If you’ve ever spoken with a vegan, you probably noticed that we have the ability to outline, without difficulty, myriad reasons why we chose this lifestyle. This is because we get asked “why” all the time, mostly by unenthusiastic parties, and we’ve grown to wear our reasons as armor. Sometimes I can feel myself overwhelming an innocent person by going through my personal knockdown list of “whys”. Needless to say, sometimes it’s best to explore a single point and unpack it completely. Hence, #whyimveganwednesday!
My reason for this #whyimveganwednesday is all 17 glorious pounds of my kitty cat. His name is Otis.
If I had to guess, the majority of people reading this have had at least one meaningful relationship with a pet. Connecting deeply with an animal is not a unique experience, even if that animal has borderline-sociopathic tendencies (as cats are wont to have). The idea of kitty neuroses are so common that Animal Planet runs a program called My Cat from Hell. The show features a cat behaviorist named Jackson Galaxy who travels the country and diagnoses the causes of countless cats’ behavioral issues. Typically, by the end of the hour, he’s cracked the causes for a feline’s bad behavior, and after a few of Jackson’s recommendations, the pet-parent and the cat find peace once again. An interview with Jackson made the rounds in the vegan community a few months ago when we became aware that he identifies as a vegan as well. In the interview, a listener asks him what inspired him to go vegan. He responds:
“.. what inspired me to go vegan, was, you know… when I started writing the epilogue to my book Cat Daddy what I was starting to say to everybody was if you care about the cat in your life, you owe it to that cat to expand your circle of compassion out just that much, and to love all cats. And if you love all cats, you’ll take action on behalf of all cats. And I was talking about how much I loved all animals. And it then stands to reason that if I love all animals, I ain’t gonna eat ’em. And if I love all animals, I won’t support an industry that wants to treat them as crappy as the food industry wants to treat animals. And I just, I needed to be able to walk the walk a little bit. It wasn’t a big deal, and to be honest with you, going vegan was the number one healthy thing I’ve ever done for my body and my life, and there’s something about living a compassionate life that resonates with me. I’m really happy to have done it.”
Otis is not alone in his ability to make that split second decision between enjoying a belly rub and attacking an arm. But for all his strange behavior, I find it amazing that we are able to communicate with each other at all. For example, I’ve come to know his different pitched meows, and I’ve learned where he goes when he wants to be alone. Anyone can tell when he’s hungry. I am also constantly surprised by the things that he is capable of doing. His internal clock directs him to sit by his automatic food dispenser a minute or two before his scheduled meals. He consistently catches bugs, sometimes while they’re mid-air. Nothing particularly that sets him apart from the rest of his species, but still. I’ve come to appreciate our differences, and even more so, marvel at the ways we are the same.
Since most of us can relate to loving an animal, the question becomes why do some receive the lauded “pet” label while others do not? Although I find assessing intelligence between species to be an asinine activity, a commonly spouted fact is that pigs are smarter than dogs. Dozens of people on my Facebook feed were emphatically horrified by the atrocities of the Yulin meat festival, but none were horrified by the atrocities that put bacon on their plate. A New York Times article quoted a Yulin native saying “I understand the other point of view. Many people feel a special bond with dogs. But we grew up around dog meat. For us, it’s normal.” Imagine replacing “dog” with “chicken,” “pig,” or “cow.” The sentence transforms into something I hear all the time when people find out I’m vegan: “I’m sure some people feel a special bond with farmed animals. But I grew up eating them. For me, it’s normal.” The Yulin man’s point, albeit sad, is no different than many people’s reasoning for not eschewing animal products in the US. It’s simple being viewed through a cultural lens. Dogs have been lucky enough to garner the “best friend” moniker here, but they haven’t been as lucky elsewhere. Instead of throwing stones at those who have picked a different animal to brutalize, it would be more productive to reflect on why any animal is seen as an appropriate target for violence. It is unsurprising to me that the residents of Yulin are resistant to change. I meet people every day with the same mentality.
The dichotomy that we draw between which animals become friends and which become food is what prompted Farm Sanctuary to launch “The Someone Project” a few years ago. Because most Americans have had little-to-no interaction with farmed animals, the idea was to introduce folks to them. It turns out that after people meet their meat, they are more likely to draw different conclusions. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary notes, “What it boils down to is people don’t know farm animals the way they know dogs or cats. We’re a nation of animal lovers, and yet the animals we encounter most frequently are the animals we pay people to kill so we can eat them.”
Despite his quirks (of which there are many), I love Otis. And because I love Otis, I have made the choice to extend my compassion for him to other animals who also have the capacity to feel the emotional spectrum between pain and joy. I want to be responsible for causing the latter.