I was 15 years old when my father and I moved in with my auntie, uncle and three cousins. We lived in a nice home rented to us by the owners of a poultry farm in Australia, and the house happened to be built along side the farm itself. My auntie, uncle and even my cousins all worked on the farm. And on weekends, when I wasn’t attending school, I would make my pocket money collecting eggs.
Every Sunday I felt uneasy, as I waited in dread for the morning to break. As I put my boots on and walked through those gates, I knew I would be spending hours walking the aisles of misery and torture. My stomach tightened, as I was repulsed by every aspect of this job. My nostrils stung at the smell of ammonia, and my chest burned with the thick dense air that was filled with suffering and death. Even the dingy, miserable light made it feel as if I was in hell. These were the gloomiest hours of my week.
Every time I walked into the sheds, I would see thousands of trapped chickens, featherless and raw with wounds. Their claws were so badly deformed and twisted that they could barely stand. Being in confinement for all of their lives would drive them insane, until eventually they would turn on each other. They became crazed savages, with the weak preying upon the weaker. If any of them managed to escape, they were caught and killed.
I remember being asked if I wanted to see where the baby chickens were kept. I was so excited, painting a picture in my mind of being surrounded by cute, fluffy, baby chicks dancing around my feet. But I was stunned as we stepped into the room. The manager’s boots crushed their tiny bodies as he callously walked through the crowded blanket of chicks along the floor. This was my saddest moment. I remember seeing one of the chicks lying dead on the ground, after being trampled.
I felt so angry looking at the lifeless body of that adorable chicken that was moments ago a living animal, but I swallowed that anger. I never knew I needed to express it, and even if I did, how could I question what was considered a normal part of life by all the adults I knew? But I’ll never forget the guilty cringe through my body and the deep sadness I felt at these animals’ lives being thoughtlessly taken from them.
Surrounded by unaware people, I denied my true feelings, and didn’t even realize I was burying them deep inside, where they never really had to be looked at in the light. People wandered around, and I with them, seemingly unaffected by their surroundings, as if we were sleep walking, numbed to the reality that surrounded us. The unrelenting horror of enslaving those chickens the way we did was business as usual, just the way it was, and none of us felt the least bit empowered to do anything to change it.
Not one person, not a single one, showed any remorse, showed any pity or even seemed to notice how terrible the conditions were, although now I realize, in retrospect, that they must have experienced the same pain and guilt in their stomachs as I did in mine; and buried it just as deeply in their psyches. There we were, shuffling along like zombies, turning two blind eyes to the shocking reality that went on (and still does) every single day in the world of animal slavery.
Since becoming vegan, this experience keeps returning to my thoughts. The anger, guilt and sadness that I once buried deep inside have now resurfaced along with the question: How could I and so many others have been so blind to such a blatant truth? Why wasn’t there one person, in the midst of the horrors I witnessed, even hinting at the possibility that what we were doing was wrong?
Being vegan has empowered me with the knowledge that we do have a choice in helping to end the horrific cruelty that is inflicted on animals. Although no one told me back then, I now know that we all have that power within us.
My hope in telling this story is to awaken in others the compassionate heart we all share that knows, even as we pretend not to know, that cruelty toward anyone is absolutely wrong. It is my hope that, as the truth of animal exploitation continues to become better known, we will all find it easier to reconnect with our empathy for the victims, whose suffering we block out and bury deep inside.
When I became vegan, I was able to recognize and then act upon my individual feelings of sadness and guilt that have long added to the collective unconsciousness. For me, as I believe it is for everyone, veganism is a vital step in our evolution toward a more conscientious humanity.