by Dylan Hammer
Almost every vegetable eater has a conversion story. There are some, like Bill Clinton, who take up a vegan lifestyle for improved health. There also are those who have embraced a vegan lifestyle out of concern for the environment alone. I know a person who became Buddhist and vegetarianism was an overall lifestyle change.
Making the change for health/diet, the environment, or a newly adopted religion seems, based on my own experience, to be less common than the conversion based on a concern for animals. The compassionate and moral basis arises from a disgust of cruelty, suffering, and unnecessary death. The conversion is usually achieved in steps and is the product of a great deal of thought, frequently attended by confusion. Support for this can be found in books and speeches by animal rights activists. For example, the director of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, described in his book, The Bond, his process of going from dog lover and having a general interest in animals to thinking seriously about the way humans treat animals and deciding not to eat them. Likewise, the head of the Farm Animal division of the HSUS, tells a similar story. Advocates for farm animals suggest that people stop thinking about their dogs and cats as being so different from other animals and start using their experience to understand that all animals have interests, are sociable, and can suffer. Unfortunately, even those who love dogs and cats do not sometimes hear that suggestion and go through life unwilling to consider the similarities between companion animals and other animals. Even once challenged to do so, the idea can be quite overwhelmingâ€”thinking about animals differently and giving up something that has been ingrained in us since childhood is not easy. Therefore, ignoring the cruelty becomes common and acceptable.
I was not able to turn the blind eye. I wondered about the notion that there was a â€ścontractâ€ť between domesticated animals and humans. I had to consider the established idea that humans raised, fed, and cared for farm animals and in exchange they gave us eggs, milk and wool. Initially, I envisioned a farm, not a factory. However, even imagining a mythical farm, I could not conclude that such a contract could include a term by which the animals would agree to die a fearful death so we could cut them up for dinner. I had to look into the matter further to realize that, even at its mythical best, animals were not getting their fair share of the bargain. In reality, the contract was a self-serving trick hiding the cruelty and suffering of factory farms and slaughterhouses. Yet, still somewhat unclear about the intellectual basis of my concern for nonhumans, I finally understood that I was not alone. Animal Liberation by Peter Singer turned the light on for me. That is my conversion story or at least the jumping off point.