I have been vegan for 9 years. At first I started to eat this way because I wanted to improve my climbing performance. Over time, I learned about factory farming—the more people try to save (and make) money through big business, the more animals are abused. I think the best way to make sure I’m not supporting that cruel system is to remove my consumer dollars from it. I do climb better and believe that I am healthier by avoiding animal products, but now my primary motivation for this lifestyle is to reduce the harm caused to other living creatures through my personal action and choices. I’m not perfect. But I want to try to do the best I can and make as many choices as possible that are in line with my beliefs. Being vegan is a giant step in that direction for me.
I love animals, and for 12 years I traveled, climbed and lived with my dog Fletcher, a wonderful heeler mix who was rescued from the Navajo reservation and was a perfect dog. She died of old age and arthritis two years ago, and I discovered that life without a dog is quite simply lame. I am a strong supporter of adopting animals, whether that means going to a shelter or taking in an animal who finds you. Personally, I believe it’s simply wrong to buy an animal when according to the Humane Society, animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized.
I mourned Fletch for a year and a half. After visiting shelters and scanning petfinder.com (eternally), I adopted a little res puppy last February. She was found by a friend in Moab who works on cell towers, frozen and starving and alone in the middle of nowhere beside a cell tower. And he delivered her right to my driveway. So it was meant to be. Apparently she had been eating cow manure to survive.
I don’t believe that cats and dogs should be vegan. While animal products seem to be negative for human performance and health, cats and dogs have always been primarily carnivorous (especially cats) and are not as healthy on a vegetarian diet. (Of course, cats and dogs who feed themselves in the wild do not torture other animals by trapping them in cement pens before they eat them.)
So for me, adopting animals (or being adopted by them!) is very much inline with my philosophy about doing the right thing. But since I am vegan in an effort to avoid supporting the mainstream meat industry, feeding these animals becomes a real conundrum: adopting animals=good, feeding animals=bad. What’s a mindful person to do?
Dog food companies, like all large corporations, are trying to save as much money as possible, so I feel sure that commercial dog food containing animal products is the worst of the worst, as far as contributing to seriously cruel factory farming practices. I used to buy free-range, local meat for Fletch, so I could be sure that the animals lived a decent life rather than being abused. This is expensive and a lot of work, and also often impossible when traveling.
Now for Cajun, since I thought she should probably end her pure cow manure diet for too many reasons to list here, I found another solution in Acana Pacifica food. http://www.onlynaturalpet.com/products/Acana-Grain-Free-Dry-Dog-Food/377009.aspx#ReviewHeader Acana is a reputable company (from Canada), and they use wild caught pacific salmon, flounder and herring in this dog food, along with vegetables, fruits and herbs. My most serious concerns with animal products stem from the abuse of animals who are imprisoned and mistreated—who exist only to be turned into products and who are deprived of a natural life. So knowing that these fish swam around freely, like normal fish living a normal life, before being caught makes this an acceptable solution for me. Quite frankly, we’re all going to die. Dying itself is not unacceptable to me (fortunately, because I know for a fact it’s going to happen to me!): being tortured and imprisoned first is.
Life is never totally simple and clear. Even driving a car causes suffering to creatures, if you run back through the entire chain of production, from creation to fuel, and become realistic about the effects of driving it, and the same goes for trains and airplanes, even bikes. I drive my car almost daily, and I use public transportation regularly. But changing my eating and consumer habits makes an enormous difference in my goal of reducing suffering to other creatures, and it’s part of doing the best I can. The most important thing is to put thought into the things you do and the choices you make, and to do the best you can to keep your actions in line with your beliefs. Don’t let the fact that you will never be perfect stop you from being the best you can.
Steph Davis has been pushing the limits of climbing for 18 years, cross discipline. She is known for her free ascents of El Capitan, for climbing hard cracks in the Moab desert, for free soloing long and committing routes, and for first ascents in South America, the Karakorum and the Arctic. Steph is also an avid BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot. She has made hundreds of jumps, including combining free soloing with BASE. Her first book, High Infatuation, was published by the Mountaineers Press. She is currently working on a second book for Touchstone/Simon and Schuster called Learning to Fly.
Aside from climbing and jumping, Steph loves running, skate skiing, gardening, cooking and writing. She is a prolific blogger and a vocal supporter of veganism, animal welfare and simple living. Steph prefers climbing areas that are good for dogs.