“I discovered when we suffer, we suffer as equals. And in their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear. . . is a boy” – Philip Wollen.
Those words hit me hard: in my chest … my throat … my stomach. I felt it everywhere.
It had never occurred to me that the meat on my plate was once a living, breathing and sensitive creature – that the reason of its short existence on this planet was for me to enjoy a few mouthfuls.
For me, learning about the current treatment of animals by humans, was like finding out there are mass murders occurring 24/7 that everyone is okay with. I pictured a river of blood running beneath our feet that no one is aware of, yet take part in every time we sit down at the dinner table. As I listened to this ex banker turn philanthropist Philip Wollen speak, it sickened me that everyone around me, even those I love, were contributing to the torture and murder of billions of animals per year. Even worse, they had no idea.
Naturally, I wanted to do something about this injustice. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness yet the courage to act at the same time. My sense of self took a back seat and I saw myself as a tool to make change. So when I received the underwhelming, critical and blank responses that I did, I was confused and hurt. Why wasn’t anyone as shocked and horrified as me? Why didn’t my loved ones want to hear about this issue that I was so passionate about? Why didn’t anyone care?
“Raquel, don’t be stupid.”
Was I being stupid?
The answer to that question came in the form of the documentary Earthlings. For those that don’t know, this documentary is a very graphic insight into all forms of animal cruelty including puppy farming, the fashion industry, factory farming and the treatment of animals used for entertainment, such as circuses.
There it was again, that feeling. The deepest sadness I have experienced. I could hardly sit through a scene without closing my eyes. What hit me the hardest was the treatment of cows on dairy farms. Suddenly, the words I had uttered a few days before seemed pathetic: “I’ll be vegetarian but I could never give up cheese.”
Why would I participate in any form of cruelty just for my own pleasure? Especially when the cruelty was completely avoidable and unnecessary. I suffered from horrible stomach pains whenever I drank cows milk. Isn’t this some sort of signal that animal products were not meant for me?
Those thoughts of “am I just being silly” were laid to rest and in all honesty I didn’t care anymore. This was bigger than me and I decided the issue was much more important than whether my mother-in-law would have to cook a separate pot of pasta sauce for me. I decided I would immediately stop being a part of this.
So then I had to begin using the dreaded “v” word.
It even made me cringe.
I wasn’t fully aware of the connotations attached to this word until I had to start telling people. Three years later and I think I have learnt the most about others than I ever have. I realised people hold what they eat very close to their hearts. Suddenly I was viewed as some sort of threat to their way of life. Was I threatening their beliefs or should I say, their egos?
Others felt the need to label me all sorts of things to make sure I was in a category or box separate to them; hippy, hipster, selfish, fussy and brainwashed. I have been told I am forcing my beliefs on others when I decided to have a vegan menu at my wedding.
Others assured me they don’t eat much meat anyway…except for this one dish they ate last night, which had to be described in detail while I stand there awkwardly smiling.
People I was close to decided to give me the cold shoulder. Others smugly presented their iPhone right up to my face to show me a picture of a ”turkey wrapped in bacon”.
But I was the pushy one…the preachy one…
These judgements frustrate me not because I take offence to these words but there is a bigger issue at hand, a bigger issue than whether I should just shut up and eat what I have been given so you don’t feel guilty.
It also frustrates me because I haven’t made this decision to appear better than anyone. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The original thought that triggered my interest in the issue was the simple thought I had one day while looking at a bird. Is this animal much different from me? Even so, who decided us humans have the power to choose which animals we eat and which animals we love? And is it really a personal choice to eat animals when they are conscious sentient beings too?
Although it has been hard to face this reality, the only regret I have is that I didn’t make the decision sooner.
So to those that give vegans a hard time, forget the label— we are just people like you trying to do our best.
And to those trying to live a cruelty free life remember, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi;
‘first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’.