I’ve been a vegan since 2007. And even before that, I’d attempted to go vegan on several occasions. There was something about my final decision that stuck; a kind of resolution that solicited this decision for me. Maybe one of the greatest personal decisions of my lifetime.
I have the unique history of having grown up around cattle. My grandfather was a rancher with a few hundred head. Every so often, he’d select a trailer load to take to market. He’d auction them off and, others, he’d have slaughtered for distribution to the family. We’d gather at the ranch early in the morning, when the long Bahia grass was saturated with dew and I’d watch through the truck windows as my dad and grandfather and others would corral the day’s delivery.
The corral is essentially a kind of trap with ranchers using it to maneuver cattle through tiny chutes until the only way to go was onto the trailer by a ramp. I can remember as clear as I stand here today the distressed moans of cattle. The confusion and chaos. The fear I saw when they’d push their heads through the grating.
For a humane individual to consume meat, there has to be a disconnect. One cannot condone the entire process with a clear conscience because, as it was apparent to me on those frosty mornings, cattle desperately wanted to live and we were deriving them of that opportunity. Critics may say that a cow has no philosophical or intellectual ability to understand what it means to be alive or the kind of Cartesian insight one would need in order to qualify life as a process of thought. But what an extraordinarily high bar to set as an excuse for killing another living being. Those who argue that sentience is the basis by which we would judge the quality of life of an animal would say that merely feeling and the associated instincts would be enough to spare a life. And I would agree wholeheartedly.
Pigs, cattle, chickens, etc, want to live. On a very primal level they avoid situations where they may be trapped because it will lead to their death. Cattle are acutely aware of their surroundings and can sense danger. Pigs have the intelligence of dogs (or even more intelligent some would suggest) and chickens, well, have you chased a chicken around the yard with a knife? Good luck.
The empathy it takes to spare the lives of animals springs from seeing the commonality between us and them. We avoid danger at all cost and we seek to protect ourselves and the ones we love. And we hope that our efforts to do so will be successful should a situation arise. Shouldn’t we then afford the same consideration to animals? Shouldn’t we then allow them that same right to live and assist in their desire to do so.