I don’t remember much of my childhood. As a writer, I feel it would be hard for me to write for children, because I really don’t remember being one all that well, but there are certain major things I do recall, which I’m sure have aided in my development as an adult, one of which was something I saw on television.
I had a tiny television in my bedroom. I must have been around six or seven, and it must have been a major thing for my parents to allow me to have one, as I wasn’t really supposed to turn it on after a certain time in the evening. But I did, and something shocked me.
There on my television, was what I assume now to have been a documentary on a modern-day tribe somewhere exotic, I have no idea really where. There was one thing however that to this day, I have never been able to shake from my memory, that of a sheep, it’s legs and forelegs bound, the thing very much alive and carried to an alter of some sort.
A tribesman, if that is the correct name for them, took a sword, or knife (it was large in my eyes) and he slowly pressed the the tip of the blade into the sheep’s stomach. Several things happened on screen – the sheep screamed, blood gushed, it’s body writhed horrifically, and the tribespeople witnessing the thing cheered in delight.
As a child, it was something I had never been exposed to. I was used to watching cartoons of course, but as I saw what I saw on that tiny televison in my bedroom, I had no choice but to see the whole thing, before I fumbled for the off button, fearful of being so near to the screen. Unable to process what I had seen, I vomited, not out of disgust, but from sheer exposure of a theme I was happily ignorant of.
I cried and cried, and told my mother everything, not about the vomiting though, I was too embarrassed about that. But the more I think about it, I’m sure that little piece of evidence on the world was the first part of my transition. In the vegan/ vegetarian community, there is a saying: “…there’s a reason you take your kid’s to pick apples…” and it’s true, I’m sure most parents would rather keep their children away from such realities as animal slaughter.
I believe it was good thing however, that I saw what I saw. Had I not been exposed to such a sight, regardless of whether it was safely kept behind a sheet of glass and pixels, I have to wonder if my perception of veganism would have been enforced or not. I, as a most likely vulnerable child, saw something an adult would have been able to process much more successfully. I was, for want of a better word, indoctrinated, at least partially.
During high school, something happened, which again, I will never be able to rid my memory of. Our school was located rurally, and one day, I can only presume a farmer had lost control of his livestock, only for a cow to find its merry way onto our playground. We had all seen cows of course, but when one ventures onto your grass-less patch, it makes for awe inspired gawks.
Though there will always be one who must take it that one step further. A known trouble maker, a boy two years below me took it upon himself to glamorise the spectacle, and so used the already present lunch-break student crowd to be witness to his antics. First it was the tree branch in the anus, then a stone to the eyeball. How the cow had never back-kicked his brains out I shall never know.
It was only after he had garnered the attention of his cronies to assist in the “tipping”, had he kicked the cow’s head in. Today the guilt of not informing a teacher sooner still scars me. It was only a rumour the cow had died, though from the countless pigeons you see it happen to now and then, I must admit I did believe the rumours.
I had not become vegetarian until I was at least sixteen, and vegan until I was at least eighteen or nineteen, a long while from the age of six. But that had never stopped the nagging I had in my mind. I would eat meat, but I must admit, I wasn’t a true fan of it. I was mostly into processed meats: sausages, burgers, ham, salami ect, and never had much enthusiasm for chicken breasts or steaks. It never bothered me, but I digress.
Regardless of whether meat tastes good or not is for another topic entirely. Eating meat was something I – not had to morally decide upon – but left me with a certain unpleasantness. I suppose it was the remnants of my subconscious, informing me of what I was eating. It was difficult to shake off.
Another major moment in my discovery or transition, had to have been when I got my first job. I was sixteen and had just acquired a position at a major department store. I was placed on the Home Department. Not at all exciting for a teenager, but needs must, and if I were to buy myself a PS3 I indeed needed to work for it.
It happened a few times, and every time I said it, I was sure the joke was indeed out of taste, but never to the customer for some reason. The joke was made as though I were protecting myself from showing my true feelings. “Why is the goose down duvet more expensive that the duck down duvet?” the customer would ask. Perhaps it was due to my deplorable knowledge or desire to work there, but all I could use as an answer was: “I’m afraid I don’t know. Perhaps the ducks, unlike the geese, make less of fuss when you pluck them?” I would only laugh with them, as I didn’t want to look odd if I didn’t.
My second job was for a cosmetics house. Not only did I hate every minute of it, but I had later discovered my employer was indeed an animal tester. I was shocked. Truthfully I was. I had been led to believe that animal testing was a thing of the past, like wearing fur (though even that I found out was still ever so popular.)
What could I do? I had worked my way into a somewhat well-paying job, only to find out I was contributing to the distribution and popularity of a moral scam. Not only that, but I was in fact the only one who brought it to anyone’s attention. “They all do it!” they’d tell me. “It’s only in China they animal test our products,” some would say. But as my knowledge on animal testing grew, including the practaces implemented, I knew I had to make a change.
If I couldn’t leave my job, I would at least evaluate the difference I could make. I did my research, and the truth was enlightening, though a little overwhelming. I would sit at my computer and watch what I had vowed to never watch again at the age of six, though now instead of tribespeople, it was a first world, committing practices I perceived to be archaic.
My life had to change. Not just in diet, but in lifestyle. And there is something many people always ask me: “Isn’t it hard being vegan?” And I must answer truthfully. “No.” I would say. And I truly mean it, because nothing to me is as hard as knowing deep down I was contributing to a world I knew I didn’t agree with. Now I’m morally free, at least in part, and at least in my own view.
If there’s anything that is hard about it, it’s seeing those who don’t agree with you. Believe me, as much as I don’t want to admit it, I still burn when I see fur on a hood trim, or a McDonald’s advert on my telly. But I must remind myself, they never saw that sheep stabbed to death as a child. Or maybe they did, and I was fortunate enough to care.
I have always been an animal lover. I’ve always grown up with pets, and I have always been inspired by the natural world. But now I love them more so. Animals are incredible things, and my journey, although sporadic, has made me an observer, not a consumer, and I couldn’t be happier.