Editor’s Note: Mo Orr is an organizer for Vegans in Toowoomba, in Queensland, Australia, where she lives with her husband George. She is an Elephant Ambassador for Elephant Nature Park and co-moderates several vegan groups online, including Vegans, Vegans in Australia and Vegans in Queensland Australia (QLD). Mo is one of the most passionate vegans we have ever met, always speaking out for the animals and always willing to help people on their own journeys towards veganism.
A fleeting glance at a cattle truck, destination slaughterhouse, and my life changed. I saw the cows inside, looking out. This was the first time I had seen a cattle truck. I had always considered myself an animal lover, a compassionate person, yet I had never questioned food, where, or who, it came from. I had never connected the ‘meat’ I ate with the animals I professed to love.
I stopped eating animals and became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. And sadly, again I didn’t question: what happens to male chicks? and male calves? What about the chickens and cows, confined forever, killed before their time?
The decision to holiday at the Elephant Nature Park (outside Chiang Mai, Thailand), founded by Lek Chailert, was another life-defining choice. Listening to Lek speak had a profound impact on me. I realised that cruelty to animals isn’t only in the manner of their deaths, it’s also in their lives, that animals don’t willingly give their lives to us to use, not for food, entertainment, clothing, experimentation. We take from them their life’s purpose.
Still I resisted becoming vegan. It seemed like such a big step to take. What would I eat? How could I give up cheese and eggs? I decided that when I figured out the answer, I would become vegan. Time went by. Then one day a chance post came up in my Facebook newsfeed: “what vegan meals are you making for Thanksgiving?” and I could no longer hold back.
I became vegan.
For me being vegan has always been easy, maybe because it took me so long to grow from vegetarian to vegan. It may be frustrating, inconvenient, and difficult in social situations, but never hard. I am have never been tempted to ‘cheat’, or missed eggs or cheese or dairy milk chocolate. Now, when I smell bacon, or hear the crackle of eggs frying, I feel the suffering of someone who wanted to live. It hurts.
I was, and still am, lucky to have a supportive partner. George wasn’t vegan but was happy to learn to cook vegan for me (he did then, and still does, most of the cooking!). He shared in many of those vegan meals.
I would forget he wasn’t vegan and speak to him about animal issues, I would share with him video clips, images of battery chickens and pigs’ gestation crates.
I remember buying ‘free range’ eggs for him at the supermarket, bringing them home, slamming them down on the counter saying: “what a crock! The carton says “Now with a perch and room to scratch themselves””. And with not a word being said between us, George became vegan.
He sometimes found it hard, he felt that meals weren’t always satisfying, that something was missing, and we worked through those days together. I had taken so long to become vegan and for me it was easy; George moved from meat eater to vegan in a matter of months and sometimes found it difficult. It was a lesson to me, I needed to be more tolerant, we all reach veganism in our own way in our own time.
I started speaking out about veganism.
I soon realised that being vegan wasn’t enough, I had to speak out. And I had to learn how to use words effectively. Saying from the heart: “but it’s just wrong” wasn’t enough.
I went into a reading frenzy: Prof Tom Regan, Gary L. Francione, Melanie Joy. I learned the difference between welfarism and rights, that: “Welfarists seek to reform current practices of animal exploitation, while retaining such exploitation in principle, rights advocates oppose all such exploitation in principle and seek to abolish all such exploitation in practice.” ~ Point / Counterpoint by Tom Regan and Gary Francione (Jan/Feb 1992)
I learned that advocating for welfare reforms may help me feel better, but it is the biggest harm we can do to animals. It allows people to feel comfortable with their food choices, believing them to be ‘humane’, ‘free range’ and ‘cruelty free’ without having to change their behaviour. To believe that the best we can do for animals is to improve the conditions of their exploitation, to not ask for justice, is in itself an injustice.
Slavery and the Holocaust?
I flinched the first time I heard our treatment of animals compared to slavery and the holocaust. It felt wrong to compare human and non-human animals, thus the beginning of my understanding of speciesism.
But there is one fundamental difference between the human holocaust and the animal holocaust: the human holocaust was to eradicate the Jews and other races, whereas animals are purpose bred, billions of them. It’s in the horror that is their lives and deaths that the similarities live.
Veganism is an end and a beginning…
I thought that being vegan was an end in itself, now I realise it is but another beginning.