“I love my dog,” she said, squeezing the tiny bundle of fur and dropping her head to kiss him on the tip of his nose as he looked up at her with admiration. “He is my everything; I don’t know what I would do without him.” She then went on to gush about what an “animal lover” she is; “I’ve always had a special connection to animals,” she boasted.
I heard this snippet of a conversation recently while waiting for coffee. Many of us can connect with this woman’s love for her dog. I know I can; it is part of human nature to form deep bonds with who and what we put into our lives. Yet, I scoffed to myself and felt the deep pang of exasperation I so often feel. Don’t get me wrong, I did not doubt that she loved her dog and provided him with a good life. And I am sure she truly believed she was an animal lover. But what about the coyote who previously wore the fur that now trimmed the hood of her coat? What about the chicken she was eating? What about the cow whose baby was killed for veal and never had the chance to drink the milk she stirred into her coffee? Did this “animal lover” ever stop to think about them?
So where did her love for animals end – or, more specifically: where did the disconnect begin?
I was not always vegan and I viewed the world with much of the same detachment that is so unbelievably ubiquitous. I often ask myself how I ever ate and used animals, blindly contributing to their confinement; torture; and murder, before realizing that I could – no, that I should, that I had to – align my values with all my actions. Doting on my cats, my neighbor’s dog, my friends’ rabbits and hamsters, and occasionally donating to an animal shelter surely helped a select few animals live better lives, but what about the tens of billions each year who are slaughtered for food, clothing, and accessories? How could I turn a blind eye to their pain and suffering?
Animal abuse and exploitation is so prevalent that we are desensitized to it – the leather couches, chairs, and car interiors; the body parts in restaurants and grocery stores; the commercials and advertisements depicting animals as food and clothing; and cosmetics and household cleaning agents tested on animals. Their suffering is literally everywhere. The heinous ways these animals are kept would be crimes if subjected to cats and dogs; yet the anguish of other animals – chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, animals detained in zoos, circuses, and aquariums, and those used in experiments are conveniently hidden outside of our peripheral view and away from our moral compass.
Coming to terms with how we treat animals is an awakening, believe me. In fact, this disconnect, or dissonance is so prevalent it has a name: carnism. Coined by Dr. Melanie Joy, carnism refers to the “invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals.” It’s why we, in Dr. Joy’s words, “love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows.” We are conditioned to believe that some animals are simply meant to be used and discarded despite their will to live, ability to form bonds, experience joy, and feel pain no differently than a cat, dog, or human child.
How does that make you feel? If you’re anything like me, the very idea of carnism makes you feel ashamed; it makes you angry that we, as a society, are disconnected from certain animals because we were made to believe that using, abusing, and slaughtering them is normal. It’s not; it should never be – especially when we now have the ability and capacity to use synthetic materials, eat plant-based foods, and utilize products not tested on animals.
So consider this a call to action.
I challenge you to change the norm, to realize that animals are here with us not for us, and that taking away their freedom and lives is not only unjust, it actually strips us of our virtues. Be a catalyst for change and align your actions with your words and values. It may not be easy to come to terms with the pain you have caused; however, the journey to a compassionate vegan lifestyle is well worth it, for dissonance causes violence and inner turmoil but kindness and compassion bring peace.
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