I’ve seen vegans called many derogatory words. Nothing, it seems, provokes unbridled defensiveness and rudeness in quite the same way as coming out and stating that it is wrong to cause suffering and death to the helpless and vulnerable.
Excuses and insults
It doesn’t seem that radical to me, but as soon as it’s mentioned that humans have no nutritional or other need to use other beings in any way for any purpose, out will come a barrage of well used excuses: plants have feelings, canine teeth, what cavemen did, brain size and intelligence, we need meat to survive, my ‘personal choice’, ‘forcing your opinions on me’, the bible, eskimos, desert islands, etc.
Once these are out of the way, then come the personal insults: ‘It’s impossible to be 100% vegan’, ‘You probably step on insects every day’, ‘I bet your cleaning materials / car / PC harmed animals’, ‘What about your makeup / shoes / clothes?’ and of course, ‘You’re a hypocrite’.
Then comes the ‘we’re really on the same side but you’re being extreme’ gambit: ‘I hardly eat any meat’, ‘Every little bit helps’, ‘I follow this or that diet – I’m doing my bit’, ‘How dare you criticise me – sure I eat animals but I rescue <insert name of species here>’, ‘The world won’t go vegan overnight so we should encourage people who try to cut down slightly on eating animals’.
Invariably there are some that choose to incite a bit of xenophobia: ‘At least here in <insert country> we treat animals humanely, unlike what they do in <insert other country> – they’re all savages there’, ‘Boycott <country> till they stop killing <species that we give preferential treatment to in this country>’.
In the face of all this, a vegan who maintains their stance that causing harm when we can choose not to do so is morally wrong, is branded as humourless and – another favourite word – ‘judgemental’.
Yet day after day, we take the flak. Why is this, you ask? I’ve heard it said, ‘Why don’t you give it a rest?’, ‘Let people take their own time’, ‘If you just raise awareness, then people will make kinder choices’, ‘You’re always going ON about animals.’
So why don’t we? Give it a rest, that is. Why are we so driven? And why are some – like myself – so implacable, so uncompromising, so ‘die hard’, ‘extremist’ and several other words that reflect the discomfort of the audience.
Touching briefly on numbers, upwards of 56 billion land animals and uncountable sea creatures are killed every year for what nonvegans regard as food. There are billions imprisoned, and enslaved so that their reproductive systems can be manipulated to provide milk and eggs. In addition to this are uncounted millions of deaths in the silk / wool / leather / fur / feather industries and in testing and vivisection. Then there are circuses, zoos and wildlife ‘parks’. The list goes on and on. Most of those who die are extremely young. If they were humans, we would look on them as infants or babies, children, adolescents. These are, of course, statistics and it’s all too easy to look on them as a mere mathematical exercise.
However, the issue becomes less easy to sweep under the carpet when we stop thinking of numbers in general, but as a group of individuals – an unthinkably massive group. It is almost certain that with very few exceptions, each individual knew fear, pain, deprivation and suffering throughout his or her pitiful existence. If we could have looked into his or her bewildered eyes, we would have seen that he or she had their own hopes, needs and preferences although these were never recognised. He or she might have favourite foods, friends or pastimes but may never have had the chance to experience these.
Their individuality was disregarded because in order to legitimise our theft of their lives, their joy and their purpose in this world, in order to attempt to justify our brutal manipulation of their reproductive systems and our forcible destruction of their relationships as we mutilate and murder their babies, we refuse to recognise them as moral persons, as the sentient beings that science has declared them to be. We give them numbered or coded tags, punching holes in their fragile ears to attach these, or we notch their tender ears with nicks, cuts and shapes to signify our cataloguing of the walking dead as our resources. And ever the jokers, some find amusement at those who chortle that they ‘never give a name to anything I’m going to eat’.
Personhood and individuality
Part of becoming vegan is the recognition of others as sentient individuals with the right not to be commodified and regarded as resources by other sentient individuals in the absence of any morally justifiable necessity.
This quote by Joanna Lucas of the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary eloquently encapsulates my horror and the reason for the ever-present sadness of being vegan,
‘We know things about her that no one should ever know, or want to know, about a fellow being – the sight of her flayed body, the weight of her severed thigh, the taste of her burned, bone-punctured flesh, the charred crunch of her fractured ribs, the flavor of her spilled marrow, the taste, texture and flavor of every aspect of her despair, degradation and defeat.
We know every detail of what we have forced her to be – an object to consume and excrete. What we don’t know, what we don’t want to know, is what we must know if we are to restore our own humanity: who she is.’
Which means, in essence, that every hour that ticks by, millions of helpless innocents are dying in gore and agony, whimpering and screaming in fear and horror. At this moment. Now. And now. Begging for mercy now. Billions more are facing the interminable hell that is the existence forced upon them for our selfish indulgence.
So what’s the rush?
For millions there is no time left, their only lives that they value as I do mine and you do yours, are being wrenched from them as I write, their blood spilling through gashed throats onto killing floors everywhere. No respected resting places await their last remains, only a supermarket shelf, the casual, thoughtless convenience of a soon forgotten meal, digestion and excrement. That will be the epitaph of these mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.
So when you wonder why I keep going ON, it’s because no matter how much flak vegans have to take, it’s nothing compared to what the sweet and vulnerable victims of nonvegan choices are suffering, and will continue to suffer until all ears hear the vegan message.
We say we want a peaceful world, we say we hate violence, we say we hate cruelty. Great. Let’s walk the walk and live those values by taking violence off our plates, by refusing to support the culturally accepted view that might makes right.
Be vegan. Now.