20 Years a Veghead

I love almost all animals, with a few notable exclusions, all of which are in the phylum arthropoda:

  • Aggressive biting or stinging insects, including but not limited to fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, and yellow jackets.
  • Swarming insects that make life difficult, including but not limited to fruit flies, termites, stink bugs, and pantry moths.

Otherwise I am an animal lover. I go out of my way to help animals and avoid killing them whenever possible. This is partly because I believe in karma, and partly because I believe if you reduce a little bit of suffering in the world, you help change things for the better. So far, I’d say the karma thing has worked to my advantage.

Last month was my 20-year vegetarian anniversary. People often ask me why I am vegetarian. I didn’t become a vegetarian for either altruistic or health reasons – I did it because I realized I didn’t like beef and I wondered if I could cut out other meats as well. I did it for a day, then a week, then a month. And then I realized I had become a vegetarian. I think this method of becoming vegetarian worked out well for those around me, because I never had a “militant vegetarian” phase – I have always been a live and let live vegetarian, meaning that I believe we each make our own dietary and life choices, and it’s not my place to judge or preach.

Still, I’m proud of myself. Conservative estimates indicate that a single vegetarian prevents at least one animal from being killed every day. That means that over the course of 20 years, I have prevented at least 7300 animals from being slaughtered. When I go to farms, fairs, and petting zoos, I feel good snuggling the animals, knowing that I personally will never be responsible for the death of them or their family members. I see no difference between a dog and a cow, a cat and a pig. They are all living beings with the capacity to feel love, happiness, affection – as well as fear, sadness, and loss. And of course, as I mentioned before, suffering. At this point in my life, my choice is even more important to me – all mammals nurse, love, and protect their young. As a mother, I can’t fathom how I would cope with one of my babies being taken from me.

Finally, I believe that I shouldn’t eat something if I wouldn’t be willing to have the hands-on experience of collecting it myself. I have raised hens and eaten their eggs, and I would milk a cow. But could I kill a pig? A baby cow? Even a fish? No, because I cannot bear to take a life; it’s not in my nature. So there is also honesty in my vegetarianism.

I am so far from perfect – I do love many things that cause suffering. Although I purchase cage-free, free-range, vegetarian fed hen eggs, there is no way to guarantee that the hens are well taken care of. The same goes for my organic milk that supposedly comes from “happy cows.” And I love diamonds, which I know are a human rights nightmare in most cases. We each pick our battles, and hopefully try to do our part.

I like to think that more important than the number of animals that have not died because I am a vegetarian is the amount of suffering that has not happened. This world can be a bleak place, with so much fighting, pain, and death. And perhaps an animal life is not worth the same as a human life – I am not here to argue that point. But it is worth something, at least to me. Each life has value, and as the only beasts (supposedly) possessing a conscience, I do wonder if we’re meant to evolve to a point where any suffering is unacceptable, and we act as caretakers of the earth and its creatures, instead of masters.

I’ll close with a quote by Albert Schweitzer, who too had his faults, but I believe was far ahead of his time with regard to his views on animal life.

“Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.” – Albert Schweitzer

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