A direct action empowerment story



In the early 1980’s a vegan friend told me about the heartless treatment of calves in live auctions in Britain, and so I went along to my local outdoor auction in Guildford, Surrey, to see for myself. The most distressing aspect was the plight of newborn calves, so mercilessly stolen from their mothers and standing on concrete in open pens, devoid of food and water, and without a shred of bedding. They had already endured the rigours of transportation in order to get there, and faced another journey to get to their next destination, and were clearly distressed. The initial response I received, besides derision, was that nobody had ever complained before and this was standard practise, so who did I think I was to walk in and criticise? How often do activists and agents of social change across the entire spectrum of life hear that one!

Unfortunately the laws concerning farm animals are even less protective than those for domestic animals, but I had ascertained from Compassion In World Farming that these calves were entitled to water at least. So I approached the men in charge and respectfully asked them whether the calves were going to be given something to drink. At first the reception was dismissive, but when I clearly was not going to back down and leave, the issue of who might be responsible for this task arose. Clearly nobody was interested in the well being of the calves, and obviously I was an annoying busy body with nothing better to do than interfere with the day of decent working folks just trying to do their job. In addition I was automatically an enemy because I had exposed the lack of empathy shown for the poor creatures in their control.

I said that I would happily fill a few buckets of water myself, hoping to shame someone into an act of compassion, but the excuse came: “We do not have enough buckets to go round”. Anticipating this I had come prepared with a few buckets in my car, and said that I would bring them. One man offered to help me, much to the disgust of his colleagues. He told me that he hated the way the animals were treated, prodded with electric shocks and used as objects of property as if they had no feelings. When we returned I was informed that the police were on their way because I was disrupting their lawful business. I had been polite, respectful and courteous throughout, and was not about to be driven off by this tactic, so I called their bluff and requested that they also telephone the RSPCA, part of whose job it is to monitor the goings on at these places. Unfortunately they refused my offer of a bale of straw due to disposal problems, but at least those calves that day had a small act of minimal recognition of their sentience. I made it clear that I intended to return at regular intervals to check that water was always available in future.

Guildford cattle market closed down not many years later, but from that day on at least the calves there did have access to water. A very small triumph for me on their behalf, but pitiful compared to the truly horrendous factory farming concentration camps, which deny even daylight and fresh grass to their inmates. And now it is illegal for anyone to film what goes on in these places, or in the slaughterhouses. Animal rights activists are regarded as terrorists, whilst the MAD (meat and dairy) industries routinely torture 58 billion defenceless creatures every year around the world with impunity and government protection. Male pigs, cows and sheep are castrated without anaesthetic, their tails are docked, teeth and horns sawn off as routine necessities. Milking cows are forced to give 4 times the volume of milk that their calf would ever drink, resulting in mastitis and frequent lameness. Many are too crippled to walk onto the killing floor, after only 5 years of this life, when their natural lifespan is 20+ years.

The kind man who had helped me to water the calves praised my courage, to which I replied that I feel compelled to speak up for the voiceless innocents, and to challenge the bizarre convention of humans stealing the milk of another species, commodifying the females in order to do so, and slaughtering the males. Of course the females would also be killed as soon as their milk yield dropped. I explained that I did not believe humankind to be inherently predatory or cruel, but that we were conditioned into thinking meat was necessary for health, and natural. The “fight or flight” macho survival mentality had for too long trumped the “tend and befriend” sharing feminine impulse, which is the new emerging paradigm into which we are evolving from our violent past. He was sceptical, but I am a visionary, and an idealist, and can think of no more worthwhile cause. If humanity can change its diet from being based on death and enslavement we will automatically become gentler species and learn how to live in co-operative harmony. Maybe not in my lifetime, but at least the killing is not done in my name, because I have been vegan for 40 years now. The current accelerating abuse of animals is utterly unsustainable with today’s burgeoning world population, and has been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as the number one culprit in our ecological crisis. In addition, starvation and desertification in the 3rd world are directly caused by the fact that 60% of the world’s grain is fed to cattle, rather than to humans. It takes 10lbs of grain to make 1lb of beef, and uses thousands of gallons of extra water, creating massive lakes of effluent and methane in the process. I intend to continue my activism and outreach to spread awareness of these facts for as long as it takes!

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