Most people think a concern for animals is limited to liberals. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I am a good example. I was raised in a religious family and went to religious schools all the way through high school. I read Ayn Rand and considered myself a “neo-con.”
Several events changed my outlook.
One was studying World War II. I had always assumed the Holocaust was the work of just a few individuals. I discovered, though, that the Germans knew what was going on, and, except for a relatively small proportion of the population, supported it. This led to a more in-depth study of the history of slavery in the U.S.
Obviously, our reaction today is to assume we would have been a part of the Underground Railroad, or would have protected the Anne Franks of the world. But I had to ask: did I honestly think I would have gone against the overwhelming majority of my society? If I had been raised in a slave-holding household in a slave-holding society, would I really have stood up? Was I truly different from everyone who viewed certain people as “property,” who went along with Hitler’s “Final Solution”?
Did I honestly think I would have been different from nearly everyone else?
The answer came my first year of college, when I met my vegetarian roommate. Fred introduced me to the horrors of modern agribusiness. Again, I was not a liberal. I was a middle-class kid who dreamed of a successful career, a bigger house, a cool car, an elaborate stereo system, travel, and good food.
I didn’t go vegetarian.
As uncomfortable as my roommate made me with his stories of how animals were treated on farms—the brandings, the de-beakings, the tail dockings, the confinement—I justified eating animals by saying that they were “just animals.”
But the stories did bother me. I read the various justifications for past atrocities—not just from hateful, ignorant people, but from some of America’s and Germany’s leading citizens: professors, clergy, civic leaders, and politicians. I saw just how easily the vast majority of people went along with the prejudice of their day: to believe, without question, whatever they were taught, no matter the contradictions or consequences.
Slowly, I realized I simply couldn’t accept the line, “They’re just animals.”
One day, I was looking in the mirror and the thought just came to me: “How can I consider myself a good person if I continue to eat animals?”
I had no answer.
I’ve never eaten another animal.
History clearly shows that questioning society is necessary in all times. Today, choosing not to eat animals makes a public, powerful, ethical statement—not just about the lives of animals, but about the nature of our character. It shows that we are honestly striving to be truly good, thoughtful people. Making our lives a part of something real, something larger than ourselves, expands our life’s narrative, enriches our existence, and allows for real meaning and lasting happiness.
Matt Ball is Senior Advisor to the grassroots advocacy group, VegFund (www.VegFund.org). The above is an excerpt from his book, The Accidental Activist (www.TheAccidentalActivist.net). He blogs at www.MattBall.net