I can look at you

Franz Kafka, the German writer, once said, “Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.”

I feel the same way. I abhor cruelty and I’m overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. The non-stop murder of animals in slaughterhouses around the world is truly hard to fathom. Of course it upsets me. But I feel like I’m not part of that system.

Instead of contributing to cruelty, I’m working hard to help animals. I know I can never do enough, so I’m not writing this with superiority. I owe the animals an apology too. But I can look at them. I can acknowledge them. I feel peace knowing that, to paraphrase Leonardo Da Vinci and quote the slogan on the back of one of my Herbivore shirts, “my body is not a graveyard.”

I had a real-life experience of the sentiment behind the quote when I was at a farmers market this past spring with friends. I saw an adorable lamb tethered to a stall. My first reaction was to run over and talk to him and pet him. I knew the vendor was promoting free-range “humane” meat, but in that moment, I just loved that little lamb.

Andy

I knew I couldn’t save him and I knew his life would be short. I asked his name, expecting a cold, cruel remark along the lines of “dinner.” The farmer told me the lamb’s name was Andy.

I was still overjoyed in the moment and in the experience of seeing Andy, that I put his future out of my head. I called to my friend. I wanted her to see Andy too. “No.” She told me flatly as she kept on walking. An odd response from a normally bubbly woman.

When I finished talking to Andy and taking his picture, I showed my friend the photos I’d taken. She told me she didn’t want to look at Andy because she eats lamb.

That was profound! The Kafka quote jumped into my head. Kafka was referring to a fish, but the sentiment is the same. I’m not contributing to cruelty. I’m not guilty. As a kid, if I did something dishonest at school, I wouldn’t look the teacher in the eye. This was the same thing. My friend couldn’t look Andy in the eye. She was betraying him.

Even if I could have whisked Andy away, there are millions of other animals just like him. Sweet innocents who are commoditized and valued for the taste of their flesh. But they have the desire to live and enjoy life just like we do. In our ability to suffer, we are all the same.

I don’t mean to vilify my friend. She loves cats and dogs, and there’s compassion in her heart. Like many people, she’s compartmentalized the way she views animals and divided them into categories of “pets” and “food.” But her guilt is chipping away at the lines. If my friend wants to look at lambs like Andy, she can. She just needs to stop eating them and start respecting them as sentient beings.

My hope for all animals is that people go vegan. Do it for Andy.

10 thoughts on “I can look at you

  1. I went to LA’s Farm Sanctuary today, and looked at a lot of animals. Like you, it’s my hope that people go vegan. I still haven’t even convinced my sis or parents to do so, however. It’s hard to change people’s attitude toward how they think of and treat animals. I guess I’ll just keep trying! 🙂

    • Oh, I hope you blog about your trip to Farm Sanctuary! I would love to visit there someday. I agree that it’s frustrating when people don’t accept veganism right away. Keep working on your parents and sister. We have to try. The animals deserve nothing less 🙂

  2. What an adorable little face Andy has! I can see why you were so charmed by him. If only your friend had allowed herself to be charmed by him too.

    Your post reminds me of the journalist (?) who wrote that he wouldn’t be taking his kids to see the new movie, Free Birds, as it would ruin their Thanksgiving.

    ‘In our ability to suffer, we are all the same’ – Yes, so true!

    • I just read that article in Slate. I could wrote a whole post on one thing he said: “I do not want Thanksgiving to culminate in my children’s realization that I am serving them the hero of the movie they just watched.” Argh! Same disconnect.

      Andy is adorable and I’m glad I could spend a few moments with him.

  3. Very profound article! I have peace in my heart knowing I do not contribute to this needless torture of animals. The amount of suffering humans inflict on animals is truly overwhelming and unimaginable.

    I don’t say this with superiority either (just as you don’t write about this with superiority) but in all sincerity and humility. I look at Andy in the photo and he makes my heart smile, yet I grieve at the same time knowing what will likely happen to him when they are finished with showcasing him.

    I can only hope that it will actually help people make the connection between the sentient, living creature and the piece of cutup flesh on their plates. Some will walk away because they do not want to be reminded of what they will devour at dinnertime. But for some, seeds of compassion have been sewn if they will just take a glance at that dear little lamb.

    With compassion! ❤

    • Thanks for your heartfelt comment. I saw a quote recently that read, “I’m a vegan because I’m not superior to anyone.” Some people see vegans as having a “holier than thou” attitude, but I respect all life. That’s why I don’t eat animals. I hope people see the connection. No matter how humanely Andy is raised, no matter how he’s treated, where he lives, and what he does in life, it’s immoral to kill him. That’s why I think the terms “humane meat” and “humane slaughter” are contradictions. Unnecessary killing is never humane or justified.

  4. Hi Jean: I may never be vegan but I am much closer to being vegan than I was 6 months ago, 3 months ago, 6 weeks ago, 3 weeks ago and I now have the support of my wife, who, while not joining my journey, is cooking some vegan meals for my (sometimes our) nourishment.

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