One of my classes this semester is an Environmental Law course, and for this course we were asked to watch the documentary Earthlings, which is about the ways animals are used by various industries.
Some background: I dabbled in vegetarianism throughout high school, but didn’t really do it right. I ran cross country, and I ended up with some pretty low iron levels, and I always went back to eating meat.
And the thing is, I have always loved my dog and cats, and I loved my neighbor’s horses, and I loved seeing the calves and sheep when I was out for runs. It was taking some serious mental gymnastics to get around the fact that I was snuggling some animals and eating some others. But I wasn’t forced to confront the issue until I watched Earthlings.
And then I watched the documentary, and I had to think about it. For real. And I saw how I was being irrational, and how my behavior wasn’t matching my beliefs.
I didn’t want to eat animals. I especially didn’t want to be part of part of a system that horrifically abused animals.
Who would be, right?! None of us chose this system. No one wants animals to be hurt. But the farming system doesn’t work the way it used to. We still think of Farmer Fred getting up early to milk the cows and feed the pigs, but over 99% of animal agriculture today consists of animals crammed into huge, dark warehouses. That’s not what we as consumers signed up for, but it’s what we as consumers are supporting when we buy meat and eggs and dairy. Even free-range eggs. Even organic turkey.
And I wanted out. I had looked, I had seen the suffering, and to turn away at this point would be to willfully forget what I knew.
Here’s the cool part: being a vegan isn’t really a change at all. Sure, I’m changing my habits – and that’s a big change, make no mistake – but I’m not changing who I am. Because the things my parents taught me growing up, things like don’t hurt others, and protect the weak – those are the things that turned me into a vegan. Becoming a vegan is just me applying those values to a new area of my life.
My parents aren’t vegan, in case you were wondering. Nobody in my family is. I am now a vegan in Wisconsin, the land of dairy and beef cattle. Where the start of hunting season is practically a state holiday. And of course, some of the most deeply moral people I know eat meat. (Everyone I know eats meat. Many of them shoot their meat themselves.) I’m not trying to say that you’re a bad person if you eat meat. In fact, I’m assuming you’re a pretty good person, because I’m assuming you care about this. I’m assuming you don’t want to hurt anything, either. And I’m saying that becoming a vegan was my path to doing as little harm as I can.
Here’s an important point: there are infinite issues in the world. It’s a messed up place. And to a certain extent, you have to close your eyes to some issues, because if you’re worried about factory farming, ocean acidification, illiteracy, clothing made in sweat shops, people caught in the sex trade, all of it… if you’re worried about all of that, if you’re thinking about it all the time, you won’t be able to sleep or breathe or live.
At some point, you have to say, “I’m doing the best I can.” And you have to let that be enough.
I’m incredibly glad to be vegan, because it’s a way I can make the world a better place just by being intentional about what I eat. Just by loading up on the veggies and passing on the steak.
As Ashley Capps wrote, “To be presented with the option to cause drastically less harm and suffering in the world: isn’t this a gift? How could we greet it with anything but gratitude?”
You might have another way that you’re fighting for a better world, and maybe right now you don’t have the energy to make veganism one of your issues, even though you really do care about the baby pigs.
It’s okay. You keep working on what you’re doing. I’ll work on getting more vegan options on the menu, so that you might even end up eating vegan without trying. I’ll probably keep encouraging you to make vegan choices, because like I said, it’s a pretty good way to make the world a kinder, safer place. But don’t worry. We’re still on the same team.