Yesterday I heard a sentence that I can’t stop thinking about. The sentence was, ‘I was on my journey to being the best me.’ It was said by someone seeking to make a case for the several years of their transition to becoming vegan, and how they couldn’t have managed without support from a ‘nice vegan person’. I want to make it absolutely clear from the start; I intend no personal criticism and I have no views about either the person whose words began this train of thought, or their mentor. I don’t know them. I would however suggest that neither of them started with a clear understanding of what veganism is. The reason for this essay is not because these individuals, or this view, are in any way unique or unusual, but rather the reverse. It’s a position that I find distressingly common.
I know however that there are many who adopt or promote a gradual transition to becoming vegan. Groups abound where individuals find praise for their incremental ‘journey’ from fellow travellers. I have always agreed that depending on one’s individual circumstances, it may take a period of time to incorporate the vegan ethic into our life, and support and practical advice is a great thing. There are many places to get it online, recipes, products, pointers to help us in our new life – we all value these no matter how long we have been vegan.
But I have always struggled to understand by what right any of us claims to be able to forgive atrocity and injustice on behalf of our victims, and every day we delay that transition is costing them their lives. In my mind, veganism is a black and white issue. We support needless harm or we don’t. Harm or not. It’s as simple and straightforward as can be. And here’s the key thing. It’s not about us. If we think it’s about us, we’re not thinking about veganism. Veganism is all about our victims.
The way I see things
So let me present an alternative perspective.
This morning, in the shower, I found myself thinking that for billions of unique individuals, today is just another day in hell. Short, disjointed scenes flashed through my mind’s eye, images of business as usual in the shrouded world of our vile and unnecessary predation.
I envisaged the massive fleet of trucks and transports, a never-ending procession, a conveyor belt heading into places we refuse to even think of; places where these innocent and gentle, harmless creatures will be confronted with things we cannot face as they die piece by bleeding piece in the clanging stench of steaming entrails and blood; places where they will know a fear that we cannot even imagine, where they will whimper and sob, beg and plead, unheard or ignored by those with the hooks, the hard hands, the knives and saws, the hide-pullers and the panoply of torment apparatus deployed amidst the screaming of the damned.
As my mental gaze skipped over the massive convoy of trucks, I saw curious pigs huddling silent with dread, I saw sheep cuddling close, stacked in layers on motorway transports, I saw new-born calves shut down and overwhelmed with need for the mothering warmth and the milky smell forever out of reach. I saw boisterous bovines, coats gleaming with adolescent vitality, stopped at traffic lights, peering out between slats in nervous amazement, I saw crates packed with six-week chicks, their infant peeping hushed, shivering in the first and last breeze of their joyless existence, I saw the tired and the sick and the used up and exhausted of every species, old long before their time, all heading inexorably into the slaughtering maw.
As the film of my mind’s eye rolled relentlessly on, I saw the violating and the cutting, the de-beaking and the de-toeing, the dis-budding of infant horns and the branding, the tooth clipping and the tail docking. I saw screaming castrations, arms and metal implements violating mothers restrained and defeated, ear nicking and notching and tagging, the sucking pumps and the swish of milk filling industrial vats, the visceral convulsing of small feathered bodies to lay yet one more egg and it just went on and on and on.
And, heart breaking again, the water streaming down my face had nothing to do with the shower as I stood there, shaking with grief. I pictured their eyes as I do every day, those mirrors of the pure unsullied souls that we torment with our refusal to be vegan. As I looked in each mutely pleading, bewildered and desperate gaze, I knew that if there was anything I could do right now, instantly, to end their abject misery, the bone deep hurt that my species inflicts on them, I would do it and gladly.
And I want to shout to the world that THIS is what veganism is about. THEY are the reason that we need to be vegan, and they cannot wait. And I wondered what I would say, how I could possibly look at those eyes and say, ‘sorry, not today, it’s not convenient’? I wondered how I could possibly tell them that their anguish doesn’t fit with my journey to being the best me, so today they’ll just have to die but never mind, I’ll get round to stopping hurting them at some point. And I knew that I couldn’t say those things. I have to hope that no one could.
Make no mistake, the need for a vegan world is urgent beyond words. When we’re asking others to become vegan, we need to recognise that it’s the only message of hope that there is for our victims. We need to understand exactly what we’re asking and not dilute the message. We truly are all they have, and they need each of us to be crystal clear on their behalf. The situation of our victims is so poignant, so desperate, so heart-breaking, and we owe it to them all to tell their story clearly.
We will not save those who are on farms, in sheds, in labs and in zoos today, or those who are on those millions of transports, whose dying screams are happening as I type. But by convincing others to become vegan we can all work to end the voracious consumer demand for torment and death.
We need to do it now. Please be vegan.