Reflections on Sheep, Farm Sanctuary, and a Vegan Diet

I spoke at the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down in Watkin's Glen last weekend. It was such a pleasure learning from other speakers and sharing humane education with such an interested group of people. There were about 300 attendees, mostly vegan, with the rest comprised of mostly vegetarians or near vegetarians. If you’d asked people to notice anything different about this group of 300 (versus a random group of 300 Americans), most would probably comment on this: There were hardly any overweight people. It was the slimmest, fittest, healthiest looking group of people you’re likely to come across in the U.S. (There were also tons of tattoos, but that’s another story.)

For about two hours each day, attendees were invited to visit the animals at the Sanctuary, each one with a gripping story of rescue and rehabilitation. I spent the most time in the sheep barn. When I was a teenager in New York City, there was a sheep at the children’s zoo in Central Park, whom I visited weekly. I considered this sheep a friend, and I named him Wooly Baba. Whenever I arrived and called his name, he came running over to me, placing his hooves on the fence to lean over and get petted. He ignored pretty much everyone else. I loved him, and I believed he loved me. I also loved lamb chops. In fact, lamb chops were my favorite food. A few times a year my mom cooked them, and I was in heaven.

And then one day I realized who I was eating. I didn’t stop eating lamb chops then. I rationalized eating sheep (and cows, turkeys, chickens, fishes, pigs, and so on) by saying that they were already dead. I didn’t understand economics at that point, or the concept of supply and demand, and my mother, eager not to disabuse me of my naivete did not say a word. She simply agreed when I said out loud that I thought maybe I should be a vegetarian, but I really liked meat and the animals were already dead.

It took another two years before I understood that my choices were causing harm and suffering to beings I purported to love. I was, in essence, simply paying other people to do something I would never do myself. I could no more kill Wooly Baba than my dog, Timmy. Eventually I stopped eating mammals and birds, and later sea animals, and then dairy and eggs, becoming vegan.

And so when I was in the sheep barn, I had a clear conscience petting those sheep, each with his or her distinct personality: some pawing for more pets; others honing in on the petting scene and pushing the others away from my busy hands; still others nuzzling; a few too shy to come near. Like us, they had their likes and dislikes. Some were pushy; others gentle; others a wee bit belligerent; others skittish. They sought out pleasure and avoided pain.

It was a lovely weekend at Farm Sanctuary amidst great people and beautiful, grateful, happy animals. A vegan’s paradise, really.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education

Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary via Creative Commons.

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