I am officially a vegan. Not a plant-based eater, but a vegan. You know, one of those annoying people who talk about the “dead flesh” that you’re eating when you’re trying to enjoy a steak or chicken salad. One of those people who cringe at the thought of going to a zoo.
Actually, I considered myself a vegan before a couple of weeks ago simply because I had come to believe that the most ethical diet is one that avoids killing sentient beings (plants are not sentient; animals are). But up until a couple of weeks ago, I was okay with other people eating meat. I didn’t feel grossed-out by it, didn’t feel sorry for the dead animal being consumed.
I also justified visiting zoos and aquariums for the sake of making life more interesting for children.
The first eye-opening moment
No longer. I didn’t make the shift consciously, hadn’t even realized I’d made the shift until our recent trip to Minnesota when my sister had chicken with her Thai take-out. And even my Hindi bro-in-law ate some! (Aren’t they supposed to be against eating meat?) I sat next to her, totally grossed out, thinking that she was eating the flesh of a dead animal, something that had been butchered mercilessly (I can guarantee you the bird came from a factory farm), bled, and cut into pieces.
Yes, I’ve become one of THOSE people. A real vegan. Please forgive me.
Anyway, it was all I could do not to say something. Not to try to make her aware of what she was doing. Maybe the reason I didn’t was that part of me knew that it would be futile, and cause more tension than there already was between us (read this post to understand what I’m talking about). I knew it, because a month earlier if you had told me that at that moment I would be wanting to preach animal rights to a meat-eater, I would have lifted an eyebrow and looked at you askance.
I knew it, because I know that we are all at different points on this journey called life. And if you haven’t passed through certain points, you can’t be at the one called Vegan, and you just won’t get it.
I knew, because up until recently, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the “meat is murder” cry and the frustration vegans feel toward their meat-eating friends and family. Even though I was all for a 100% plant-based diet, all for not exploiting animals for any human needs in my head, it hadn’t hit my heart.
Yes, that’s it. At some point just before we left for our trip, my mind made some shift that allowed everything I’d read and heard about respect for all life pour into my heart.
The second eye-opening moment
The next thing that happened is we visited a reptile and amphibian place in a Minnesota town. I suggested it because I knew it was something that B would enjoy, even while suspecting that the animals would not have nearly the space they needed to have freedom.
I was right. But instead of just thinking, “Oh, well, here we are, might as well enjoy it,” I got angry. I mentioned several times to my mother and B that their cages should be several times larger (actually, not exist at all, but I was trying to fit my indignation into the reality that this place wasn’t going to shut down on my say-so). And wanted to slap the caretaker who was there who claimed to love animals.
I had been unhappy about the state of the animals at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma, but this visit brought me almost to my Full Vegan Self, the vegan who was supposed to not support places like this. It was our next trip, right after that one, that brought me into fullness.
I’d been to the zoo at Oxbow Park before. Several times as an elementary school student, and a few years before with my mom, stepdad, B, and J. But I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that two wolves were caged up in a space smaller than our 576 square-foot house. I’d forgotten about the bear forced to live in a space about the same size. The otter who had just the dinkiest fake waterfall and stream to play in. The big birds in relatively small cages.
I did my best to ignore the feelings of injustice and disgust as I chatted with my mother. But the next morning, when we woke up in the retirement home guest room, I told my son and husband that they could do whatever they liked as far as zoos and aquariums, but that I was not going to support them anymore, with either my money or my presence.
I could no longer stand my hypocrisy
People rationalize all kinds of things for the sake of maintaining the status quo, even when the status quo isn’t the healthiest way. Last year, when we went to the Oklahoma Aquarium, I rationalized that I had a curious child who needed different experiences in order to grow and learn. That we were unschooling, so it was my duty to take him places that interested him, even if they went against my conscience.
This past week, I realized what a hypocrite I’ve been. And if I was going to grow as a person, and learn to be truly happy, I had to stop ignoring my moral principles. I had to begin to say, “I am a Vegan, and consarn it, I’m going to act like one!”
If you’re not a vegan and you’ve read through this entire article, thank you. Understand that I didn’t write it in order to try to “convert” you to the movement. Understand that I understand that if you’re not a vegan, it’s only because you haven’t reached that place on your journey.
And I recognize that you may never reach that place. That doesn’t make me better than you, or more spiritual, as many vegans would claim. It just makes you and I different.
While I hope and pray that one day, you will get the revelation that I did, I’m not going to beat you over the head with a vegan hot dog, screaming, “Meat is murder! Meat is murder!”
You’re welcome. 😉
In the meantime, you’d probably best not invite me over to your house for dinner.