By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

I wonder if perhaps you can relate to this –

Every waking hour of my life is informed by my being vegan. From the sheets I sleep on to the toothbrush I blearily load with cruelty-free toothpaste to the face wash I try not to get in my eyes each morning, I live vegan. From the food I pack to take with me to work to the billboards I pass by while driving down the highway in cloth-covered seats in my base-level sedan, I live vegan.

I scroll through my social media feeds with an animal advocate’s eye – taking note of the plated animals that friends describe as food, taking note of the family trips to the zoo and seeing them as animal prisons.

I watch a rerun where a reality tv show family thinks it would be funny to prank their mother with a pet chimpanzee, and immediately take to the internet to see where this poor baby chimp was procured and why this is allowed to happen.

I peruse the aisles at Wal-mart with my mother, looking for a cruelty-free fabric deodorizer, pointing out that the brand that takes up most of this section is made by Procter & Gamble, notorious animal testers. I remind my mother that beagles like our Millie are used frequently in animal testing as we both wonder what our rescue dog’s past in Virginia entailed.

There is power in ethical veganism – and it is a lot to take on. I hope you won’t misunderstand that statement; my intent is not to suggest martyrdom, nor is it to suggest that this power makes vegans “more than,” “better than,” or any other qualifier. The power comes from its complete infusion into everything you do or observe.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to not wake up and look through the vegan lens. Oh, I don’t mean that I would go back to a time when I wore leather sneakers and ate dairy-based cheese and beef burgers. I simply wonder what it would be like to be vegan without noticing the non-vegan world around me.

I suppose this isn’t possible. Being vegan in a non-vegan world means living vegan in a non-vegan world. You cannot sleepwalk through your days; you can’t not see once your eyes have been open.

This is why I cannot buy a sheet set, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, without reading the labels.

It’s why I can’t drive by a billboard and not think about what it really means. It’s why I can’t look at new car models without seeing which options don’t require leather seats and steering wheels.

It’s why I can’t simply scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds or channel surf past the ingrained animal exploitation that is status quo for the majority.

It’s why I can’t stop wondering where Millie came from and where millions of her fellow beagles will wind up this year.

It’s why, though I came to veganism through health, I now believe that being vegan – and therefore living vegan – must cross over the “health” threshold. I don’t use the word “must” to tell anyone what to do; I am not arrogant enough to believe that anyone is going to do anything just because I tell them to.

But if someone is eating plant-based for health, and never delves deeper into it than that, they aren’t wondering about Procter & Gamble’s animal testing stance, or considering the ingredients in their facewash. They aren’t taking a good, long look at zoos and circuses and wondering why we feel it’s fine to keep animals in cages. They aren’t struggling with the fact that people pay upside of four hundred dollars for purses made of cow’s skin.

They have no vegan lens to look through each morning, because their experiences aren’t informed by veganism, at least not yet.

This leads me to believe – or at least, strengthens an already present belief – that it’s important to keep my vegan lens unclouded. This lens informs how I see the world, and how I discuss that world with others. I keep seeing vegans described as “extreme,” keep hearing talk of dialogue with us described as useless. I disagree. It’s more important than ever that we keep the dialogue going. If we can make our point clearly, rationally, and succinctly, we can expect that others will take it to do with it as they will. The wide majority of us didn’t start out vegan – someone had to lead us there with a kernel of truth.

Pardon the cliche, but the truth will set us free. And, more importantly, it will set the billions of animals we exploit each year free, too.

Photo: practicalowl