In the fall of a year that I can no longer clearly remember, a friend and I would head out once a week in search of the best, juiciest, cheesiest hamburgers our city had to offer. We sampled sandwiches from steak houses to trendy eateries to dimly-lit holes-in-the-wall. Sometimes we’d talk about her experience volunteering at an animal shelter where most of the workers were vegan. She felt a strong judgment from them – a feeling of elitism because they didn’t consume animal flesh or wear leather but she did. This feeling eventually led her to quit volunteering. As we bit into our dripping burgers, we’d puzzle and joke about their snobby behavior and ask, isn’t the most important thing that she was there, helping animals?! Did her choice of food really matter?
So. Now here I am. Many years later, a plant-eater volunteering at an animal shelter. The situation is reversed. I’m the lone vegan among omnivores.
Animal shelter volunteers and employees have my respect and admiration. They work long, hard hours in an often unpleasant, noisy and odiferous environment. Much of their day involves cleaning up blood, puke, piss and feces. They remember the names of each animal that has passed through their door and they hide tears of both joy and sadness when an especially beloved furry friend has been adopted and leaves for their (hopefully) forever home. They interface with the uncaring and the oblivious; the neglectful and the malicious. They minister to the sick and comfort the dying. They tenderly hold the cat that has been shot or the dog that has been set afire. They witness the handiwork of the ugliest and cruelest in man and they try to undo the damage.
And then they go home and throw a hotdog on the grill or carve into a roasted chicken.
This is the disconnect. This is where I was those many years ago when I knew that I loved animals, that I said I loved animals and yet my actions and my food choices belied that assertion. The animal shelter worker’s anger is raised when the abused or neglected cat or dog or bird or horse comes under their care. How could anyone hurt or kill these gentle creatures? And yet with the items they choose to put in their shopping cart, they are causing – condoning – the pain, suffering and death of other gentle creatures.
I attempt to be mindful of not being “one of those vegans.” The one who comes off as preachy, judgmental, superior – the one who seems to care for animal welfare above that of her own species. I am not that vegan. But I cannot return to the mindset of those hamburger-eating days of oblivion. If I love animals, if I respect that they have an equal place on this planet, than I cannot allow myself to knowingly cause their harm or death by consuming and using their flesh, their skin or their fur.