This piece is one of personal reflection.
I suspect you’re pondering the meaning of this title. Have you been fooled? Do I still eat meat, half of the time? Am I not a real vegan!? Allow me to explain…
I am nearing the end of my 28th year on this precious Earth. I have been alive for a whopping 10,184 days.* And since I went vegetarian when I was 14 years old, I find myself at a time when half of my life has been lived as a consumer of animal products, and the other half has been a life which shuns animal products. And so, I wonder, what can I take away from this moment in time??
While I’m generally praised for being a peace-keeping-type vegan, I have on occasion (or two), when my patience is particularly thin, lashed out quite aggressively toward meat eaters for their nonsensical logic. But it’s important to remind myself that I, too, at one time used that same logic.
Until I was 14, I ate and consumed animal products. I ridiculed vegans, and discredited vegetarians –all while claiming to be an animal lover (I explain this part of my journey in detail in this post). Once I finally went vegetarian, it would be another 10 years before I would finally go full-on vegan. That’s 10 years of ignoring what I read, and debating with vegan friends.
So, here I am. I’m one part veg*n, one part carnist.
As the meat-eating version of me grows farther from my memory, and I straddle the line between eating meat and a life of compassion towards animals, I hope to recall my past to restore compassion in my conversations with the meat-eaters in my life.
Comparing the Two Lifestyles
Though it was 14 years ago — half my lifetime away from today — there are some things I still remember about my meat-eating days. For one, I used to get awful migraines and recurring sinus infections. Upon going vegetarian, that stopped. Veganism: +1.
When I ate meat, however, I didn’t feel as an outcast as I do now — though I feel as if I am being true to my values, it’s difficult to see those around me ridicule and disregard my lifestyle and ethics. Carnism: +1? Depends on how much you care about fitting in…
There are so many nuanced elements of these two lifestyles, that I could go on for days comparing each side-by-side. It’s undoubtedly clear to me, however, that I’ve made the right choice: I am living a life that is in line with my morals, one that gives me health benefits, limits my negative impact on the Earth, saves (on-average) 100 animal lives a year, and promotes social well-being.
On Loving Animals
I am an avid animal lover. I may not know everything there is to know about every animal in this world, but I have an intense adoration for all animals (including bugs) in addition to a deep fondness for the many animals who have touched my life directly.
And I have always been this way.
I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, even when I ate meat. Today, I have trouble justifying to myself why I ever thought that juxtaposition was okay, or made sense. I am heartbroken, now, to think that I took me 14 years to realize I was killing and eating my friends. I’m mad at myself and, if I’m being quite honest, I think some of that anger, possibly self-resentment erupts from time to time when I see others resist the abolition of animal exploitation.
Deep down, I knew that exploiting animals in any way — be it for meat, entertainment, or otherwise — is wrong. But I resisted it. I justified it, much like I see many of my meat-eating peers do today.
I think the reason that animal products (including meat, leather, wool, dairy, etc.) remained in my life for so long is largely because consumers are so far removed from the “production” of animal “products” (product-s/-ion are in quotes because animals are living beings, not commodities) that we not only lack an awareness of what goes on, but we also view the final “products” we purchase as something entirely different from the animal that we sacrificed. In fact, we go so far as to use different terms when we refer to that which we’re consuming — cows are turned into “steak,” “beef,” and “leather”; pigs become “pork,” “bacon,” and “ham”; chickens become “drumsticks” and “nuggets”; and so forth. We are trained to view these things as separate from the living creature from which we took them.
Another reason we justify consuming animals is because we are led to believe that non-human animals are inferior, unintelligent, mindless creatures over which humans have dominion (a term which has a basis in misinterpreted religious texts). I now understand this belief to be “speciesism,” but I had no reason to think of such a discrimination when I still ate meat. Sadly, the belief that animals are unintelligent beings without the capacity to feel emotion or pain couldn’t be farther from the truth. Furthermore, this belief tends to forget the fact that we, as humans, are animals, too.
The truth is, my meat-eating years were my dark ages. I was young and ignorant. I did what I was told, regardless of whether or not that was in my (or the world’s) best interest. I believed that I loved animals, but I refused to accept that I was contributing to their pain and suffering. Had I never learned the truth about animal agriculture, I probably would still insist that I were an animal lover…even if you found me with a chunk of animal carcasses on my plate. However, knowing what I know now — about farming practices, about the impressive intelligence of animals, about their ability to feel pain and to suffer — I see that I was wrong to insist I was a friend of non-human animals. Sure, I cared for animal welfare, and I respected animals (to a degree, one that did not respect them as autonomous living beings), but I was not a true animal friend, and my “love” did not extend to animals their right to live.
But remembering my old perspective, that it was based in meticulously planned, top-down deception and that it was poorly aligned with my true morals, should help me to find patience with my friends and family. I ought to remember that, at one time, I defended that meat tasted better than living according to my values felt. It does not. I convinced myself that animal suffering on farms was the exception. It is not. I believed that dairy companies bred “happy cows,” and egg farms “free-range hens.” Those are myths. I bought in to society’s standards and status quo, but compromised who I was in the process.
Then I realized: I am my own person. I can make my own decisions. I can research to uncover truths about animal agriculture that the industry doesn’t want us to know. And I can do what’s right. It takes courage. It takes commitment and the strength to stand up against what others say about you, about what matters to you, and about you believe to be a moral imperative. I cannot expect that others are ready or able to take those steps tomorrow. I have to trust that they will come to it on their own terms.
This post has been about my own personal self-reflection on being a meat-eater, an animal lover, a vegetarian, and ultimately a vegan. In a future post, I will write about the ethics behind eating or not eating animals.
*Not accounting for leap years, because, honestly, who has the time for that math??
As always, I’d love to hear from you!
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