When I wrote to Toronto Zen Centre to see if there were any vegans there interested in taking part in my Buddhist Vegan interview series, Candice replied that she was happy to help and I fielded her a few questions. I appreciate the time and thought respondents to my questions take and I greatly value the opportunity to communicate with Buddhists and vegans in cities and towns across North America (the starting point for my project) to learn more about their philosophies, backgrounds and lifestyles.
Thank you for your time Candice!
Candice: For myself, the suffering of animals wasn’t the reason I went vegan, although it did have an influence, and it was the reason why I became vegetarian at a young age.
A friend in my childhood pointed out to me the hypocrisy of loving animals and yet eating meat. I was 13 and took very little convincing on the matter. If I loved dogs and cats and horses and wanted to work with animals “when I grew up”, how could I be eating pigs and chickens and cows?
Of course my mother was less convinced. But she’d had health issues and was happy to explore vegetarian eating as a way to deal with them. So she did some research and decided we could go vegetarian together.
In my early 20s I began to learn more about the dairy and egg industry and didn’t feel quite right about consuming those things. I began to see how much the animals suffered. But as a broke university student without a ton of resources I didn’t really feel like becoming vegan was something I could do.
There’s more to this tale but I’ll fast forward to 2008 when I moved from Ottawa to Toronto. I started seeing a naturopath who advised me to give up eggs and dairy, along with a number of other things, for health reasons. It was only then that I dedicated myself to becoming vegan. Toronto has a very vibrant vegan community to support people in giving up animal products and also in activism, should they choose to go in that direction. Having that support was helpful!
All this said: while it wasn’t the suffering of animals that brought me to veganism initially, it’s that suffering that gives me the strength to continue even when faced with challenges. I can’t just buy the leather shoes when finding a suitable vegan alternative is difficult. I can’t just eat the cheese pizza when at a party with no vegan options (except maybe a veggie plate). Now I really think about the suffering of the animals and make the choice not to contribute any more to it than I already have.
Annika: Many North American Buddhist Centers were traditionally vegetarian but with the rise of interest in veganism and popularity of plant based diets, more Buddhists are becoming vegans. How do you feel Buddhist centers can play a role in expanding awareness of the compassion inherent in veganism and also practical skills to incorporate in one’s life to ease the path to veganism?
Candice: Perhaps the most important role we can play is being compassionate towards everyone who comes into our lives. Sometimes as vegans we can get very dogmatic and ‘preachy’ and that helps no one at all. Not only do such behaviours cause people to react negatively towards veganism, but, if one is speaking as a vegan and a Buddhist, it also causes people to react negatively towards the Dharma. While we might feel very strongly about veganism, it feels rather hypocritical to me if we are asking people to be more compassionate towards all sentient beings and yet we aren’t showing them that same compassion.
So we can meet people where they are at and demonstrate to them that one can live a very full life while reducing the suffering of others. We can be available to answer questions and point people towards resources to assist them in transitioning towards vegetarianism (or veganism) while still being open to whatever experiences they are having. And we can be a place they know they can go for support when they are faced with challenges.
Annika: What is the relationship of veganism and Buddhism in your life? Were you Buddhist before you were vegan (or vice versa)?
Candice: It’s been a journey to find both in my life.
I found Buddhism around the same time I graduated university (2001), but it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto in 2008 that I began to commit myself to the practice. Prior to that I’d read a number of Buddhist books and even done a workshop at a Zen Centre, but nothing really stuck until I landed on the doorstep of the Toronto Zen Centre.
I was vegetarian at age 13 and had leanings towards veganism in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until health issues pushed me to remove dairy and eggs from my diet that I made real steps towards becoming vegan.
As funny coincidence would have it, I actually became vegan at the same time as I started practice at the Toronto Zen Centre. So for me, they’ve always been together, and it actually makes a great deal of sense to me that way. If we vow to liberate all sentient beings, how can we do this while knowingly contributing to their suffering?
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This interview is part of an ongoing project I began in late Summer 2016 to explore the connections between Buddhism & veganism for contemporary practitioners, I began reaching out to several Buddhist centers across North America to see if they had vegans in their community who would be interested to take part in the interview series aspect of this project. For more on this project visit this link.