Scrolling down my Facebook news-feed yesterday, an animal rights event captured my attention. As a vegan who after two years is still scared to ask for vegan options, I’ve always been reluctant to attend any manner of animal rights campaigns, events or similar.
This particular event was calling for any activists/vegans/animal enthusiasts to accompany a van of chickens as they make their journey of no return, in order to ‘be there for the chickens,’ in hope they will feel some sense of comfort from their human-animal supporters.
The event, I have since learned, stems from a movement known as Toronto Pig Save. The vigil held twice a week, aims to highlight the transition between farm animals and packaged meat that society chooses to ignore, by driving alongside trucks and even stopping them; to what end though, I remain unsure. As much as I’m sure this does alarm passers-by, I’m not sure how I feel about this idea; that it wouldn’t just be an awful and traumatic experience for all involved. It might be a selfish response but I am in serious doubt that the chickens would really benefit from our human presence, and watching helplessly on the sidelines would no doubt be a terribly upsetting and frustrating experience.
I spent several sleepless nights after having watched Earthlings, fretting because those animals were in those pens at that moment hurting, pining, scared. While I was snuggled up safely in bed.
But my fretting didn’t achieve anything. Except a solemn promise to myself and to them that I would no longer be personally responsible for any more suffering.
Although I have since kept that promise, I still carry regret that I don’t do more. That I should be diving in front of lorries of sheep. That I should jump over the hedge separating me from the field of cows opposite my house to comfort them. Instead I hear their hopeless cries of distress and continue do nothing except boycott meat and dairy isles in silent resentment.
A few months ago I decided to be brave and turned to doing some low key events with a local group in Brighton. I joined them in leafleting or ‘vegan outreach,’ as it was termed. I actually enjoyed it and felt inspired by a few of the members who it turned out, had a talent for talking what seemed like the most impossible people round to the feasibility of veganism. In fact I was bowled over by the daring and perfect delivery of rounded, none-patronising replies to any response. And some of these members were so much younger than me!
I myself, as that day confirmed, do not possess such a knack. I was met with one particular response ‘Jesus wasn’t vegan.’ I was stumped. Not because it was a humdinger of an argument or anything; but because words failed my bewilderment at the use of religion in probably the most awful way possible: an excuse to commend suffering. Jesus like- I think not.
Despite my sudden inability to vocally string together a convincing argument even to the most notorious of omnivore excuses, I would consider leafleting again. If thrusting leaflets at the public could capture the attention of just one young, malleable whipper-snapper, then I would call that progress.
I once read a blog post arguing that simply being vegan should be enough. While I agree that any ‘level’ of veganism is better than nothing, what irked me was an omnivore reader’s comment that you can’t be a ‘real vegan’ unless you partake in protests and activism.
It was the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach; the very conformist attitude that veganism stands against. A reader, projecting their guilt and condemning someone for living peacefully and compassionately.
I formulated a response, but didn’t have the gall to post it. If I had, it would have gone something like this:
I’m not jumping over fences, I’m not hijacking lorries, I’m not making myself feel worse by witnessing the live executions of innocent animals sentenced for simply existing. I might smile and waive the fact that a cafe doesn’t provide none-dairy milk. But that doesn’t make me a rubbish vegan, it makes me a person trying to live a normal and happy life.
But I know what’s going on, it’s always there; like a shadow cast on everything I do.
Its there every time I idly scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, it’s splashed on the front covers of magazines piled by my bedside, it’s there when I want to enjoy a drink with friends, when I turn on the TV, when I sit down to dinner with my family.
Living a vegan lifestyle is more than who can live the healthiest, make the most realistic substitute; it’s more than proving we can. It’s a journey to make a constant internal battle more bearable, to find comfort among like minded people, to learn to contain our anger, heartbreak and to not drive those we love away, and to find a level that is comfortable and realistic before our sorrow and anger becomes us.
I am completely in awe and don’t even possess the words to thank people who commit and risk their lives, freedom and happiness for the misfortune of those not born human. But eschewing animal products as much as possible, supporting others to do the same, learning to give rational and measured responses, spreading the word thoughtfully and stealthily, without causing a scene is enough for me, for now.