Refusing to be enemies

The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. — Martin Luther King Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (1958)

VeehouderIt 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.”
*VeganI 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.