One thing I really didn't expect when I started my vegan journey was how it changes your relationship to animals.
The voice of society is in my head, telling me over and over again what you'd expect. "Dude, just eat the butter. Just one time. It's fine. C'mon, you're in Mexico. Eat the fish tacos. No one will even know."
But I really do have a sort of integrity problem. I'm not even sure it's a problem, really. I just do not like going back on my word--ever. I also try to be very honest, with myself and others. I do not like having situational principles. I do like to stand by what I say, live what I believe, and I hate feeling like a hypocrite.
And when I find out that I am a hypocrite, my usual response is to find a way to stop.
My general life philosophy, for most people that have known me, is a sort of...peace and love, John Lennon vibe. I'm a pacifist. While I recognize wars happen, I'd prefer not to be part of it, or encourage it. While violence happens, I'd prefer not to engage with it, participate in it, or incite it. In this I think I actually fall into a majority of humanity. Few soldiers want a life of constant strife and conflict. They'd prefer peace and harmony, too, even if they are trained to inflict death on others.
I knew very early on in life that I just can't do that. Or rather, that I never wanted to be put in a position to have to do that.
We're currently at a point in our evolution where we don't have to do that.
So how does all of this lead to a new relationship with animals?
I remember how weird it felt as my kids were growing up, years and years before I went vegan, and we'd read books about farms and make sounds like chickens and pigs and cows make, and animals were fun. We don't say we eat cow--we say we eat beef. We don't say we eat pigs, we say we eat pork.
But when you're feeding your two year old something, and she asks what it is, and you say 'chicken'...well...it's not disguised. It's very clear what you're feeding them. Yes, the chicken that goes bawk bawk bawk? You're eating her.
I honestly felt so weird about that, even then. You see things again with new eyes when you have children--things that have become so normal to you suddenly seem strange and alien through the eyes of a child.
I remembered, even then, noticing that meat is one of those things that both of my kids took to later on. They'd rarely ever eat much of it. They were much more into fruits and sweets and starches and things like that. Meat-eating became a more learned behavior, and it helped if the meat was disguised. Ham is a far cry from raw pig flesh by the time a kid eats it, shaved into wafer-thin slices you don't really even think about what it is you're actually eating.
You don't serve them a fish with the head still on it, etc. It also helps if it's breaded and fried, and you can dip it in ketchup.
And a kid doesn't even think to ask. It's an indoctrination in a way. Like...hey, I'm not sure if you're cool with the idea of eating those chickens you like so much, but I eat it, and so I'm just feeding it to you anyway, because it's "food".
So in a way...I felt like we taught our kids to enjoy it.
The first time I went a week as a vegan, it really hit me in a big way. That for an entire week, nothing had to die, so that I could live. I didn't feel unsatisfied or lacking any energy--quite the contrary. I felt...really good. Not just physically good, but psychically good. Spiritually good. This was the dawning of the "insufferable vegan" in me, but I talk about it because it come to me as a revelation, and I had been as far from vegan as a person could be.
I realized that I didn't actually need to eat animals to live. I could survive without them.
And once you internalize that it's not a need, it becomes a choice. It wasn't a necessity. It was no longer a necessity for my survival--if it ever was in the first place.
And here I am, Mr. Peace and Love. I could no sooner go back at that point than I could want to be a hypocrite.
There is a saying I heard that goes something like this:
When an honest person is made aware of their hypocrisy, they will either cease being a hypocrite, or cease being honest.
I don't need animals to live. I don't want to participate in their suffering in any way, shape, or form. While I absolutely support the right to self-defense, these animals are not harming me. They are not a threat to me.
And that was when I really started thinking about them. Not before. It...sort of hurt and bothered me too much to really think about it.
That's when I started watching slaughterhouse video footage. I'd participated in the system for 38 years of my life. I owed it to myself, I felt, to see what I had been a part of.
And it broke my heart. And if you watched it, it would break yours, too.
Because they live and die as slaves. That's not harsh vegan judgment it's just...when you strip it all down to it's most honest level, that's what it is. Farmed animals live and die as slaves...and however well they lived, they all die the same way, very early in their natural lifespan. There are no organic slaughterhouses. They all die the same way, in fear and blood.
Their final interaction with a human being is to be murdered by one.
Again, that's not my harsh vegan judgement. That's just the pure, unvarnished, honest truth.
You're not eating beef. You're eating cow flesh.
You are, in the most literal sense, actually eating a corpse.
George Carlin had a great bit about words, about 'Post Traumatic Stress Disorder'...how it was so changed from 'shell shock'...how the language has been sanitized over time.
Vegans desanitize things, too.
These are just words. You can say it's overly dramatic, that might be your defense--but it probably isn't to a cow. Were a cow able to speak for itself, it would tell you you're eating its mother's corpse.
I think this is an indisputable fact.
These are just words. But it feels like an attack, right?
There's a constant feeling of 'holding back' on this with me...where I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable.
But I have this whole rigid thing about my damned principles, and holding true to who I am.
And after thinking about the animals, I did things I never would have done before.
I took my family to an Animal Sanctuary, instead of a farm. There was something, to me, that was especially magical about knowing that every animal on that sanctuary would live as long of a life as they could, and would not be exploited by humans. That the animals I, and my kids and parents were meeting, would continue to live happy lives even after we were gone.
That was special to me. You can say it's touchy-feely, or whatever, which is just a common defense we like to use lately to deflect empathy. You can call me a snowflake or a soy boy or whatever you want, but again...I've seen their side now. I can't unsee it. I can't.
I don't kill spiders anymore. My ex-wife was phobic, so I've committed spider holocausts with my bare hands that I'm not proud of now, so maybe I have something to atone for. If my kids freak out, I put them outside. But they can roam all over my house. I'll clean up their cobwebs and they can make more later, but I'd rather have them than flies, so...hey. They are part of my ecosystem.
They are fellow earthlings.
If a poisonous snake comes in my house, I'll kill it I have to, I mean, self-defense, remember? I won't feel great about it, but I have the right to protect my household, and ants are not welcome here, either, and hopefully that is something we can all agree on.
Ants and poisonous snakes can have the rest of the world, but I think we can all agree within our own homes we have the right to expect a safe environment.
So I'm not that pacifist. I'm not a Jainist. I don't go out of my way to hurt animals, but I kill mosquitos that land on me.
I dunno, it's just...now, for me, in the larger world, every time I see an animal, any animal, I'm fascinated. In a way I wasn't since I was a child.
And so, so moved, deep inside...some of it is a sense of contrition, I think. For what we have done to their world, what we are making of it...how little of it we leave for them. But beyond that it's that sharing sense of...I dunno, oneness. Life. Fellow earthlings.
And the world is big enough for all of us. And we're all smart enough as a species--or should be--to figure out how to create a better life for everyone.
Starting with not breeding things just to exploit them.