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.

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