This is a blog post for those of us who get very concerned and upset by the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, cosmetics and more. You may already be vegan, you may be working towards veganism or you may just be interested in veganism and open to discussions around it. Whatever your point on the journey I am thinking if you are reading this then like me, you too struggle coping with learning about the way animals are used by humans and what to do about it.
I am going to write a separate post on how I cope with learning about animal exploitation but one of the ways I do is to think about how I can empower animals. So this post is about that. Doing these things, and thinking about these things helps me to feel like I am making some difference to animals, even if it seems far off from solving the problem altogether.
So here we go..
1. Being vegan. Firstly I take comfort in knowing that because I have learnt about the cruel treatment of animals and I’ve opened my heart to them, learnt about how they love their babies, have life long friendships etc, that I have put myself in a place where I can remove animal products from my life. (animal meat, fish, dairy and eggs as well as ensuring my household products and cosmetics are both vegan and cruelty free) I am one less person in the world involved in their suffering. It’s a step towards the dream of total liberation, and it’s all because I opened my mind to something new and turned away from the status quo. A very difficult and often painful thing to do. That makes me feel strong, and capable and compassionate. And a mix of strength and compassion are I think, the most powerful and inspiring emotions to create within yourself to make changes happen that benefit others. You also set an example to others who may be considering veganism.
2. Respect and care for our environment alongside being vegan. Being vegan doesn’t mean you live a fully cruelty free life, nor is it possible in this non vegan, capitalist world. There’s even more we can do for animals. We can where possible, opt for locally grown, organic produce. We can buy from local businesses that care about the supply chain, who think of the food supply picture more holistically than a supermarket might. We can consider where our almonds are coming from, our soy products, cashews, palm oil, avocados. You can also grow your own organic fruit and veg, if you have the outdoor space or access to an allotment. I say all this of course coming from a place of privilege where I don’t live in food apartheid, have a little financial stability to afford food outside of a supermarket and have access to green space. Many don’t and I fully appreciate that. My point is that there is so much we can do regarding our lifestyle on top of being vegan that helps animals by reducing our carbon footprint. E.g opting for cleaner energy, flying less, reducing plastic, growing wildflowers, feeding birds etc etc.
3. Take a consistent anti oppression approach to veganism. Consider the intersectional nature of all oppressions and that non are free unless all are free. I’m sure many of us aren’t able to become experts in every single type of oppression but we can become aware and do what we can to become more anti racist, more aware of the oppression facing LGBTQ+, those with disabilities and more. I spoke about this a little more in this blog post and shared more resources here. I would strongly recommend reading Aphro-Ism by Aph and Syl Ko. We are stronger together and when we deny the intersectional nature of other groups oppressions and only focus on animals we do animals an injustice. When we work together we not only learn from the success of other movements but encourage more people to see the intersections who may move towards veganism too.
4. Visit and support animal sanctuaries. When you visit them you tend to spend money which will hopefully go towards the animals care. You also get to see animals living in safe environments, free as much as is possible from human interference. They are places where animals can live out their lives in peace and therefore you will get to witness the exhibit of their natural behaviours. Sanctuary staff will often tell you about each animals personality, their likes and dislikes, their friendships. You get to watch humans connect with animals as individual beings rather than commodities for our use and consumption. You get to see the helpers, those that dedicate their lives to help animals, it helps you feel valid in your feelings about animal exploitation, instead of gas lighted into believing your views are extreme. It can be so beneficial for your mental health to be with animals and to fill your mind with visuals of happy animals, with whole warm bodies and beating hearts. For me personally, seeing animals living a natural life and seeing their individual quirks and fancies fuels me into action from a place of grounded strength to want to protect them instead of from a place of anxiety and desperation from seeing too many graphic images of suffering animals. It places them into a place of reverence and awe, rather than just the voiceless suffering.
5. Don’t be a saviour. It can be so easy to fall into believing you are an animals saviour. And I get it, I have definitely thought like that too in the past. And we do have a responsibility to protect animals because animals rights are not protected now. But we must also work out what animals give us or risk perpetuating the status quo belief that we are above animals in our imagined hierarchy. For myself, being with an animal, or watching from a distance, or just knowing about their uninterrupted lifestyle gives me so much joy and contentment. My nervous system calms, my heart grows and I feel really happy. Anyone who has the pleasure of living with an animal will tell you so. The dog I am fortunate to live with ‘Denny’ is a ‘rescue dog’, but sometimes I wonder who rescued who. So take a moment to recognise how you feel in their presence.. Do you feel calmer, more compassionate, more peaceful?
6. Watch your language. This is something I have only realised this year. Language is so important. Notice if you use the word ‘it’ to describe an animal. Use for example mother cow/she/he/their baby, when talking about animals with others. Avoid derogatory language like ‘pig’ to describe the police or an over eater, ‘cow’ to describe the size of a person, ‘sheep’ as followers of societies rules, ‘chicken’ as someone lacking bravery, ‘fox’ as someone sexually desirable. You get my drift. Using animals in derogatory language just adds to the incorrect assumption that we are above them in superiority and can therefore do what we want with them.
7. Spend some time enjoying what I imagine animals enjoy.. (not forgetting their enjoyment of being with their friends and family of which animals make life long companions). Tread barefoot on the grass, lie in the sun, breathe in the fresh air, enjoy the open space around you. Imagine cool river water on your tongue. Wake to the sun rising and settle as it sets. Bask in the moonlight and wait for the morning call of the birds. Ignite in you the joy of a life uninterrupted by humans. Imagine more animals living a life like that and let that propel you forwards.
8. I’m sure there is something I want to say about talking about veganism with others somewhere in my brain but can’t say I’ve knowingly had much success unless someone has contacted me giving me the impression they are open and interested, in which case the conversation has always been fruitful. I wish I could tell you the best way to speak to non vegans about veganism but I think it is such an individual thing.. for example I cannot cope with the many animal rights organisations that share images of animals suffering. That doesn’t mean I think there’s anything wrong with it – it probably works well for many people. What worked for me was seeing others around me managing veganism with ease, veganism becoming more mainstream around me, and a deep inner knowing that I was doing something I didn’t want to do, something that felt deeply wrong. When I finally acknowledged that and had the support around me to go vegan it was fairly easy to transition. I don’t have many non vegan friends who would bring up a discussion of veganism with me but when they occasionally do and ask for help I help them as best I can by sending them links to vegan nutrition info, my fav chefs, my fav instagramers and encourage them to go at an intentional yet comfortable pace. When you first learn about animal farming cruelty you want to scream into the streets at the injustices being ignored by most around you but that has never gone down well in my circle :/ . I do also however think it is important to have boundaries with those who believe you extreme and not engaging with that. It’s a waste of your time, they’re likely not in a place where you can have a discussion, and you’ll leave feeling frustrated and exhausted. So in conclusion I guess your approach to others has to be authentic to you. Maybe some days you will want to share a particularly thought provoking Instagram post, others you might want to point out to your partner exactly what that chicken went through to end up on their plate, maybe others you’ll just want to pet your dog and make a delicious vegan meal and share it with your family or friends. I’m not sure there is a right way to promote veganism, you’ve just got to be yourself.
I hope this was helpful,