I was lucky to grow up on a farm with animals as my cohabitants, and as I then thought, my friends. Like many children, animals ruled my daydreams, my books and my toy chest. They were most of the characters in my favourite films and, until my sister came along, my most regular playmates.
Yet it was a traditional, pragmatic setting, in which names are substituted for numbers, and individuals are appraised in terms of profits and losses. I doted on and nursed orphan baby calves without much thought to where or whom they had come from; their mouths latched anxiously onto my fingers. Later, I shooed those babies, all sweetness gone between us, through gauntlets and always into cul-de-sac (for they were never free), until the cataclysmic day when they were to leave us altogether.
Where they went, I had some abstract notion of, although my family would make assurances of new homes and farmers who promised to take especial care of them. As I later learned, these were words to sooth the speaker’s conscience as much as guard a child’s innocence. It is hard to earn a living on the sacrifice of others and never notice your own qualms, but it is even harder to go on with these qualms unless one deploys coping strategies. Which was exactly what I did when I was old enough to feel the need for it. Animals ate animals and I was an animal. It was ostensibly a fact of life, exempt from moral consideration. Defending habits was easy if the reasoning remained superficial.
Then, in 2007 I made an easy transition into vegetarianism via pescetarianism. I was up for trying new things, I had met a few vegetarians in university, and vegetarianism felt like the nice thing to do left undone for too long. I wouldn’t say the change was very cognisant, but it was my gateway to something more reasoned: veganism.
About two years on, I chanced upon an online documentary. The title, Earthlings, and the image that accompanied it, a juxtaposition of a frond, a steer’s head and Joaquin Phoenix, intrigued me. “Yes, these are all Earthlings.” Why hadn’t I thought of the word so inclusively before? The documentary was to answer that question for me by finally reframing how I viewed nonhumans and confronting me with the injustice of our treatment of them. I could not be a party to the violence anymore. I got out of bed late that night to purge the fridge and cupboards of incriminating products.
That 108 minutes altered my perception of the world, and in the six years that have led up to now, I never once regretted my epiphany regarding nonhumans. Veganism has enriched my life by making me more generally compassionate, by teaching me the value of integrity, and by opening up a world of healthy and scrumptious culinary pleasures which I like to whip up with lots of love and nevermore a whit of suffering!