I couldn’t get to sleep the other evening so searching online for a few vegan sources, I came upon an article written by blog/podcaster and author/speaker Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. She calls herself, “The Joyful Vegan!” I like it. Listening to her speak concerning the recent shooting death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, she reflected on the world outcry against the Minnesota dentist who shot it as a trophy to be hung in his office, an office which I understand is now at least temporarily closed. Colleen questioned why the large out cry was created for Cecil and yet not for millions of others animals which are killed each day for consumption. Her answer; Cecil had a name and apparently had even become an international celebrity.
I have pondered the idea since. As Colleen continued, when we name or know the name of a person, a sense of personal respect arises in our minds. This applies to humans as well as to animals. When people go to war against others, as happens every day, opponents are dehumanized and demonized into dispensable beings. Yet even when we discover people among the “enemies” who have similar histories and aspirations, we can learn their names and attitudes change. Some of us remember the movie, “Joyeux Noel” in which WW I German and enemy French and English troops called a Christmas truce to celebrate Christmas before insanely resuming killing each other! As friends for a few hours, they broke bread and sang carols. As enemies, they hated and “unnamed” each other. Think of people you may not like or even want to be around. We portray them as “different, odd, weird, or crazy” which if you reflect, dehumanizes and denigrates us and them. Human races have been demonized in history as just “animals,” sub humans fit for nothing but slavery or worse. Tribes of aborigines were slaughtered as evil Satanic worshippers and subhuman.
One of my reasons for becoming vegan is having grown up on a farm, we consumed mostly our own slaughtered animals for meat. I remember cringing and feeling pity and sadness in seeing a favorite chicken or beef slaughtered so we could live. Normally dad shot a wild deer each year which helped but the deer was seen as “wild” and unknown. Now when I think of the millions of animals slaughtered each day for human consumption, I realize we think of them as just “animals” with no personality, feelings or even intelligence. On the other side, if we had one of them for a pet we would soon discover their intelligence, feelings, personality, loyalty and love. As a young boy, dad gave my brother and me calves to raise. We named them “Sweetheart” and “Wrinkles” because of their obvious characteristics. When we returned from college my first year, both had been sent to the slaughter house. I felt sad.
I try not to shame people into becoming vegan but encourage them to consider the alternative which can be a step, however small, toward the time when a much deeper respect might be prevalent for all sentient beings. Evidence is strong that human beings can live quite well without killing and eating nameless animals. Even if people choose to eat some animal flesh and secretions, it ought to be done with a deep sense of reverence and respect, much as in the tradition of our Native Americans.
A friend of mine lives in Alaska and often hunts caribou for his yearly meat. Having been deeply influenced by time with Native Americans, each kill is followed by a sense of thankfulness and respect for the sacrifice given. Native Americans lived for centuries with balance within nature, using plant and animal life as human resources with deep respect for the sacredness in each being or plant. They continued the balance until invasions by Christian Europeans slaughtered both Natives and animals as a way to clear land for new settlements. Large herds of Buffalo were slaughtered to simply deprive Natives of clothing and shelter as well as nutrition.
In a world which presently loses around 65 species each day to over-consumption and slaughters millions of nameless animals each day for food, I believe we can become more aware of what we are killing and consuming. If we desire to live with compassion and reverence for each other, let us expand it to include all living creatures. As physical, organic beings, we are all part of this earth walk on a small mortal planet until we leave and join together in what is called “The Great Spirit.”
Think of the millions of nameless animals and humans in our fragile ecosystem as fellow pilgrims and companions. Think of them with respect and reverence. See the masses of poor as children and adults with names and feelings. Recognize all animals, pets and otherwise, as beings with personalities and feelings much as you and I enjoy. It helps connect us to those now living and even to the yet unborn. Once we think of lions, tigers, cows, bears, all races and living creatures as having names, perhaps we can grow more gentle and reverent in our respect and care. Cecils, Sweethearts, and Wrinkles are everywhere and they are us. As the sign on the car reads, “I don’t eat animals because of love them!”