Tim Donnelly:

Midtown is not exactly a hotbed of tattoo activity at any time of day, let alone at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, but that turned out to be the saving grace that prevented me from becoming a hypocrite. As I accidentally discovered online a few days later, getting a tattoo can be about as vegan as having a rib-eye sewn to your arm. The ink and processes at your average shop contain a veritable buffet of animal detritus: charred bones of dead animals in the ink, fat from once-living things in the glycerin that serves as a carrying agent, enzymes taken from caged sheep that go into making the care products.

…”I’ve never found anything that works as well,” said Karr, who dabbles in ink-making himself. “It sucks that you can’t live your life completely vegan. Where do you draw the line? It’s really difficult to remove all the elements from your life.”

In times of ethical crisis like this I turn to my friend J.P. Piteo, a coworker and compendium of cruelty-free esoterica. In addition to being the longest tenured vegan in my quiver (13 years), she’s tattooed from ear to ankle. She didn’t learn about the ink issue until five years after her first tattoo and well into her vegan career.

“In the moment you are permanently decorating yourself with a tattoo, you can also choose how you make an impact on the environment,” she told me. “And we all know how pollution works and how it’s largely irreversible, just like your new tattoo. That’s supposed to be a part of what veganism is about, that big picture.”

It’s funny how those who are most likely to espouse platitudes about everything being connected, all being one in the circle of life, never seem to firmly grasp just how true that really is, and how devastating it is to our egocentric experience of the world.

Aiming to minimize needless suffering is a great thing, of course. Doing your best to be aware and compassionate is a commendable thing. But you see it in descriptors like “hypocritical” — this is where veganism as an ideology is just one more ego bath, taking overweening pride in abstractions like consistency and rationality, nowhere near as radical as its proponents like to style themselves.

It’s simply impossible to remove yourself from samsara so that you are not contributing a single molecule in thought or deed to perpetuating suffering. I don’t care who told you otherwise; Buddha, Jesus, whoever, they were flat-out lying through their yellow teeth. It’s a delusion to insist on seeing suffering as an unfortunate side effect that can be prevented with enough diligent maintenance like a homeowner keeping the cedar siding from getting warped and mildewed, rather than a fundamental attribute of life. Even the purest vegan body is going to replenish the soil which will nourish the plants which will be eaten by the herbivores who will fall prey to the carnivores who will feed the worms and insects who will be snapped up by the birds and lizards and on and on as it’s always gone, as it always will even once we are gone (thanks to Shanna for the recommendation; that is indeed a fascinating book), until the Sun vaporizes the Earth and all of this sound and fury turns back into basic atoms scattered across endless space. And that’s the crux of it — veganism as an ideology is just one more way of desperately trying to convince ourselves that we ultimately matter, that we’re special, that through our self-centered willpower, we can save and be saved.