Gentle World’s Hawaii center is situated in an area where suburban living meets the farm. Along the street where we walk for our evening sunset, we pass goats, hens, roosters, horses, and even cows. These animals may seem happy enough, as their lives are far from the horrors of industrialized production. But, just like their factory-farmed cousins, they too are living a life of limited duration; a life that will be ended as soon as they are no longer considered useful.
One balmy summer evening, as I walked my usual route through our neighborhood, I strolled past a small, fenced-off meadow where I noticed three adorable young black cows. One of them gazed at me sweetly, as I approached carefully, reaching out to scratch him behind his ear.
His big eyes were black and beautiful, and his tongue, rough as sandpaper, curled out far to lick my hand. I fell in love with this beautiful creature. I was lost in his presence, touching and stroking him. Being close to such a tender animal was a wondrous experience.
I turned to the sound of a car door closing and noticed a friendly lady coming to feed her cows.
As she poured the grain into her troughs, I introduced myself and asked her if these were her beautiful cows. She replied:
“Yes, I’ve had these cows since they were babies. After I rescued them, I fed them bottles by hand and that’s why they are so warm towards people. Meet Black Friday, Milkshake and Girly,” she said.
I asked her if she was keeping them as companions, since they seemed well-loved and cared for. But much to my horror, she told me that they would eventually be sold and slaughtered for meat.
My heart sank.
How could she have raised these cows, who lick and look at you with innocent eyes, who have been given names, who recognize and walk towards you when you call their names, to then have them be taken and slaughtered, to be served as dinner?
I asked her this, and with a hint of guilt in her voice, she said:
“Yes I know, but that’s the way it is. My daughter says the same thing. She gets all upset and cries, ‘I don’t want to eat Girly!’”
I could sense the torn feelings her mother had towards the issue so I asked her what her response to her daughter was.
“Well, I tell her that God put animals on the earth for us to eat, and that’s just the way it is.”
This little girl, whose innocent compassion allows her to naturally feel connected with these animals, is being told that what she feels deeply is wrong and this so-called ‘God’ says that these animals are here for our consumption.
What kind of ‘God’ creates a world where humans are seen as superior to every other living being? What kind of a God creates human beings with feelings, who experience pain and suffering, who can love and who fight to survive, and gives them other beings to eat who also have feelings, who also love and also fight to survive?
As a relatively new vegan, I am still learning how best to express what I’ve learned about the oppression of animals, and how my transition to veganism has helped me in more ways than I can count. In retrospect, there was so much more that I could have said. But somehow I felt incredibly helpless, standing between these cows and their fate that had just been revealed to me. To not be able to do anything to save them made my throat tighten. I couldn’t even pull myself together to express what this woman needed to hear in the hope that she might change her mind. I was so confused as to how she could do this, especially having such a close relationship with them. To me it made my heart sick to realize how shut off really people are.
I did manage to gather some of my thoughts and express to her that her daughter had a really beautiful compassionate side, and that she should always encourage that side of her daughter and urge her to follow such feelings.
This idea of a ‘God’ that condemns animals as slaves for exploitation and to be used for our consumption is not the kind of god I want to believe in. To me the only real ‘God’ whispers to us through our highest feelings. It is our conscience that speaks loudly through our guilt and sorrow. It is the love we feel being close to any animal. It is the sorrow in the little girl’s cry for her beloved cow. I knew the woman could see the sadness in my eyes, and I recognized a sadness in hers too.
To this day I still walk my usual route and I still pass my friends. I stop to feed them, and touch them, and the reality of their situation still brings me so much grief. Being unable to do anything to change the fate of the animals around us is something I feel all the time, not just with these beautiful cows. Every time I pass a meadow filled with seemingly happy cows, sheep, goats and horses, I know that their fate awaits them. It’s a burden that stays with me. Although they seem to have a happy, free life out in those meadows, they too are heading down the path to being slaughtered.
I wish I could save them all. I wish there was a light switch I could just flick and the reality of it all would be gone.
But what I can do is to tell the truth to those who are willing to listen, to share it with those who want to make a change, and to inspire those who are moved to become vegan. For every new vegan is a new hope for a more peaceful world for all.