Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From Omnivore to Vegan

"Animals are not ours to use."

Those six words have changed my life.

I have lived most of my life - up until last year, as a matter of fact - as an omnivore. I ate nearly every kind of meat imaginable, from snails to bison. I lived in denial. I had grown adept in the art of disassociation. Sure, I knew that hamburger came from cows, pork chops from pigs and chicken from... well, chicken. But I did not stop to think about the moral implications of what I was doing each time I ate meat and consumed other animal products. I ate and drank in complacency, never putting two and two together, never connecting the dots. The meat I ate, bloodless and shrink-wrapped in white-as-snow styrofoam holders, was completely disconnected in my mind from the suffering that was caused to get it from the factory farm to the store.

Truth is, I've eaten meat as far back as I can remember without thinking much about it. And, ironically, I did so at the same time that I professed my love for animals. One of my first books, a gift from my mother, was called For the Love of Baby Animals. I adored animals. I helped homeless cats. I assisted injured dogs. I cuddled with hamsters, held parakeets on my index finger and fed them seed, and mingled with goats and pigs in petting zoos. I've ridden horses and donkeys. I've milked a cow. I fed the rabbits at my cousin's house. I chased roosters and roosters chased me. Trips to the zoo were a cherished event.

Animals have always played a central role in my life. At one time or another, I've owned cats and dogs, gerbils and birds, fish and lizards.

But somehow, I was able to put hamburger and steak and chicken and fish in my mouth without even thinking twice about it. That fact, I think, speaks volumes about the power of denial.

I am no longer in a state of denial. I am awake. I can see now. I know what it means to be "born again." When you suddenly attain a new level of consciousness, you begin to see everything differently. Smells take on new meaning. Colours you never noticed before suddenly expand your horizons. Textures you took for granted begin to reverberate and change your way of looking at things.

For a long time, I had nagging doubts about eating meat and consuming other animal products, but I managed to cast those doubts aside. I can't do that any longer.

Ten million animals are killed per hour in the United States alone. That translates to 10 billion land animals and billions of aquatic animals. Most are kept in factory farms, living in extremely cramped conditions. Some of the factory farms are foul and full of abuse and violence. Others are clean, modern and operate efficiently with as little pain as possible.

But make no mistake: There is no humane way to kill an animal. Some methods are less barbaric than others.

I am starting this Blog because I have had a taste of what it is like to live an entirely different way. I'm talking about the Vegan Lifestyle.

I used to think Vegans were - well - nuts. I thought they were out to lunch. Crackpots. Do-gooders who took doing good too far. Starry-eyed hippies with their heads in the clouds. I understood why somebody would become a vegetarian and swear off meat. But why become a vegan and stop using all animal products, even down pillows and leather jackets?

The answer came to me when I was watching an HBO documentary last year titled Death on a Factory Farm, about the horrific treatment of pigs on a farm in Ohio. After five minutes of watching the powerful documentary, I reached for the remote control. I couldn't take it anymore. I was about to switch off the television, but then I stopped. I forced myself to watch it. And the documentary literally woke me up out of a deep, complacent slumber. A slumber that I'd been in my entire life.

After watching Death on a Factory Farm, I began to read everything I could get my hands on. In particular, I was heavily influenced by the writings of Gary Francione, a brilliant American legal scholar and the nation's leading animal rights advocate (and a vegan). After reading Francione's writings and watching his videos, I came to the conclusion that human beings have absolutely no right to enslave animals for any purpose, whether it is for factory farming, testing or entertainment purposes.

It is acceptable in my view to adopt pets, because they're part of one's family. But I will no longer consume animal products of any kind, because I believe the massive slaughter system that now exists is unjust and needs to be dismantled. And part of that system is also the exploitation of animals for other products, such as milk, clothing, etc.

I don't wish to preach. In fact, this is about as preachy as I'm going to get on this Blog. I intend to use this Blog simply to distribute information to vegans and supporters of animal rights. As a Canadian, I believe that the animal rights movement in my country needs to be stronger. It needs to be vigilant. And it needs to be compassionate and nonviolent. Vilifying and resorting to violent tactics is not the way to go. It is never the way to go. No cause, save perhaps self-defense, is worth hurting another - whether that "other" is a human being or a non-human animal.

A year ago, if you would've told me, "Andrew, by this time next year, you'll be a vegan," I probably would've laughed and looked at you like you were a nut.

But a lot can change in a year. People change. I changed. I'm happier now. Sure, I feel guilty sometimes about all the meat I consumed over the span of my first forty years. Sadly, I can't go back and un-eat it. All I can do is open my eyes to the truth and advocate for the voiceless. I picked the title "We're all Animals" for this Blog because human beings are animals, too. None of us is perfect. Yet there is one thing that gives me hope about humanity: People change. Sometimes they actually improve. It is a beautiful thing to witness when it actually happens.

Those of us who are vegans and animal rights supporters need to form communities of kindred spirits who fight the good fight for the liberation of our fellow animals.

Change starts with the individual. And it begins in the here and now.

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