When we are not vegan and we look for labels like ‘free range’, ‘welfare approved’, ‘organic’, ‘grass fed’ and the like, it tells us something about ourselves that we rarely think through.
In my own case, as I trawled the supermarket shelves hugging my belief in myself as an animal lover, the message that I did not heed at the time was that I acknowledged the potential for harm to the individuals whose bodies I was using and consuming, and that I sought to minimise the impact of my choices. Little did I know that these labels are a marketing strategy designed to target people exactly like I was, providing meaningless salve for an uncritical conscience. So why on earth didn’t I make different choices?
Born and raised a speciesist, as were most of us, I did not closely examine my behaviour. I believed that I already knew all the answers, despite the discomfort evidenced by my label obsession, because I had been taught from infancy that:
• The consumption of animals, eggs and dairy products was essential for my well-being;
• The non-food uses that were made of animals were by-products of their use as food;
• Animals didn’t have feelings like humans.
In other words, I grew up believing that human use of animals of a species other than our own was a ‘necessary evil’.
This message was so forcefully pressed home, along with the other childhood caveats like not poking fingers into electrical sockets and not putting beads into noses and ears that I never seriously challenged it until very much later. Reading those bullet points many years later, I can scarcely believe I fell for such preposterous nonsense, especially when I was also required to be ‘kind to animals’, but at the time I was also a fervent believer in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus….
Even the language that I used throughout my nonvegan adult years to describe the tragic dismembered corpses, the milk stolen from bereft, heartbroken, murdered infants and the eggs from little feathered residents of a human-made hell – even the very language was reminiscent of my childhood.
I look back down memory lane and hear echoes of the voices of parental authority ordering my infant self to, ‘eat your mince’, ‘finish your egg’, don’t waste your cheese’.
‘Cows need to be milked or they get sore and uncomfortable. Now drink up your milk’.
It was always ‘your mince’, ‘your egg ’, ‘your cheese’, and as I grew to adulthood, always ‘my mince, ‘my eggs’, ‘my cheese’, with never a thought for the desperate and tormented victims.
Unchallenged. Beyond all sense, beyond all reason, this went unchallenged through the years. ‘My -’ because my infant self was told that they were mine, ‘mine’ because my infant self was told not to think about it, it was necessary, the only way I could be healthy.
The Tooth Fairy and Santa eventually stopped their visits and I confronted that reality. However there was no let up in the supply of animal ‘products’, and any ‘unpleasantness’ was very well hidden from eyes that were astonishingly lacking in curiosity and, as everyone else was using and consuming with casual and thoughtless abandon, I convinced myself my behaviour must be fine.
At 28 becoming a mother for the first time. I possessed a sufficiently sound grasp of basic biology to manage to become pregnant, give birth to and breastfeed my firstborn son and his brother who followed soon afterwards. Despite this, it now seems to me that my grasp was tenuous to say the least.
Strangely enough, I was aware of the origins of the term ‘mother hen’, aware that hens were renowned for their care and devotion to their babies. I was also taught that cows are particularly adoring mothers; that a cow with a calf was fiercely protective and much more to be feared than a bull in field. I knew that mammals lactate when they give birth. I was even a staunch advocate of breastfeeding, very much against consuming processed foods.
I was a devoted mother who – wait for this – did not see a screamingly outrageous contradiction in my decision to begin to supplement my infants’ food with milk taken from a cow who had surplus only because her infant had been taken away and killed. I was a doting mother who fed her beautiful babies cow milk processed in an effort to make it more compatible with infants of a species that does not expect to grow to 500 lbs in their first year of life. It’s mindboggling to admit, utterly horrifying for me to recollect – BUT – I never joined up the dots.
Looking for lessons
So now as a vegan since 2012, I frequently spend time mulling over these contradictions. How on earth could an intelligent person in possession of all the facts be so blind for so long? As the saying goes – it’s not rocket science. You may wonder why I seek to understand something that is now in the past, because obviously I can’t change it.
Well the reason I can’t let it go, is that the blinkers that prevented me from living true to my own values for so many years, appear to affect others in a very similar way. In understanding why we are so blind, I hope to better share my own experiences and prevent others from making my mistakes. When I hear the clamour of voices announcing that, ‘I can’t give up my cheese’, ‘I like my meat’, ‘I couldn’t give up my burgers’, I hear echoes of a past I am glad to have left behind.
I am glad that I finally became aware of the truth that we have no need whatsoever to use other animals and that every use we make of them is harmful, unjust and leads to their premature death following an existence any human would regard as torture. I am glad but also deeply saddened to find that, contrary to what I originally assumed, many humans on becoming aware of this, choose to continue to participate in the bloodbath. I seek to understand why that is. Is the enormity of the truth so unlikely, so impossibly, unbelievably grotesque that many simply can’t believe it? I still don’t know the answer and perhaps I never shall.
What I do know is this; the only being that belongs to any one of us is our own self. I am not alone in valuing my life, in being aware of the world around me, in having family and friends that I treasure. Just as no one has the right to treat me as property and take those things from me, I have no right to commit these atrocities on others.
Veganism is a matter of justice, of fairness, and doing right by others. It is not important whether those others have skin, fur, feathers or scales. We have no need to cause harm and can live and thrive whilst trying our very best not to do so. Why choose any other way?