We regularly feature the story of a different Raven. If you would like to share a story (of any form) about your activism or why you advocate for the environment, animals, and/or people by promoting a plant-based diet, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Lights Your Fire?
by: Cami Hoffman
Awareness, in my opinion, is the genesis of change. When I think of causes that inspire me, my internal compass tends to drift toward the wonderful world of animals. There’s an inexplicable romance to be found in peacefully interacting with another species. Causes relating to the lives of our fellow nonhuman earthlings and the state of our planet are deeply etched into who I am, and they are constantly shaping who I am becoming.
I’ve always been a very quiet individual. But throughout my life, these causes have helped me find my voice. When I was in elementary school, I was all about dogs. Once, I raised over $100 from selling homemade crafts and trinkets and donated all the money to a local animal shelter. In middle school, I became a hardcore pit bull advocate. You wanted to know what pit bulls scored on the American Temperament Test? I knew it (It was 86.8). Going into my freshman year of high school, the film Blackfish was the catalyst that truly launched me into the world of animal rights.
Initially, I was wrapped in a bubble of orca abuse. Then, my awareness broadened. Rapidly, more and more species found a place under my umbrella of compassion. First it was Blackfish and orcas, then it was Tyke Elephant Outlaw and elephants. Then it was Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Food Inc. (and more that I don’t have room to list), and my eyes flew wide open. A couple years previously, I had cut meat out of my diet because I felt it was immoral to unnecessarily kill another being. I had no idea how much cruelty I was still contributing to just by purchasing animal products. It was a harrowing experience to realize the connection between the animal products on my plate and the decimation of the world under my feet. The most disturbing part of this whole awakening? No one around me was talking about this monster of an issue. Animals are being needlessly slaughtered by the billions, animal agriculture is rapidly killing the planet, yet no one seemed to have any sense of urgency. My understanding of the world just spun on its heels, and everyone around me was still asleep. This, more than anything, inspired me to become an activist.
Very recently, I had a quintessential “lightbulb moment”. I had stopped by a youth rally against fossil fuels, and the orator opened up the stage to allow anyone from the audience to come up and speak. Something inside me just clicked. I knew that I had to go up there. I couldn’t keep letting myself succumb to the comfort of staying hidden. Having only half a mind of what I wanted to say, my legs took me to the stage in the last instant. I spoke of how grateful I was to see young people showing up to this event, and how important it is for us to make our voices heard. I spoke of how easy it is to be deterred by the fact that you’re “only one person”, and how easy it is to believe that one person can’t make much of a difference. But it only takes a spark to light a fire. To cap off my ad lib speech, I paraphrased this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” This concept is at the very core of my being to this day.
What is it about animals that I find so appealing? Why do I feel so inclined to help them whenever possible? Maybe it’s because I feel like I owe it to them. They, like many of our fellow humans, have been unwillingly subjected to the avarice of mankind, despite having done nothing wrong. We have created divides among ourselves in every way imaginable, whether it be by ethnicity, religion, generation, sexuality, political party, gender, social class, even species. But when you take a step back, you realize that we are all just beings living on the same planet. We’re all walking on the same ground, breathing the same air, watching the same stars. If we as a human race learn how to treat other species with respect and compassion, imagine how much easier it would be to set aside divides we have erected among ourselves. If not for the sake of peace, then for the sake of the planet.
Holding Tight to Remains of Optimism
by: Melissa Patterson
I once considered myself an Animal Rights Activist, but no longer care to. I feel betrayed and resentful toward the movement that, as a young person, I invested so much faith and passion in. Protecting and creating fair welfare standards for animals is vital, and there are so many substantial reasons to care for and protect animals from the often evil nature of humankind. But the perpetual willingness to throw anyone and everyone under the bus in order to achieve questionable improvements for animals is such an unfortunate habit within the movement.
Examples of the AR Movement helping animals at the expense of humans include the objectively anti-Semitic comparison of the Holocaust to animal suffering, parallel to the racist comparison of slavery to animal suffering, the hyper-sexualization of young, white, female bodies, the tokenization of people of color, the habit of sweeping allegations of sexual assault or harassment under the rug, the broad lack of perspective of people from adversity or diversity, and many more. The inconsideration for farm workers who are responsible for raising and slaughtering food animals is an example of a particularly problematic compromise. Rather than displacing these workers by shutting down slaughterhouses, causing loss of employment and grave consequences for them and their families, resolve this basic violation of human rights while simultaneously advocating for animals. AR activists should have just as much compassion and drive for critical solution-making in regard to humans as animals.
Setting aside my boundless complaints about the problematic methods of the Animal Rights Movement, it is worth noting that veganism or plant-based eating are not interchangeable with animal rights. I became plant-based when I was a young teen because of my passion for animals, but that is not what encouraged me to continue. The reason that I remain plant-based today is to maintain a shred of optimism and control in the present and future realities of this planet. Making compassionate food choices for people, the planet, and animals is a simplified way to reclaim power to the people and cherish whatever optimism we have left.
Under the Trump Administration, with white nationalism and xenophobia on the rise, it is imperative to think critically about the nature of our movements and the practices we use to achieve common goals. I had just turned 18 a month before the 2016 Presidential Election. I was so utterly thrilled to be able to take part in such a pertinent historical shift in democratic power. Really, I was obnoxiously overjoyed by my recently acquired and long-awaited right to vote. But the outcome of the election snapped that young optimistic version of myself right in half. The one with respect for the criminal justice system, faith in institutions of power, and tact in my style of debate or activism. She has shuffled off this mortal coil and into a parallel dimension… which is quite possibly for the better. No real tangible change has been made within a tactful or conservatively configured movement in a vacuum. As good ol’ Ursula Le Guin once wrote, “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere”.
So, I suppose we all need to keep in mind that there is a lot at stake here, especially for my generation. We are quite literally inheriting a silver platter of borderline unfixable problems created and perpetuated by past generations. I’m looking at you, Baby Boomers. All blame aside, it is still everyone’s responsibility to take ownership over the gaping flaws in our society. Stop with the tunnel-vision priorities and throwing other marginalized communities under the bus to suit your agenda. Take tangible and inclusive action to improve the reality of our society and planet while inspiring yourself to hold tight to optimism, even when optimism is not warranted or seemingly accessible.
by: Rachel Sklenicka
At this point in my life, I would consider myself to be an ethical vegan -- my main motivation being the animals -- but it wasn’t always that way. It all started when I was a lot younger. I was around the age of seven or eight, and I had been spending time with my sister and one of our friends, who were both vegetarian, while I was not. My family had recently decided to make the change to vegetarianism, but I just wasn’t ready to make what I felt was a big change. I have always been a picky eater, and at the time, I thought it would be too hard to give up one of the things I loved to eat: chicken.
While the three of us were playing a game, my sister and friend started talking about meat, both of them expressing their disgust with the idea of it. I spoke without thinking, saying that I didn’t eat much meat, only chicken. Immediately I felt awful; my friend had pet chickens. How could I tell someone I only ate their pets? Something overcame me in that moment and I felt the only way to fix what I had done was to stop what I was doing, so right then and there I decided, “You know what? I’m going to go vegetarian.”
From that point on, I never ate meat again -- at least not intentionally. Though, the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized I didn’t decide to stop eating meat for the animals, I did it for a friend. But over the years my capacity for empathy and compassion has grown tremendously. After being vegetarian for a while, I had found plenty of meat-free meals I enjoyed. There was rarely a time I missed eating any of my previous favorite foods, and at this point, I had developed a deep sense of love for animals. One day, when eating one of my go-to meals, I realized the restaurant had made a mistake and put chicken in my burrito. I had only eaten one bite, but I was filled with grief. I remember crying for hours. A few years later, I made the change to veganism, a bit later than my family again, but this time it was something I wanted to do. I had heard that eating dairy and eggs was still hurting animals. While I didn’t understand how simply milking a cow could do any harm, I trusted what people were saying and I wasn’t ready to see the suffering for myself.
My experience going vegan was a lot harder. It took me a few years to be committed, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Over time, I learned a lot and finally decided I was ready to learn about what animals have to endure for someone to have a meal. Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe it took me so long to care.
At this point, it’s been a decade since I made the initial change to a more compassionate lifestyle, and I have changed so much in that time. To this day, I am striving to live a more compassionate lifestyle every day.
by: Maggie Salter
I went to my first vigil over the summer where we were bearing witness to cows on their way to slaughter. There were a lot of things going through my head that day - so many things I wanted to do - but as soon as that first truck heading to the slaughterhouse stopped, all I can remember was watching all these activists, with the best intentions, run up to the truck, trying to get up to the front to take pictures and videos. To my disbelief, it actually began to remind me of a zoo. I know these pictures and videos were to document the animals’ suffering, the hands poking through the bars were all intended to show compassion, and all the tears shed were out of love, but these animals had already been through so much, and they’ve only known the worst in humans. So, isn’t it reasonable to believe they’d be afraid of us?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t write this to take anything away from bearing witness or the activists that go to vigils because they are genuinely some of the strongest people out there, but when done in the wrong ways, I think we can accidentally cause more distress than comfort. If you put yourself in the animals' place, a hot metal box covered in feces, slipping around and bumping into others that are stuffed into the same foreign place as you, it’s scary enough. Also, consider that this is probably your first time ever leaving the only place you’re familiar with; imagine a sudden onslaught of hands and phones of dozens of creatures you don’t know. The trip from the farm where they were raised to the slaughterhouse is overwhelming enough without all the excess stimulation we bring when we start pushing boundaries.
To put it simply, I wanted to write this story not to bring a negative image to bearing witness but to show a different side of it. To show that we might not all have the same experience and that we might not all take away the same thing. This was only my first experience at a vigil, and I could have a completely different experience if I went again. Different circumstances could leave me thinking of it in a totally different light. I went into it expecting to leave crying, heartbroken, and outraged. I had this idea in my head of what I was supposed to do, what was supposed to happen, and while some of those things did happen, I also left with some insight I wasn’t expecting. You can’t base what you’re “supposed” to feel or think on someone else’s experience. Take everything with a grain of salt because it’s okay to feel things differently from someone else.
Lastly, I just want you to remember (in the case of bearing witness) we are there for the animals. We are there to show them love in their last moments, so we need to be mindful of their feelings instead of getting wrapped up in what we think we’re supposed to be doing.
"Pigs and Apples"
by: Macy Jenks
I was raised vegetarian. My mom went vegetarian 15 years prior to me being born because she felt she could not eat a dead animal after learning about the torture they endure on factory farms. My father ate meat, but he wanted me to be raised vegetarian because it was healthier. They agreed that I would be vegetarian; however, they decided to avoid telling me about the violence towards animals. That caused me to never know why I was not eating meat. Despite their neutral approach, I did eventually figure out why. When I was nine, I attended a week-long farm camp. We planted food, performed farm chores, and played games. It was mediocre at best; however, on the final day of camp, we all got loaded onto a school bus and taken to another farm. This farm was much more exciting. It had animals!
As we arrived, the smell of the animal farm hit me like a slap in the face. Chickens, cows, goats, pigs, turkeys, and horses were all separated by unstable wooden fences. As we got off the bus, the group of nine-year-olds became more and more noisy. The owner of the farm then walked towards us, and the group fell silent. He began to take us on a tour of the farm, starting at the pig pens. He handed us each an apple out of a dirty metal bucket and explained why there were three pens. “The one on the left is for the baby pigs. The middle one is for adult pigs. The final one is for the butcher pigs.” That last sentence came out of nowhere. I did not understand why a farm that takes care of animals would want to kill them. “Throw your apple into whatever pen you’d like!” he called, as he stepped behind us to talk to our teacher.
Every single other child threw their apple into the baby pig pen. While the baby pigs were by far the cutest, they had their whole lives ahead of them to eat delicious apples. I did not know how long the butcher pigs had left. My heart ached for them. Because I knew their lives would soon come to a tragic end, I wanted to bring the smallest bit of immediate happiness to at least one of those pigs. I threw my apple into the butcher pig pen. In that moment, I made a connection that my parents had failed to make for me: the animals who end up on our plates were killed.
This experience changed me. It shaped me into the passionate animal activist that I am today. Yet it was difficult to come to this realization. Even though I did not partake in eating meat, nearly everyone around me did. My father ate (and still eats) dead animals all the time. Educating myself about the food system and becoming vegan was one of the hardest things I have ever done, not because I find it inconvenient to give up animal products, but because it is so hard to accept that we live in a society that violently kills animals without remorse. That realization is tough, but it allows you to move forward in a way where you can act in alignment with your moral compass.
The opportunity to change your actions for the greater good is so valuable. It allows you to better yourself and the world around you. That change is so rewarding.