A Humane Society

In the fall of a year that I can no longer clearly remember, a friend and I would head out once a week in search of the best, juiciest, cheesiest hamburgers our city had to offer. We sampled sandwiches from steak houses to trendy eateries to dimly-lit holes-in-the-wall. Sometimes we’d talk about her experience volunteering at an animal shelter where most of the workers were vegan. She felt a strong judgment from them – a feeling of elitism because they didn’t consume animal flesh or wear leather but she did. This feeling eventually led her to quit volunteering. As we bit into our dripping burgers, we’d puzzle and joke about their snobby behavior and ask, isn’t the most important thing that she was there, helping animals?! Did her choice of food really matter?

So. Now here I am. Many years later, a plant-eater volunteering at an animal shelter. The situation is reversed. I’m the lone vegan among omnivores.

Animal shelter volunteers and employees have my respect and admiration. They work long, hard hours in an often unpleasant, noisy and odiferous environment. Much of their day involves cleaning up blood, puke, piss and feces. They remember the names of each animal that has passed through their door and they hide tears of both joy and sadness when an especially beloved furry friend has been adopted and leaves for their (hopefully) forever home. They interface with the uncaring and the oblivious; the neglectful and the malicious. They minister to the sick and comfort the dying. They tenderly hold the cat that has been shot or the dog that has been set afire. They witness the handiwork of the ugliest and cruelest in man and they try to undo the damage.

And then they go home and throw a hotdog on the grill or carve into a roasted chicken.

This is the disconnect. This is where I was those many years ago when I knew that I loved animals, that I said I loved animals and yet my actions and my food choices belied that assertion. The animal shelter worker’s anger is raised when the abused or neglected cat or dog or bird or horse comes under their care. How could anyone hurt or kill these gentle creatures? And yet with the items they choose to put in their shopping cart, they are causing – condoning – the pain, suffering and death of other gentle creatures.

I attempt to be mindful of not being “one of those vegans.” The one who comes off as preachy, judgmental, superior – the one who seems to care for animal welfare above that of her own species. I am not that vegan. But I cannot return to the mindset of those hamburger-eating days of oblivion. If I love animals, if I respect that they have an equal place on this planet, than I cannot allow myself to knowingly cause their harm or death by consuming and using their flesh, their skin or their fur.

39 thoughts on “A Humane Society

  1. The Healthy Flavor

    Beautifully written. I couldn’t agree more. I first became Vegan because of health issues with my husband. His health was deteriorating from gout. So, we went vegetarian and ultimately vegan. I would still eat a piece of chicken here or there. Then I started to uncover and realize the reality, the truth of what happens to these animals all for human satisfaction. I hurt and ached for what I learned. I no longer consciously could eat meat, dairy etc. because becoming vegan was not only for health, but also for ethical reasons. I am now saddened EVERYTIME I grocery shop and completely disgusted at the thought of consuming meat or dairy. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt post. Sorry for the long response, but this has become something I’ve been sharing a lot lately so it’s the perfect message.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I appreciate your long response and I love getting thoughtful comments like yours. I also turned to veganism for health reasons, but I think what naturally happens is one can’t help but make the connection between beautiful, living creatures and what is on our plates. I don’t do everything right and I mess up now and again, but my heart is in the right place :-).

  2. the bear and the blackberry

    Thank you for this well written piece… I also hope that more people begin to connect these dots. It is frustrating to me that so many self professed animal lovers are also meat eaters. But then again, I used to be one of them, so I try to have patience and understanding. In my mind, everyone is a vegan at heart, they just haven’t opened their eyes to the truth of the matter yet.

  3. tearoomdelights

    Very well expressed Annie, and I don’t think you ever come across as preachy. You have your own strong views on the subject, but you never strike me as in any way judgemental of those who hold different views. I think the problem is that this is that eating meat is such a deep rooted part of our culture. In restaurants in the UK, you can now almost always count on there being one vegetarian choice (rarely vegan, mind you, unless it’s a specialist place) but there is a very heavy emphasis on animal products. It is slowly changing, but it’s very slow and it’s a case of educating people in a non-threatening way, which is something I think you do extremely well. I think it would be wonderful if veganism could become more mainstream, and the animal welfare aspect is one part of the story. Speaking as someone who eats dairy and fish, I realise that I’m one of the people who needs to be more convinced, but I really only ever eat fish when I’m out because of limited choices. Giving up dairy is a more difficult step, but I think becoming vegan is often a case of gradually changing diet, giving up red meat first, etc. There needs to be more choice, in restaurants and supermarkets, and vegan food needs champions like you who make it seem very appealing as a lifestyle.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      You’re a sweetie, Lorna. Dairy is usually the most difficult and last item to go. It is literally addictive, so it’s small wonder. Thankfully there are wonderful substitutes these days. However, I agree that we all need more CHOICES. Except in major metropolitan areas, it’s still quite hard to find quality and creative plant-based foods. Sometimes it’s even tough finding vegetarian choices! I do hope that along with my fellow vegan bloggers we are showing how delicious vegan eats can be!

  4. Vegan Rabbit

    Beautiful! This is the month of love, and how fitting to write a piece about what it means to be a true animal lover. Not just a lover of *certain* animals, but a lover of *all* animals regardless of their usefulness or utility to humans.

    I wrote a similar post, with the same theme, located here: http://veganrabbit.com/2013/02/01/what-is-love/

    Our brains must be telepathically connected!

    While I can see how some non-vegans could get an ‘elitist’ vibe from vegans, I feel that this is often in their own head for feeling (deep down) that they are not doing everything they know they could and should be doing for animals. The fact that we vegans even exist proves that meat, dairy, eggs, leather, etc. are completely unnecessary.

    “Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.” ~ From Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, but an excellent description of elitism)

    Eating animals and things that are made from and by their bodies is a perfect example of elitism. The speciesist belief that because we are humans, that our wants carry more weight and importance than their needs. Veganism is the exact opposite of this. Veganism is about compassion. Veganism is about selflessness. I go into the issue of elitism as well as other issues about being “one of those vegans” in my Pot vs. Kettle post (to avoid writing an even longer comment than I’m already writing): http://veganrabbit.com/2012/02/22/pot-vs-kettle/

    “It’s troubling when people get upset with vegans for pointing out the suffering, rather than getting upset with themselves for causing it.” ~ Jo Tyler

    “Becoming a vegan is a sure way of completely avoiding participation in the abuse of farmed animals. Vegans are a living demonstration of the fact that we do not need to exploit animals for food.” ~ Peter Singer

    “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral. If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I read your thoughtful and – as is standard operating procedure for you – SMART post. I tend towards the emotional argument rather than the intellectual and hand-wringing only goes so far and is a big turn-off for many. Thank you for always beautifully articulating the case for animals, for plant-based health, for veganism.

  5. inkspeare

    I am not a vegan yet, since I am in the pescatarian stage, but the reason I started was because I always felt guilty eating meat. Then I started learning more about consumerism and animal products. I guess for some it is a slow discovery and a change that has to happen inside first to be brought to the outside. I try to buy made in USA, by artisans but also faux, although I buy recycled or reused many times, because I feel that the animal paid a price and it is a sin to just discard it in the trash. I don’t buy new when it is a leather product, and if I buy new it is animal friendly/faux. Little by little me and my husband have changed our consumer habits and I am working towards total vegetarianism, for now. Eggs we try to get from free range sources. It is one step closer to veganism, but we stll have a long way to go.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I didn’t make the change overnight, either. I also occasionally ate fish/seafood even after giving up red meat, pork and chicken. Change has to happen at one’s own pace – otherwise it’s not a real or lasting change. Anyway, thank you for sharing your journey.

  6. Barb@ThatWasVegan?

    Wonderful post Annie! I too try not to be “that vegan” but sometimes I just want to grab people by the shoulders, give them a good shake and scream “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!”

    It took me a long time to ‘get it’, but now that I have I can’t understand why everyone else hasn’t.

  7. GiRRL_Earth

    Yesterday, two of my fellow co-worker Vegans and I were just discussing this very topic: “the disconnect”. What prompted the discussion was we had just read the following post from Robert Grillo of Free From Harm: http://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-culture/a-tipping-point-100-million-flexitarians-faced-with-vegan-options/

    Thank you for this post. If you do not mind, I’d like to re-blog. If you prefer I did not, I will remove it.

  8. GiRRL_Earth

    Reblogged this on GiRRL_Earth and commented:
    This is a beautifully written post by a vegan who discusses a topic many of us vegans often find ourselves discussing: The Disconnect: I love animals. I would never hurt an animal. And yet I EAT animals.

  9. Brittany

    This is by far one of my FAVORITE posts you have ever written. I couldn’t describe my feelings better for going vegetarian/and now vegan. Even as a vegetarian I felt hypocritical at times. Sure I wasn’t eating animal flesh, but I know the cheese I was eating probably wasn’t humanely acquired.

    I volunteered at my local humane society for over a year, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences. I never thought of this point you’ve made, but I now think about the ironic way of living for carnivorous animal shelter workers. They must know how their beef is obtained. I think it’s a perfect example of the out of sight out of mind phrase, and as sad as it is..some people just don’t consider cows, chickens, and pigs to be on the same playing field as cats and dogs.

    Bless your heart for volunteering, while it may be challenging at times you are doing a service that will enrich the lives of many homeless widdle babies!! I need to get back into it!

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Awww, thanks, Brittany! This post has been simmering ever since the morning I arrived at the shelter and all of the employees had gathered in the front office for breakfast. Out came the egg/sausage/cheese sandwiches. I was so disappointed and surprised.

      Hope you have a chance to return to volunteering. Love those little critters and they so need us!

  10. narf77

    The anonymous package of “meat” on the supermarket shelf has led to a generation of people disconnected from the source of their meat. “Ethical” meat production is a lot more compassionate and realistic than mass produced meat but we still have to arrive at a point where we understand fully that something has to actually “DIE” before we can eat it. I think that all of the negotiating and postulating and bravado that people pull out of the bag when they hear that someone else chooses to be vegan comes from a deep inherent understanding that they ARE killing something in order to eat. Man wasn’t designed to eat meat every single day. I concede that in the past, meat may have been important in the diet but with the selection of grains, legumes etc. that we have available to us today, that is no longer the case. We CAN get everything that we need from alternate food sources to meat. It now comes down to “choosing” to eat meat…It’s our choice whether we predate something else to get our protein. I would rather eat vegetables, legumes and fruit to get my nutrients. It’s good enough for elephants (the largest land animals) and it is good enough for me! I can grow most of what I eat…I don’t need the added expense of having to pay a lot of money to feed livestock and can put my money straight into growing what I need without having to kill anything in the process. It is past ethics to be honest and straight back into “choice”. Do you choose to kill something or do you choose to live a more sustainable and guilt free life? I know that it becomes a WHOLE LOT harder to kill something once you have seen it, patted it, cuddled it and felt it’s life force flow out of it. Just watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (U.K.) explain paddock to table and how difficult it was to actually kill animals (not that he stopped BUT he at least accepts that something had to die so that he could eat…) introduce people back to their food source is a real eye opener. People don’t want to kill what they meet (no pun intended!). We need to be reintroduced to our food source…that mooing, clucking, oinking mass of real life that we completely negate when we pick up that supermarket packet. Something HAS to die before we can eat folks…its just up to us whether we make that choice or not.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Heck, hon – you should be posting this!! You hit several nails squarely on the head here. Kids should be taught and shown where their food comes from – and taught love and respect for the creatures with whom they share the planet. Better decisions can be made with knowledge.

  11. Choc Chip Uru

    This was such an insightful and reflective post my friend, beautifully expressed!!
    You definitely are not someone who forces opinion on others but I understand your point of view here! 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  12. Cauldrons and Cupcakes

    Annie, you’re NEVER preachy, and that’s why we love you. You just keep delivering heart-felt words on the page, and all that honest heart-felt emotion does more to connect with people than any amount of ‘preachy’ ever would.

    I wasn’t sure about posting today, because you ARE a vegan blog with vegan followers. You know I’m an organic farmer, and that I’m not a vegan, although the majority of my diet is plant based. I’m never into cruelty, but I’m always for people knowing where their food comes from, and taking responsibility for that with their consumer choices.

    I’ve been both vegan and vegetarian, and truth be told, I just never thrived on a pure plant based diet, no matter what I did.

    But I can honestly say that I know where all my food comes from, how it was grown, harvested or slaughtered. That matters to me. A lot.

    For me this whole issue is so complex. I am fervently for looking after the earth, and so many plant-based broadacre crops destroy habitats, are GMO’d and rely on massive chemical spraying.

    Factory farmed animals? WTF? Who ever invented that should be subjected to a similar existence. But consumers want to pay cents in the dollar for the gallon of milk, or for their chicken or bacon. Total disconnect.

    A large factory-farmed supermarket chicken in Australia might cost $8 to $10. An organic, pasture-raised, hand-slaughtered and dressed chicken will set you back $30 plus.

    Real food only needs small portions. Eating organic, local and seasonal, supporting local growers, and being mindful. That matters. There are so many wonderful small block farmers and food producers who really care. They deserve and need our support or the big farma/pharma will make them all disappear forever.

    My biggest struggle lately, in matters of food philosophy is plastic. I have militant vegan friends who eschew leather and wool in favour of cotton, hemp, synthetics and plastics. Plastics and synthetics don’t bio-degrade. At least natural fibres and products do – and in my mind are far better for the environment.

    In a largely urbanised world, where farming as a way of life and a passion is being replaced by big business, our choices are the most powerful tool for change we’ve got!

    Great post, Annie.
    Lots of love,
    Nicole xx

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I’m so glad you decided to comment, Nicole – and so wisely and thoughtfully. I do think that awareness of animal welfare is growing and that people are more concerned/interested in where their food is coming from – eating less meat. Support for local farmers and ranchers is growing. People are starting to demand non-GMO and organic – all good trends. I agree with you about plastic. I’ve heard horrible stories about great gobs of it floating in the oceans. What was once perceived as a miraculous product is now biting us all in the collective ass. Small steps for all of us – – anyway, thank you and love and hugs.

      1. Cauldrons and Cupcakes

        {{{HUGS}}} right back. We owe it to our own values and to our readers to keep writing about what keeps us up nights, and what matters to us. It’s only ever knowledge that makes for lasting change!

  13. Somer

    It’s such a crazy disconnect isn’t it? I like what Richa Hingle says on her blog header about pre-vegan life “Before our brain bulbs were turned on”. Pretty much sums it up.

  14. Birgit Nazarian

    I am an omnivore and I have many vegan friends. I live in a “red” county in a swing state (urban blue/rural red). I am straddling both worlds. I go for target practice at a hunting club with a bow and arrow with no intention to ever hunt animals for food. I stand side by side with guys who hunt for food and there is no doubt that they need that food – it’s a poor rural area. I don’t condemn them for it and our deer population is out of control here. My husband and I have given up most red meat. We still eat chicken and fish and dairy products, eggs but we try to find the best sources for those. We’ve helped a lot of animals in our lifetime – from volunteering, fostering, helping wounded wildlife, etc. My husband can never kill a mouse in the house, he goes to the trouble of catching them and releasing them! Many omnivores who love animals but eat animal products are like that. We want to do the right thing. I tell my vegan friends who are vegan out of compassion for animals that it’s more realistic to try to convince non-vegans to insist on ethical treatment of animals so I support ethical farming. I have been to dairy farms and egg farms and it’s atrocious how the animals are treated. I wouldn’t eat eggs or drink milk from there. I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” which made me very leery of the beef I had eaten. It’s going to take baby steps. Once Americans and other people around the industrialized nations get older too and realize how cancer thrives from poor eating habits more people will go plant based. I am not there yet, but I am always moving that way. For a lot of my neighbors it’s going to be MUCH longer. Another thing I consider too is that what will happen to the animal breeds, the chickens, the cows, the sheep and the pigs that are now raised if there is no “use” for them but food and their by products? Will they be allowed to disappear from the planet? It’s such a complex question and topic.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Birgit, I’m so glad you commented. I thought a long while before publishing my post – I really am not a confrontational person and believe (mostly) in Live and Let Live. But – this is what is true to me, so…Anyway, I can relate to much of what you are saying. I live in a very rural part of the country where folks must, to some degree, live off of the land: turkeys, deer, wild pig, etc. I don’t have a problem with this as long as they are eating what they are killing. It’s trophy hunting that bothers me. What I like to see is respect and appreciation for our food, wherever it comes from. And of course, I’d like to see more and more of us moving to a plant-based diet. For some it will be an overnight change – for others it will mean small steps. Getting there is the important thing. Thanks for sharing!

      1. Birgit Nazarian

        There was a time when I didn’t like any hunters. And I was pretty much city born and bred. I moved out to a rural area 11 years ago. Only recently I got to know farmers and hunters who I respect. I absolutely HATE trophy hunting. I met a judge from South America and some other wealthy doctors and lawyers who go on big game hunting trips to Africa more than once a year. I could hardly talk to them I was so disgusted and we kind of sensed that incapability between us within minutes. It was hard not to be confrontational. But yes, it’s best to try to win people meeting them somewhere where you both can agree. I havent figured out how to talk to the big game hunters. They profess a love for nature and adventure so I say “Why the hell not go on a PHOTO safari then?” Anyway, I hope we move towards a more humane society too.

  15. Sophie33

    A very well written post, dear Annie. Voluntary work as good as this is a surplus in your life. I also do volunbtary work but not with animals. I love it too! 🙂 !

  16. Kristy

    This post is so beautifully written and embodies so many thoughts and feelings that I have regarding the issue. How can you sincerely call yourself and animal lover if you eat their murdered bodies or steal their secretions? I’m very much like you because I don’t want to be “that vegan,” but it does make me cringe when I hear someone say they love animals while they enjoy their cheeseburger.

    And bless you for volunteering at the shelter. That warms my heart more than anything. 🙂

  17. Richa

    Thank you for this wonderful post and for volunteering Annie. My vegan journey began when things just connected in my head during fostering dogs, some from puppy mills, and at the same time blogging about food which comes from another animal’s puppy mills. I am surrounded by a decade old friend circle who doesnt associate with animals as living beings and it is a constant struggle being with them. No point of view works and we have stopped discussing and answering and they have stopped questioning.. I am not sure how long I can be a mute spectator in the barbecues and baby showers full of creamy towers of cakes.

  18. Vanessa

    Absolutely love this post. My thoughts exactly. I remember being a meat eater who owned and loved a dog and cat. There is a disconnect that some of us realize before others. Thank you for dedicating your time to a shelter. I wish I could volunteer in a shelter but I know I would be an emotional wreck if I did!

  19. * Vegan Sparkles *

    Beautifully said, Annie. My local cat shelter is currently putting together a fund-raising cookbook and I volunteered vegan recipes with a note pleading with them to remember that ALL animals deserve our love and protection. Fingers crossed it will be a vegan cookbook.


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