The sun had just risen as we took our morning walk, before starting our day in the garden. With rolling hills forming the backdrop to a beautiful summer day, we walked through the quiet countryside of the Big Island of Hawaii, eventually finding ourselves on a cul-de-sac with guavas dangling from the trees.
We had just begun to pick a few guavas when we heard loud grunting from the other side of the fence. As we walked over, we looked under the grove of trees to see where the noise was coming from. A cow with swollen udders stared at us intently through sad, bloodshot eyes. She ignored our offering of guava and continued to make distressed sounds. It seemed like a desperate, angry, “Please. Do something.”
With a fence separating us from her, we didn’t know what to do. She walked away frustrated, apparently used to being ignored. We were curious what she was so upset about. My friend expressed that she wished she could ask the cow’s owner some questions, when lo and behold, a group of three women approached.
One of the women said the cow was hers. Since my two friends and I are vegan, we had some questions:
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Oh, she just gave birth to some calves,” the woman said.
“Where are the calves?” one of us asked.
“One of them is on the field with her somewhere,” she replied.
“What do you do with the male calves?”
She immediately seemed uncomfortable and looked away for a moment. She knew there was nothing else she could say.
“We slaughter them.”
We stared at her intently for several moments, not knowing quite what to say. As if she knew the conversation was over, she told us to have a nice day and walked away.
To passersby, these “happy farms” present an illusion of beauty and relative freedom. But the fact is that they still rape their female cows through artificial insemination, kidnap the males at birth and then kill those calves to be chopped up and sold as veal. This goes on so that we can drink the milk that the mother cow produces for babies who never get to drink from their mothers or, in the case of the males, even grow up at all.
When I was 13, I went vegetarian, and my diet for several years from the point forward was heavy on the dairy – lots of cheese, milk, cookies and ice cream. I vowed to never become a vegan, claiming it was much too extreme and I would never be prepared to give up those foods I grew up with. Plus, no animals die for dairy. Or so I thought.
The reality I eventually discovered is that the kidnapping and slaughter of newly born calves is just one ugly truth about the dairy industry. When I was 20, I allowed myself to face what I had been avoiding for all those years. I had fooled myself into believing that being a vegetarian was “enough.”
What I have learned since then is that veganism is not about how little or how much I loved eating meat or dairy, or how attached I might have once felt to my leather shoes, or my wool sweater. It’s not about me at all! It’s about the mothers, fathers, babies, brothers and sisters who suffer for those who choose to use and purchase animal products.
Going vegan is about seeking and facing the truth in a world of lies. Going vegan is about you reclaiming your power to minimize your contribution to unnecessary suffering. There is nothing that feels better than being empowered to live a life in alignment with your values and beliefs, that also contributes to the healing of our environmental and spiritual crises. And in the end, what more is there to living a happy life than feeling good about the life you’re living?
We may not always be able to cross the fences and save the animals pleading for our help, but the least we can do is hold ourselves accountable for how much or how little we perpetuate an archaic system of violence. We can place ourselves on the right side of history not because it’s our choice, but because it’s our responsibility.