This week someone found my blog by searching, “How going vegan can change your life.” Now, I’ve never made a specific post about that topic, but immediately I knew that I must. Going vegan has affected nearly every facet of how I live. So for the next few posts I’ll be exploring this question. If that person comes back, here are my answers…
Doctors say that having an enlarged heart is not a good thing. And while a plant-based diet is a very heart healthy one, going vegan has made my heart grow…
Okay, so I was hardly a Grinch before I went vegan, but I will say that since I adopted a wholly plant-based diet and said sayonara to silk, leather, and wool, my heart has grown at least three sizes. (Have I gained the strength of ten grinches plus two? Well, at least 9.) When people find out that I’m vegan, they have all sorts of ideas about why I chose this lifestyle. An acquaintance recently inferred that I went vegan because I lived in California. While the restaurants and grocery stores in California certainly make it an enviable place for a vegan to live, when I trace my steps back to that initial compassion, it goes much further than my first 91201 address.
I went vegan because of a compassion that has always lived in me. It’s an extension of who I’ve always been. Just as all of us hate to see others in pain, just as all of us hate to see suffering – going vegan and eschewing foods that are entrenched in the pain of others was a return to my deeper, more authentic self. The ways that we mistreat animals and/or become numb to their suffering are learned. I abhor violence, especially against those who are powerless. (Even movies with violence towards the disempowered are too much for me.) At its most basic, that is veganism – it’s a way of removing myself from that violence and that suffering.
Since I adopted a plant-based diet, I feel a deep sense of awe around animals. I appreciate them so much more now. I recently spent six months living in a cabin on a river, and I was able to watch eagles soar, titmouse and cardinals gather seed at the bird feeder, ducks and geese swim in the river, and deer frolic with their families.
From my living room window, I got a peek into their lives, their unimaginable beauty, and the ease at which they do things I can only imagine. The eagles did victory laps around the river. The ducks traveled in packs, and the titmouse moved like little animated characters – hopping so quickly in the snow they almost seemed robotic. The deer carefully watched each other, aware of who was moving and who was staying, who noticed a sound that made them uneasy. I was an outsider witnessing their lives, and it made me feel like I was one small part of this puzzle that is our world. To see their beauty, how they live their lives and how humans are so seemingly insignificant within those lives, was such a gift.
One day I heard a thud at my window, I went outside and saw a tiny goldfinch laying on her back with her feet stuck straight up in the air. I was instantly worried that she’d died. I went to her, gently turned her onto her belly, and stared at her intently, willing her to move. She quivered. She shook. She twitched. I petted her as gently as I could manage – just one finger on her tiny body. I stayed with her for a couple of hours outside. As time progressed, she was able to fly – at first just a short distance, then further, then further, until she went to a tree. Those quiet moments with her – a bird I nicknamed Tiny – were so precious to me. Obviously, I could have and would have cared about Tiny, even if I hadn’t been vegetarian. But somehow, choosing a diet of non-violence makes me feel an interconnectedness that I didn’t know before.
That is why visiting animal sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California is such a profound experience. Spending time with animals who have suffered at the hands of humans and who have then come to forgive and trust again is an honor. To sit with them and know the pain they experienced while they currently live in a place of beauty, a place without fear, feels like there is some justice in this world.
I stood next to a steer named Mario – so tall, so commanding in presence. I felt his gentleness with me, his yearning to be loved as he nudged into me to pet him, much like a dog would nuzzle against an arm, and I felt a deep humbleness to be so small next to him.
Mario’s mother was a dairy cow. He was born at a dairy farm but left on top of a stack of corpses, because he had an injured leg. Also, male calves are worthless to the dairy industry, because they cannot be impregnated and then used for their milk. Mario, who weighed only 45 pounds, was left to die until the driver of the rendering truck, who was there to pick up the bodies of other animals, found him and took him to Farm Sanctuary. To have suffered so much and then come through the other side to a place of beauty, a place of peace gives Mario a quiet grace about him, an almost palpable soulfulness. That soulfulness is apparent again and again at Farm Sanctuary. To be near the animals there and glean a moment of that quiet strength, to be uncluttered enough to witness it, is a blessing.
Just as the Grinch thought that if he took away the trappings of Christmas he could end the holiday for the WhoVians, the television-viewer learns that he had it all wrong. For the citizens of Whoville, the holiday was about the togetherness and the spirit of the season. In life, when we look at veganism it might seem like there is so much to lose – hamburgers, hot dogs, Grandma’s casserole… But what there is to gain at its most simple, at its most basic, is what we all want anyway. We all want to live our values. We all want to feel that we are making a difference. For me, kindness to animals (and what could be kinder than not eating them?), doing what I can to reduce suffering is a way for me to make a difference and live my values everyday.
The beginning of compassion is “compass.” It’s the way I find my direction.
Read more about marvelous Mario at Farm Sanctuary’s website or check out Gene Baur’s book Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food.