My friends and family aren’t bad people. They are overwhelmingly kind, generous, compassionate, and intelligent people. They are people I look to for advice, emotional support, fun times, and endless laughs. But they are also the people who cause me the most pain, day in and day out.
When I first went vegan (a little over a year ago after being vegetarian for a couple years prior), I asked a few people how they dealt with their omnivore friends. I got a wide range of answers, scaling from “We just respect each other’s opinions” to “I don’t have omni friends anymore, it was just too hard.” I couldn’t understand how someone could just abandon their friends like that over a difference of opinion. I imagined how heartbroken I would be without my best friend, and the loss seemed unbearable. But now, a year later, I am starting to understand.
As a vegan and animal liberationist, I believe in the personhood and sentience of all animals (this is not just a blind belief like, for example, religion. There is a huge amount of scientific evidence supporting it). Because of this evidence, I know that eating a pig is no different morally from eating a dog, or even a human toddler. I’ve seen the cruelty that takes place in factory farms, and even in “humane” places of animal slaughter. I have watched baby chicks, just one day old, be ground up alive for the crime of being born the wrong sex. I have heard the cries of a mother cow, as she desperately mourns for her baby that was taken from her just so we could drink her milk.
Like the majority of the population, I was unaware of the cruelty of these industries and the depth of animal experiences before I was exposed to them. And like many new vegans, I assumed that once people realized the truth of what they were paying for they would be happy to change their behavior to avoid causing this harm on innocent animals. I figured that when a good, compassionate, intelligent person (especially those who claim to love animals and have pets) saw this evidence the resulting behavior change would be inevitable.
But I was wrong.
For the overwhelming majority of my friends and family no amount of exposure to graphic videos, cute rescue stories, scientific evidence of animal sentience, links to health reports, pleas to watch Cowspiracy, exposure to vegan food options, or even desperate attempts to walk them through their own cognitive dissonance made any difference at all. Most of my friends and family, whom I dearly love, still pay others to torture and murder animals and then consume their dead flesh.
It is hard to blame those who are unaware for their actions. After all, almost every vegan once ate animals too. However, after hearing my arguments for a year, no one in my family or on my friends list can claim ignorance. These are the people who break my heart every time I eat with them.
For any omnivores reading this, it may be hard to imagine what I am describing. Many people have said, and I’m sure will continue to say even after this article, that being vegan is a personal choice and people have a right to their own opinions. But your right to a personal choice ends when that choice is directly harming others. This is why in our society murder, assault, and rape are not considered “personal choices.” Because we recognize that your rights end where another’s begin.
Picture this: You are sitting down to dinner, ready to enjoy a nice meal with your friends and family. After fun conversation over some salad and bread, someone you love and respect walks in from the kitchen holding the burnt corpse of a toddler and proudly says, “Dinner’s ready! Who wants a slice?”
How would you feel in that moment? Would you feel sick to your stomach? Would you struggle to reconcile the vision you have of this person with the violence they have gleefully committed and expect you to participate in? Would it hurt you to realize your loved ones were capable of such violence? Would you refuse to sit at that table with those who were participating in the death of this child?
While this example may seem extreme to an omnivore, morally and logically there is no difference between eating a small child and a pig, cow, fish, or dog. All of these animals feel pain the same way, are unique individuals with their own thoughts and experiences, and even share similar levels of intelligence.
This is what I see every time I sit down to a meal with my friends and family. Those I love joyfully gorging on the murdered bodies of children. And it hurts me to know that they are capable of not caring. It truly breaks my heart to see, and it is damaging my relationships.
This is why I have decided to take The Liberation Pledge, a commitment to no longer sit at a table where corpses are being served.
While my love for my friends and family has not wavered, my ability to stomach the violence has reached its limit. This does not mean I don’t want to eat with you, it just means I need the table to be free from dead bodies (vegetarian*) to be able to. This also does not mean I do not value my time with you, it just means that if the meal can’t be at least vegetarian, we will need to find other things to do together.
To those friends and family who have already stopped eating animals, or have been willing to eat only vegan with me already, thank you. To those of you who have not yet made the change, I hope this does not impact our relationship. I look forward to enjoying many, many meatless meals with each and every one of you.
* A note on why I am choosing to draw the line at vegetarian tables –
I recognize that at a glance it can often be very hard to know what contains eggs, dairy, and honey. These products can hide in the least suspecting corners of our diets. I also recognize that for some, eating vegetarian for even one meal is a huge step. Eating vegan for some people may be too hard to incorporate without specific knowledge on vegan cooking options or an entirely new pantry. However, omitting meat from a meal is usually quite easy.
However, this does NOT mean I condone the eating of eggs, dairy, honey, or any other animal by-product. These products still contribute to the same system, and to the needless suffering of animals.