A single stark memory has plagued me all my life. I must have been quite young (possibly in the 1960s) because what I saw then would never be seen nowadays. I had spotted a truck in traffic. It drew my attention because protruding above its high sides was something odd that I just couldn’t recognise. I stared, puzzled, in the way you do when something just doesn’t make sense, and as the truck moved off, the penny finally dropped. I was looking at what seemed to be an enormous roll comprised of hides. The familiar black and white patterns of cow skins were all piled together and rolled up, smeared with seeping fluids, caked with filth and darkening blood. The grisly imprint of the sight has stayed in my mind’s eye all my life, now reinterpreted with sorrow, deep regret and merciless vegan clarity.
1970s, 80s, 90s, millenium; time passing in a dream
It was many years later, but still long ago that I learned about the fur trade, reading and watching videos that turned my stomach. The message of these was that using fur was disgusting; that it was so much worse than other kinds of ‘animal cruelty’; that it was a frivolous self-indulgence without any justification whatsoever. From that day on, I vowed that never again would I wear anything made of fur and disposed of every item that I owned that featured any fur at all. At every opportunity I protested about fur, donating to those ‘organisations’ that had first opened my eyes, who claimed to need my cash to bring an end to the trade of those members of other species whose interests they claimed to represent. I signed petitions and wrote emails. I was an ardent opponent of ‘cruelty to animals‘. Or so I thought.
In those days I was ‘vegetarian’ (when it was convenient) and I had a thing about leather. I loved the smell of it, had leather boots, belts and gloves, leather gear for my motor bike, and a couple of leather handbags that I prized. What I was thinking? Seriously. What was I thinking? I seem to remember that I vaguely thought leather was a by-product of those ‘food’ industries that I had been taught were essential for human health but really, I can’t understand why I didn’t know more than I did.
Time moved on – awakening 2012
It was about 6 years ago that my true education began. I learned that human animals have no need to use members of other animal species for any purpose. That shook me. It was then that I really learned about leather. I learned about feathers. I learned about wool, about honey, about silk and about the many euphemisms for dead flesh. I learned about ‘dairy’, about egg use, about testing and vivisection, circuses, zoos and the whole gut-churning horror show. There was no denying the truth when it came along. I had discovered veganism.
Slowly, incredulously, with bile rising in my throat, I realised that I had been lied to, manipulated and misled into thinking that some kinds of ‘cruelty’ were worse than others.
And I found myself asking, was ‘fur’ any worse than tearing the feathers and down from the screaming and bloodied bodies of living birds; worse than wrenching ‘angora’ from rabbits sobbing in agony? Was ‘fur’ any worse than leather; any worse than tearing the skin off a cow as her consciousness wanes with the lifeblood pulsing from her gashed throat and the places where her feet used to be? Was it any worse than the skin of my favourite gloves, that soft, smooth slink skin of the unborn calf whose first and final gasps rasped from new lungs, as he slithered wet with her entrails from the womb of a disembowelled mother dying by pieces, while hanging from chains in our slaughterhouse; her only life draining away before she could birth her precious infant to the hell that was all she had known, a hell that her innocence could never understand.
My new awareness demanded to know more about this ‘fur’ that I’d been so vociferous about, why it was any different from these new nightmares that still haunt the nights when sleep eludes me? Was there a difference? Well, was there? And my shattering heart told me, ‘No’. There was no difference at all. There was no ‘better’ kind of atrocity, no ‘worse’ kind of atrocity. It was ALL unnecessary.
That was the day that I finally understood the meaning of betrayal, of self-disgust and impotent rage against all the things that had been hidden from me, the lies I’d been told and had foolishly believed. I had been trying to do the right thing while all the time being complicit as a consumer in an orgy of violence and oppression, I’d betrayed every value that I thought had defined me. I could never wish on another such an awakening from a lifetime of lies.
And I became vegan, because it was simply the least I could do.
Respect means being honest
It is so unfair of any of us to consider that our peers can’t handle the truth. We don’t need imaginary checklists, labelled ‘Cruel’ and ‘Kind’. All any of us needs to know is that as human animals we have no need to use the lives and bodies of members of other animal species for any purpose. Just that one thing.
Then, knowing that one thing, if we are really sincere about not wanting to cause needless harm to those who are innocent and defenceless, we’ll be desperate to stop doing it. It won’t feel like doing without things, it won’t feel like restriction or deprivation. For most vegans I know, it’s been difficult to stop quickly enough. So let’s not just focus on our victims of one particular species or even several species, when becoming vegan means we stop having victims of any species at all. Each new vegan is someone who will live the rest of their life doing their absolute best not to have victims.
We owe our victims nothing less than the truth. And we owe our peers exactly the same. Be vegan.
For more information about the inconsistencies behind the singling out of fur, please see this excellent article by Sherry F Colb, a Justia columnist, Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School.