My Vegan Story

A good friend started ‪‎#myveganstory‬ and asked me to contribute. I also did 2 paintings to accompany the story which are attached at the end. This was originally a facebook post (it’s public, so you should be able to access it). So here’s how I came about this choice to avoid using animals:

I grew up on a farm in Tasmania for a large part of my childhood. It had rainforest, a river with waterfalls, real-life Tarzan vines (which rarely broke mid-flight), and lots of animals. It was a goat dairy, so those animals were mostly goats, but we also had dogs, chooks, horses, a ferret, a budgie, a pet possum, and the wild animals, including wallabies, rabbits and all sorts of birds.

Looking back, we treated the animals according to their species, and in some cases, gender. If you were a dog or ferret we protected and loved you for your companionship, if you were a goat, we protected you for your utility, unless you were male and therefore couldn’t produce milk. As is the case on most dairies, almost all males are killed at birth, or sold to be grown as meat. If you were a bird, you were left alone, or shot, or bred, relative to your usefulness; hens got to live, roosters were killed, our budgie got to live, sparrows got trapped and killed.

All this, as some of you probably know, is pretty standard farm practice. A farm isn’t a holiday for animals – it’s a business, and if you’re an animal that’s causing profits to fall, you’re not going to last long. In all cases, animals lives depended on their ability to please us, whether by profit or affection. I didn’t realise this, or if I did, I managed to convince myself, like we all have from a young age, that it’s necessary to treat animals this way – a necessity that I now completely deny. In our society and many others, the lives of humans, dogs and cats have moral value, whereas the lives of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and goats have only economic value – they’re commodities.

Of the killing, without getting into too many details, it is worth mentioning that bullets are expensive and dangerous to use in sheds. Clubs and knives are favoured alternatives with exceptions for larger animals like horses. Killing is only half of the story though – dehorning, castrating, ear tagging, and a bunch of other painful procedures were necessary to run the farm properly. Dehorning, for example, involves burning into the kids head with a specially made iron (ours looked like a oversized cigarette lighter), to the extent that the horns don’t grow anymore. It’s a bit like holding a the cigarette lighter to the base of your thumb nail until it’s burned through and created enough scar tissue to stop it growing back. Harvey Fresh doesn’t tell you this on the carton.

Hunting was a regular pastime and necessary activity to keep pests out of the paddocks – mostly wallabies, but the hunts I remember best are the ones we went on after moving back to WA. ‘Serious’ hunting in the south west of Australia is pretty much restricted to pig hunts. They’re introduced, so hunting them is encouraged. We hunted with a ute full of trained dogs along with the guns, knives and a spotlight. We’d drive until the dogs got the scent, they’d jump off, and then we’d follow. The three or four dogs would run down a sow or a big boar, and we’d arrive not long after. With the dogs locked onto ears, legs, tails and whatever else, it was safer for the dogs and more sportsman-like to ‘stick’ the pig, rather than shoot it. In the early hours of the morning, only minutes since it had been happily living its life with the others, a sows final sensations after the long chase were of its ears being torn off, bones being broken by dogs renown for their bite strength, and then, finally of a blade through her ribs, or across her throat.

Hunting pigs is different to hunting many other animals – mainly because of how smart they are, but also because of how hard they fight until their last breath. They aren’t a natural prey animal, so they don’t ‘give up’ or go down as quietly as animals like the buffalo and deer we see on nature documentaries, they’ll struggle and squeal right until the end. They’ll also work together and help each other to fend off the dogs when they’ve been cornered or exhausted and back up into hollow tree trunks or thick mud where they’ll be able to defend themselves better. Pig hunters enjoy hunting them precisely because of these reasons – their intelligence and relentless lust to survive makes the ‘game’ more fun. An ex-pig hunter I know who is now pescetarian summed it up well, he said (paraphrasing): “Hunting pigs is more like hunting a tribe than a herd; they work together, strategise to throw the dogs off or lead them away from their young, and fiercely fight back when cornered.” And I guess you wouldn’t expect any less from a species whose intelligence rivals dolphins and elephants in many aspects.

Maybe you’re wondering how anyone justifies this sort of barbarism? Well, they’re damaging our farms and our wildlife (never mind that 54% of Australian bush has been turned into meat livestock grazing land), and so it’s easy to look at them as ‘others’ and aliens which need to be annihilated with a get-out-of-jail-free card for any moral concessions that have to be made along the way. In the hunting community it goes further than this though – pig are hated; half because every now and then a much-loved hunting dog is killed by a boar, and half because the hate becomes a necessity if you’re going to maintain sanity when you’re regularly causing that much suffering.

My transition to veganism began a few years into my uni degree. I’d lost interest in hunting, though we still went every now and then. One night a few friends and I were talking about slavery, racism, oppression and other tragedies of humankind’s past, and at some point we started to talk about how future generations will look back on us. We all agreed that since it’s possible to live a healthy life without killing animals, and since this is known by most people, our generation would eventually be looked back on as ridiculously immoral for the billions of animals we kill or cause to suffer each year. Nothing ground breaking – even Leonardo da Vinci, being centuries before us predicted this, writing:

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”

But at that point we realised that it’s so easy to notice our immoral actions, but then ignore them for the ‘reality’ of the situation, or because everyone else is taking those actions anyway. So, sort of in defiance, we decided to align our actions with our beliefs by turning pescetarian.

Six months later I watched Earthlings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibuQ-J04eLQ) and after a little more investigation into production animals and fish sentience, I was vegan.

A few months later and my whole family and several of my friends are now vegan or vegetarian (and 1 pescetarian), many thanks to Earthlings, Farm to Fridge (http://vimeo.com/22143776) and research of their own.

There is no reasonable and consistent moral philosophy that mandates avoidable suffering and murder. Nevertheless, we humans have managed to convince ourselves that it is the right of our species to dominate others based solely on our capacity for language and high-level reasoning. We think that since a chicken or pig is not as intelligent as us, it can be exploited without moral consequence. We think that ‘the circle of life’ is a justification for causing completely avoidable suffering – a tragic appeal to nature. And maybe worst of all, we think that our philosophical position is reinforced by consensus – by the same herd morality which has been used to justify all sorts of oppression including slavery and the denial of certain rights to other races, women, and countless other ‘inferior’ and ‘less intelligent’ groups. For animals, besides denying them the fundamental right of freedom from involuntary servitude, we even deny them the right to their own wings, arms and legs. Next time you bite into a drumstick, consider whether it was you, or the chicken who had more right to its own legs.

Hopefully, if you’re not a vegan, you don’t take this as me judging you for your philosophy – I hunted, ate meat, and probably caused far more suffering and death than the average person in the 20 or so years that I wasn’t vegan, so there’s no way I can judge you. I only urge you not to feel smug about being on the side of the majority – I know I did. Be skeptical, critical and let evidence and reason guide your decisions over the potentially uninformed majority’s consensus.

I think it’s clear from my story that for me (and actually, for most vegans I know), veganism is not a diet. It’s the philosophy that animals should have the right to own themselves and determine the direction of their lives. It makes the obvious statement that we should not treat animals differently solely on the basis of their species membership, and that animals have interests that should be defended. Killing, whether fast or slow, deprives a being of all it has and all it wants. It wants to live more than you want to eat it. Plutarch, like da Vinci, Pythagoras and many other great philosophers of the past thought that animals deserved to own themselves:

“But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”

Two piglets with very different lives.

January 2, 2015

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