pain to go away)... MY BIG ADDICTION, WAS FOOD.

    It wasn't until 2007 that I went to VEGAN PLATE in Studio City, I saw a video called "Action for Animals", and decided to take a free copy home.

    I popped the video in, and immediately, as soon as I SAW THE SUFFERING THESE ANIMALS ENDURED, I cried. I cried and cried like a Banshee!!! A Terrible cry of pain at what I saw... I was ANGRY, ENRAGED, FILLED WITH SADNESS & PAIN. It was then that my path to living a vegan life began.

    YET, even though I declared to myself, to the world that I was a vegan, My Food addiction continued... I would continue to binge eat, now it was VEGAN FOOD... I started attending OA Meetings (Overeaters anonymous), and was so ashamed. I was eating the HEALTHIEST Lifestyle, not harming any animals, yet I was very unhealthy... (I'd order vegan pizzas, vegan natchos, french fries, vegan burgers, you name it!!! At least it was VEGAN)

    With meetings, journaling, reading self-help books, going to Agape when I could, reading Marianne Williamson's Return to Love, and reciting Louise Hay's Affirmations, it wasn't until this year that my relationship to myself began to change...

    EMOTIONS play a huge part in our lives, and being a vegan, my passion and committment to the welfare of animals is what keeps me moving and doing the things I do.

    It wasn't until this summer, 2009, that my direct contact with the DAIRIES in Chino, California had a profound impact on my life... Seeing what these creatures have to endure to produce milk, butter and cheese is horrible, and I would never want to support this industry...

    Some of my favorite alternatives to DAIRY include freshly made almond milk, hemp milk, Daiya cheese, raw nut cheeses,and the LIST is endless!!! Not to mention that we as humans were not made to digest COWS MILK. Cows milk is for Baby Cows :)

    What a great BLOG POST. IT definitely made me FEEL. All the best! Vanessa :)

  2. Vanessa,

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment and wonderful story. It is much appreciated.
    And of course thank you for being vegan.


  3. Hello readers,
    On a quick follow up regarding a few emails I've received.
    The emails mainly wanted to point out that we vegans need to not just rely on our feelings but also our thoughts.
    Let me state for the record that I realize that having theories about what we feel is how we are able to make the correct decisions.I get it and agree. If you don't think things through and rely on your feelings only... you end up making terrible decisions like supporting Prop 2 in California. Without thinking about the consequences you end up doing more damage than you do good. Without critical thinking one may not always understand the correct action to take.
    However, all of our reasoning takes place on an emotional level even though we have been taught otherwise. Scientists (the nuero and cognitive types) now are understanding that emotions play the most important role in determining how our decision making is done. 98% of our thoughts are unconscious and most of our reasoning is made on a gut level. Emotions are what guide us in making the decisions that most reflect who we are ethically and morally. It is our feelings that happen first and then we act.
    There is amazing research being done by many scientists one of them is Antonio Damassio who has been studying brain damaged humans who cannot process their emotions or feel anything. These people cannot make decisions. They feel no motivation whatsoever, don't show any initiative. They live without any concern about their future. They don't feel empathy. They live in an emotional vacuum, unconnected to real-life situations. We have always been told that rationality and emotion are separate. Yet research is now showing that this is very far from the truth. Science (the sociological type) is now also showing that empathy is what drives our societies and our culture not our logic or reasoning. Our emotional brains and our feelings ultimately is what produces our rational lives.
    By getting in touch with our feelings (no pun intended) and understanding them better.... we can really learn to comprehend who we are which will enable us to express our experience with choosing to live vegan.

    Veganly yours,


  4. So the problem begins in this simple way. When we are not in touch with what we feel we cannot explain or think things through properly. What a perfect way to teach vegans to share the message.....thinking what it is we feel first and talking to others calmly about it.
    One of hope and compassion and no drama (obama).
    Wonderfully written blog. I think you are on to something here!


  5. Wow, what a beautiful and inspiring response Vanessa. It is really moving to hear about the process you went through to get where you are. I think my previous hesitation to commit to becoming vegan has to do with my fear of failing at it. So, even though I was eating mostly vegan meals, I still self identified as a vegetarian. But, as I read the blog about Regina'a story and the horror of what happens to those cows, I knew I must try. Reading your email just adds to it.

    It's about whether or not I am willing to support in anyway an industry that causes so much pain and suffering to another living being. When I hear about the conditions that farmed animals face everyday, I feel pain, sadness and anger.

    Philip, your blog has the power to change people. It is honest and direct but it isn't a rant. It is a positive approach that can reach a lot more people that the shame on you method - at least people who think and feel like me. It is important work because there are a lot of us who want to know the truth but wont watch movies like Meet Your Meet. Knowledge is empowering. I will never look at another piece of cheese without thinking of the mama and her babies.

    My reason, my motivation to take that final step and commit to being vegan is my love and respect for all the animals and my belief that their right to live a happy and peaceful life is as great as my own.


  6. Most people don't ask vegans how they feel because they intuitively know that such a conversation will result in the swan song of their current comfort, which they too much enjoy on an easy and superficial level to surrender.

  7. Thank you Pamela.
    I'm glad you found something of value here.



  8. Why a picture of a Buddhist/Hindu in meditation? Is this also a plug for another side of your life?

    - Vegetarian slowly becoming a vegan

  9. Dear Vegetarian slowly becoming a vegan,

    This is a painting of the Buddha..who was Indian.. so your thinking a Hindu in meditation was not so far off. Maybe a bit like calling Jesus a Jew rather than him being seen as a Christian. Whatever that means.
    The answer to your.. why a picture of Buddha in meditation question is.....
    that most of the techniques of introspection where the goal is in finding a genuine quality of calmness of mind and consciousness is referred to as methods of meditation. The reason I'm showing a picture of Buddha in meditation here is that it represents a sense of the self awakening through focusing of ones attention to the present moment. This is what I was attempting to get at with this post about focusing our attention on what we feel in the present moment as vegans.
    It has now been shown even scientifically through the use of FMRIs scanning the human brain...that especially in Buddhists who have been meditating for years that they have a certain quality of mind all the time..that exist in the brain when emotions such as compassion and love are invoked in normal people.
    Buddhist tradition offers the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced.
    Now understand me that I'm not speaking about the religion of Buddhism. I'm speaking about the wisdom of Buddhist teachings that have nothing to do with believing anything magical, insane or without evidence.
    In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the understanding that using attention in the focused way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This essence of subjectivity lights up Buddhism with a unique angle. For this reason, the idea of Buddhism, if rid of its religious barriers, could be one of the most important ways we develop an understanding of human subjectivity. Yoga can offer a similar calmness and focused attention as well.
    This subjectivity is important when we need to express who we are as ethical vegans. So its about going inward and focusing on what we feel as ethical vegans and practicing it over and over.
    The only thing I'm plugging is veganism and a calmness of mind and understanding what it is we feel when we no longer eat or exploit animals.

    Thank you for your questions.

    Veganly yours,


  10. Thanks Philip for this really thought-provoking post. It made me think more deeply than ever about the perennial question, "What do vegans eat?"
    I was inspired and felt compelled to reference your article in one of my recent blog posts. I hope you feel I honoured the essence of what you said in your post. You can check it out at http://veganmaven.com/blog/hezbollah-vegans-what-do-you-eat

  11. Vegan Maven,

    Thank you for the kind words on your blog and for reading my post. I’m pleased you were able to find some value in the this piece here at Vegan Sanctuary.
    The conscious subjective experience of emotions are what feelings are made of... and I don’t believe they are at all very prevalent when someone is a vegan for health reasons.
    However, when a person makes the decision to live vegan for ethical reasons it is much more profound and deeper than choosing veganism to lower cholesterol or even to protect the environment. Becoming vegan because you are feeling something ethical…about what's right or wrong or having compassion or empathy for animals is much more meaningful. Learning to express ourselves as ethical vegans allows the omnivores to hear us from a much more meaningful place than just talking about what we do or don't eat.
    Whenever someone asks me what do I eat...I always respond simply...Its not about what I eat.. its about what I think and feel.



  12. I was at the Animal Acres Thankful Turkeys Celebration this past weekend and was deeply touched by your speech. Just what I needed, to talk about feelings. Since I became vegan and an animal rights activist, I've become angry and sad about what's going on in this world. My heart aches and breaks for all exploitation that non-human animals endure in the hands of humans. You were right- I always feel like my team is always losing and my heart breaks-over and over again. There's just too much suffering in this world, and most are inflicted by humans. Cruelty is everywhere and it's difficult to go on sometimes because the enormity of our mission is so overwhelming and it seems like nothing is changing.

    I became vegan because of my baby dog, Bella. My love for her made me see animals in a different way. They are just like us. We all feel. She opened up my heart. She opened up something in me that has always been there but has long been forgotten- love and compassion for all animals. She changed me and made me become a different person. And with that change, she saved a lot of animals. She may be gone, but her legacy of love will live in me.

    Thank you for your speech. At least I know that somebody understands why I'm so angry and sad. I'm working on it....