|Enewsletter • June 10, 2001|
As some of your know, Vegan Outreach ran out of copies of Why Vegan? last month. We did a smaller, stopgap printing that was completed recently. All orders that had been on hold should now have been filled; if you haven't received an older order, please contact us: email@example.com
When I was younger, I used to run, jump and play with my cousins in huge mountains of cottonseed at my family's dairy farm. Stored in a large shed along with other various feeds, it was soft enough to gracefully break a fall from even the most dizzying heights. We used to yell "Superman!" before fearlessly leaping from alfalfa bails onto the forgiving mounds below. Those days were among the most memorable of my childhood.
The farm exemplified the puritan work ethic, and, in many ways, the fulfillment of the "American dream." My family's approach towards farming, one of benevolent stewardship, made me wary of animal rights and veganism for years, even after I decided to stop eating meat. There was no malice, hatred or even indifference towards animals in my family. Quite the opposite, in fact, as evidenced by the countless trinkets and porcelain of cows and pigs that decorate nearly every room of the house. We all shared common values: a love for conservation, the outdoors and social justice as a whole.
As I began to dig deeper into the reasons why I became a vegetarian instead of a vegan, I had little idea that irreconcilable differences between myself and my family were slowly taking root. I poured through brochures from PETA, Farm Sanctuary, United Poultry Concerns and a host of other groups. Still, I insisted that our farm was different. In a lot of ways, it was, as it used neither recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone nor pesticides. Reading Peter Singer's critique of speciesism in Animal Liberation, however, hit me like a ton of bricks. Putting the book down, it dawned on me that a fundamental paradigm shift was needed in order for true justice to be achieved for all sentient beings in our society. I realized that our family's farm, despite its differences, was no exception.
I naturally wondered how good, reasonable people could do such horrible things to animals, and I think I might know the answer. My family's views are not unusual. Most Americans presumably believe that animals should be treated kindly - yet they also believe that animals are subordinate to humans in the hierarchy of our society. We all agree that cruelty to animals should be avoided, yet we also seek to preserve our way of life. The end result for the animals in this equation, on my family's farm or anywhere else, is a foregone conclusion. So long as we attempt to balance the interests of animals against the interest of humans, the animals will always lose - which is why well-meaning farmers that believe in the virtue of the kindness principle will continue to lower even the most minimal standards of animal care simply in order to stay competitive. For months, I went to great lengths to shield my family from the truth about my new views and dietary preferences. How would I ever be able to tell them that I disagreed with everything that they had dedicated their lives to?
One evening at a family gathering, my cover was blown when my aunt asked our waiter if the dish that I ordered was dairy-free. My little cousin asked me, "You don't eat dairy?" and I had no choice but to shake my head "No" as unassumingly as possible in an attempt to divert attention. But they knew.
As my impatience for our society's sluggishness to reflect on its habits and traditions grew, so did I yearn to confront my family about how the farm whisks calves away from their mothers shortly after birth so that they won't get "too attached." I wanted to know why they placed the female calves in cramped indoor cages, where they're put on antibiotics and physically isolated for weeks. I wanted to ask why the male calves would end up on dinner plates as either cheap beef or veal. I wanted to demand an answer as to how they could stomach impregnating the cows through artificial insemination so that they could be milked 3 times a day until they're "spent" and trucked to slaughter.
For me to engage them in this sort of confrontation while they were in the twilight of their lives would have hurt all of us deeply. My family is a throwback to a different era - a period when the concept of speciesism barely existed, if at all. I visualized how I might react should my own descendents denounce me for my own sins in later years - possibly because I continued to drive a car despite global warming, or perhaps because I could've done much more to help the less fortunate. Didn't my family at least deserve to be able to look back on their long lives in peace? On the other hand, if my protests had the slightest possibility of accelerating change and alleviating the suffering of countless animals, was I not obligated to at least try? I was torn.
When we read about the civil war in the eighth grade, our textbooks explained that the war was one of "brother against brother." I think I finally understand how those young men must have felt when they found themselves trapped between two colliding worlds: that of family, and that of conscience.
The purpose of all broad based social movements is to rattle the institutions of our society down to their very core. But these institutions are not composed of faceless enemies - they're composed of countless lives and stories that are all intertwined and intrinsically linked to our own.
One of the most championed quotes of the Animal Liberation Front, originally uttered by Utah Phillips, speaks to the heart of the issue. "The earth is not dying, the earth is being killed. And those that are killing it have names and addresses." They do have names and addresses - as does my family.
According to Harry Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, two of the most powerful calls to action in our lives are those of duty and love. Frankfurt is so bold as to argue that for one to betray either of these calls is to fracture the very unity of their identity. "Just as the moral law cannot be other than it is, so we cannot help loving what we love," says Frankfurt. "Moreover, the dictates of love, like the requirements of the moral law, enjoy an unconditional authority. In radically distinct but nonetheless closely parallel ways, each tells us what we must do."
I found myself unable to rectify my duty to the animals with my love for family. This lack of total commitment to either of the two has lead me, unintentionally, down a "third" path. It has been an amazing journey. I heard secondhand, for example, that my dietary choices actually did cause my family to think deeply about the farm and my concerns. With the exception of a few remarks here and there about protein, my family has been wholly accepting of my views and even bought some soymilk for me before one of my visits. I've also noticed that my patience was having a positive impact on others who were at family gatherings, several of whom have asked me for more information about veganism. I was making a difference without even realizing it. It might not be my ideal of empty cages and liberated cows, but in the end, it could possibly be even more powerful.