‘I’d seen behind the curtain and the horror that was there could not be unseen’

Everyday Vegans
A series in which ordinary people talk about living a plant-based life

Bardo Burner co-editor Karen_WY had been a vegetarian since she was a kid and always saw veganism as the logical next step. It took a while before she took it but there has been no turning back

Everyday Vegan: Karen

I’m a middle-aged primary school teacher, living in London, and I’ve been vegan for almost six years. Turning vegetarian was a split-second decision for me when I was a kid. I watched an afternoon TV show in my early teens, and for the first time I really linked animals to meat. I think they were cows and the programme was nothing to do with animal cruelty, just a show about farms. But something clicked. And when that happens, you really can’t go back.

It was the same with veganism. Inherently I knew that vegetarian was just a first step. I had tried vegan diets from my early 30s, but that click didn’t happen. Maybe I avoided really seeking out the truth, or maybe I just wasn’t ready. For me it was cows again, and the film Cowspiracy was when the connection between the meat industry – which I abhorred – and dairy became clear. I watched it one evening with my husband, and though I had decided I’d eat all the cheese and eggs in the house before ‘turning’, the cognitive dissonance that would have required had vanished. I’d seen behind the curtain and the horror that was there could not be unseen.

For months I was stunned. I was unforgiving. I couldn’t believe that other people didn’t make the connection, despite having been such a person just days earlier. Supermarket trips saw me wandering around in shock. Partly this was a daze at the monstrosity I now felt anything containing eggs and dairy to be. But mostly I was cross. I couldn’t believe how pervasive the dairy industry had become. Milk and its by-products were everywhere. I felt alienated from a society that was routinely treating my fellow creatures as a commodity, with suffering and torture being the fate of almost all animals normally considered livestock.

Everyday Vegan: KarenI went on the second Surge march by myself, and spoke to no one in any depth, but I felt part of it. I listened to Earthling Ed’s  speech calling on us all to do something, and left to begin this blog. A small puff into the ether of cyberspace, but this was the form of activism I felt most useful for me. I think I’ve been a calm and reasonable voice of veganism. I try to remember how deftly I avoided the steps I needed to take to stop using animal products myself and for how long. I’ve been to all the Surge marches since and would have gone again this August too if it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic.

My initial anger and alienation abated over time. I am as passionately vegan today as ever and that’s not changing. I avoid looking at too many images and videos of the absolute cruelty of the meat and dairy industry anymore, because I know what happens behind the scenes, and that truth stays with me.

I began the Everyday Vegans column because, though I understand the place from which more extreme animal rights activists come, I feel like those of us who live a more mainstream life aside from our veganism need to be seen. If we, who come from across the world in all ages, shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, can open our eyes and change, anyone can. My hope would be that as more people look into the eyes of animals and recognise what they see there as incredibly familiar, future generations will evolve to a point where they look back at this time and the way we treated other earthlings with complete incredulity.

If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in our Everyday Vegans slot, please get in touch and we’ll let you know what to do.

12,000 march in London to highlight cruelty – and environmental destruction – of industrial farming

Did your food scream?

I’m not a great one for being in a crowd; not much of a “joiner”, full stop. And yet yesterday I happily found myself joining the 12,000-odd vegans walking through London for this year’s Animal Rights March.

I went along out of interest, as a way of getting out of my comfort zone, and ended up loving it. It felt like the right thing to do, being part of this big transient community made up of people from many walks of life but with this one thing in common: a desire to end the industrial-scale slaughter of sentient beings to satisfy the taste buds of people socialised to believe that the flesh and secretions of animals are essential to their health.

But what’s the point of a march like this? It’s not as if the government and its paymasters in the highly subsidised agriculture industry are going to say, yes, of course, it’s madness, how could we not see, let’s stop it. And it’s not as if people are going to turn vegan en masse. This is a long haul.

Animal Rights March London 2019

The point is simply to highlight the cruelty of the meat and dairy industries in public, demonstrating in our thousands that this vegan thing is not some trendy, passing bullshit peddled by an irrelevant minority of hipsters and freaks.

We march down the streets of the city centre, a colourful, noisy spectacle, from toddlers to the very old, and people on the pavements whip their phones out and film and take photos and wonder what the hell’s going on. Some mock, but not many. And some appear to be discussing what they see.

And if just one of those people is inspired to find out a little more about why a few thousand get off their backsides on a Saturday afternoon to call for an end to the barbarism of industrial farming, and perhaps even ends up living a plant-based life, I’d say that’s enough, job done.

Animal Rights March London 2019, Trafalgar Square

But I suspect the seed gets planted in more than just one mind. I certainly hope so. Because this is not just about cruelty and the hope of a more compassionate world. It’s increasingly about our ravaged planet; the big business of industrial farming is making a significant contribution to global warming, and giving up meat and dairy is one of the easiest ways to help do something about that, if only it could be done on a large enough scale.

So yes, for this natural loner, helping to plant maybe one little mind seed is a good enough reason to get up and join in for a change.

If you’re not a vegan, I’d encourage you to investigate a bit. Maybe check out this article  and Google out from it, exploring some of the questions it might provoke in you. The films Cowspiracy (it costs a small amount to download but is available on Netflix if you use that service) and Dominion (free to stream) are also worth a watch, as is this five-minute look at the dairy industry.

Animal Rights March London 2019, Trafalgar Square

Of course, for all the pro-vegan information out there, you’ll find plenty from the other side, particularly with the well-funded meat and dairy industries feeling beleaguered with the growth of veganism and fighting for their lives. Consider it all. Absorb lots of information. And most of all, think for yourself as you assess it.

If you have pets, it’s interesting to meditate on what the difference between a dog, say, and a cow is. It’s hard to break free from the cultural programming to which each of us is subjected from birth on, but there’s a certain liberation to be had in at least trying.

And even if you end up dismissing veganism, no worries. The most important thing is that you base your decision on consideration of facts, not simply what you’ve been brought up to believe.

Animal Rights March London 2019

If you’re interested in participating in direct action, the next wave of climate-change protests in London will involve a blockade of the UK’s largest meat market; more information here.