“It annoys me to no end: another vegan who gets sentimental about a cow that is going to be killed. Believe me, no one loves my animals more than I do. I work more than 100 hours a week just to stay afloat. That is not easy, because the supermarkets have us in a headlock. We get paid less and less for the milk and the meat.
The fact that animal products get bad publicity does not make things better. My grandfather and father have worked this land, and the last thing I want to do is give up our business.”
I have been vegan for a number of years now and it strikes me that on the internet, vegans often depict cattle farmers as the enemy. I don’t want to take part in that. A human being can never be my enemy, because the compassion that inspires me to be a vegan is not limited to animals.
In practice, this is more difficult than it may sound. I am convinced that keeping animals for our own purposes is a great injustice. This is not just an opinion, but something that I feel with every fiber of my being. It makes it difficult to have an attitude of love towards people who separate calves from their mother without their conscience playing up.
This attitude of love is only possible if we see people as persons, and do not dismiss each other like “all farmers are heartless,” or “another naive vegan.” Gandhi, who fought against the cruel regime of the British, wrote: “It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.” This distinction between the system and the people who work in it is crucial.
Our current food production system is based on the exploitation of the earth and animals. That system is my enemy, not the livestock farmers. This does not alter the fact that I hope that livestock farming will eventually fade out of existence. But I also hope that we can have a conversation about this.
The disconnect between consumers and food production is causing a lot of ignorance among vegans, and frustration among farmers. I want to try to really see the people who do not share my ideals, and understand their position. The fictional remarks from the farmer that started this post are a way to practise with this. I think it’s time for a dialogue between vegans and farmers. In a later post, I hope to share some topics that could be part of this conversation.
Some advice from Thich Nhat Hanh as a bonus:
When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight. When you see in yourself the wish that the other person stop suffering, that is a sign of real love. But be careful. Sometimes you may think that you are stronger than you actually are. To test your real strength, try going to the other person to listen and talk to him or her, and you will discover right away whether your loving compassion is real. You need the other person in order to test. If you just meditate on some abstract principle such as understanding or love, it may be just your imagination and not real understanding or real love.
- M.K. Gandhi, An autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth (book)
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life (book)
- I borrowed the title Refusing to be enemies from a book about non-violent resistance in Israël, with the subtitle: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation.