I am about to celebrate an anniversary: Two years as a vegan. Going vegan is a decision that has been a tremendous source of happiness for me. It has changed my life for the better. It has improved my general outlook on the world. It has helped me to feel better, both physically and emotionally. Most of all, the burden of having a diet based on the mass murder of innocent beings is now off of my shoulders. It is a great feeling.
The decision to go vegan grew out of an increased awareness on my part about the right of animals to live freely, without being exploited or butchered en masse. This heightened sense of consciousness about the rights of animals has been a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I've been freed from the confines of my earlier ignorance. It is a curse because once you open your eyes, you begin to see the extent of the suffering and the ferocity of a system that commodifies animals. You realize the truth of that old Antonio Gramsci, about the necessity of remaining pessimists of the intellect and optimists of the will.
You begin to see the world in an entirely different way when you adopt a vegan/animal rights lifestyle. In my past life, I never noticed livestock trucks on the freeway hauling their passengers to death. Now I do. In my past life, I didn't understand that putting ham in my mouth or chicken in my mouth or turkey in my mouth or beef in my mouth comes at far too high a cost: the life of a sentient being. Now I get it. In my past life, I failed to grasp the deep contradiction of supporting human rights and eating animals at the same time. Now I comprehend the vast gulf between the humanistic worldview and the belief that it's OK to breed animals for the purpose of exploiting them, eating them, wearing them, confining them to dark spaces, tearing them apart from their loved ones.
We cannot have human liberation without animal liberation. Human rights without animal rights is a travesty. Supporting a socio-economic system that is based on using and murdering sentient beings is not acceptable. Arriving at these conclusions can be a deeply freeing experience.
But how do you change a system that seems like an impregnable fortress? How do you transform customs and traditions and mentalities built on using and harming and destroying innocent beings? How do you open the eyes of others who may or may not be prepared to embark on the same odyssey that you are experiencing? How do you stay sane while you're driving on the freeway and you look through the holes in the livestock trailer and see all of the eyes and snouts and you can feel the fear of animals in the last days of their lives?
I don't have the answers to these questions. But I do have the answer to one question: What does it feel like, as one person, to disengage - as fully as you possibly can - from this odious system?
Answer: It is but the first step on the road to reclaiming one's own humanity. It's a long road, full of twists a turns, but also a joyous one to finally be traveling. Think of the poor souls who never find it, who aren't willing to break the shackles, and who never reach a level of consciousness that moves them in the direction of reclaiming their humanity.