Around noon on April 22, I stumbled out of White Hall and onto the verdant Arts Quad, which was adorned with the florid yield of an inchoate spring. I awaited a tranquil Friday afternoon on the lawn, studying while relishing in the April breeze and the sonorous melody of the chimes. What I encountered instead was a surprise. The quad, typically a bucolic stretch of grass crisscrossed with sidewalks and riddled with trees, was bedecked with various booths, roaming students, billowing plumes of grill smoke and an enormous inflatable cow next to Olin Library. From my vantage point, I could just barely glean the words displayed on one of the booths: Cornell University Livestock Show.
My vegan philosophy has always been an incendiary topic, evoking many dubious responses and querulous looks. Despite several of my family members also being vegetarian/vegan, they always plead for me to “tone it down a bit” on the rare occasions that the subject arises. Long story short, my beliefs make people angry and annoyed. After all, no one likes radical, antagonistic vegans who impose their values onto others, right? But, I might ask, what is more unreasonable — a consumerist culture that perpetuates the suffering and death of over 70 billion animals a year, or those who seek to mitigate the ubiquitous harm it fosters, from animal cruelty to unequivocal environmental ramifications? If the animals condemned to the slaughterhouse were cats and dogs, would this activism be similarly derided by the masses?
With simmering outrage, I strolled through the fair, assessing the “Pro-Dairy” and “Dairy Goes Green” booths as well as the adorable sheep immured in a small wooden pen, adored by cooing spectators. An array of succulents were for sale, accompanied by tables advertising agricultural development. After a while, I could not suppress my irritation any longer. After the volunteer at the sheep pen expounded upon her livestock research, I adamantly (but respectfully) expressed my concerns regarding animal cruelty. At the Livestock Show booth, I inquired about the purpose of these shows, and questioned the volunteer’s assurance that the animals being paraded around, already consigned to slaughter, are treated “humanely.” During a lull in conversation at the Dairy Goes Green booth, I interjected that there is very little environmental consciousness involved in the dairy industry, an industry desperate to remain relevant and lucrative. Two out of the three volunteers I spoke with offered noncommittal responses or none at all, so I thanked them and continued to explore the fair. The third disputed my claim that non-dairy milks are a healthier and cruelty-free option, and a brief discussion ensued in which we essentially agreed to disagree. Meat corporations love to tout their “sustainable farming” and oxymoronic “humane slaughter practices,” which is not more than deceptive greenwashing to soothe our consciences. This abundantly subsidized industry is slowly floundering and they know it, disseminating propaganda to keep consumers complicit.
Regrettably, it is impossible for me to enumerate the intricacies of this incredibly nuanced, multifaceted topic in this short article. I simply wish for people to observe the hypocrisy and speciesism when “animal lovers” lambast the cat and dog meat trade but view livestock as inanimate entities, despite the fact that they are sentient beings capable of pain and visceral feelings. In slaughterhouses, cows mire in their own waste, the putrid ground littered with infant animal corpses; baby chicks are tossed into meat grinders as a byproduct of the egg industry; mother cows bleat desperately as their calves are wrenched away so that we can extract her milk that was meant for the baby. Slaughterhouse workers are egregiously exploited, often suffering physical mutilation and PTSD. The 2018 documentary Dominion divulges these graphic practices employed by slaughterhouses, an unrelenting chronicle of cruelty inflicted by humans to satisfy our taste buds. Not to mention that going vegan is the most impactful measure we can undergo as individuals to alleviate climate change, with animal agriculture the culprit for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Throughout my exploits at this fair, I nearly balked at the incredulous looks, eye-rolls and abrupt change in demeanor that I observed, their countenances full of exasperation. My hands were sweaty, heart rate accelerating; despite the fact that the interactions were completely cordial, my social anxiety threatened my advocacy. I’m averse to confrontation, but speaking up for one’s beliefs, no matter how unpopular, is imperative. I, too, used to delight in burgers and decadent ice cream, being an oblivious consumer before I was enlightened to the delicious plant-based alternatives proliferating throughout supermarkets and restaurants.
Having this epiphany isn’t always easy. It requires a drastic change in mentality, a paradigm shift whereby we begin to view all animals as worthy of respect and life, not just cats and dogs. People invariably become indignant, disgruntled and spew plenty of anti-vegan invectives, especially online. Eventually, you begin to view hot dogs not as a tasty cut of meat, but rather the cadaver of a pig, an animal which is proven to possess greater intelligence than dogs and three-year-old human children. You may begin to regard fairs like the one at Cornell (on Earth Day, no less) not as joyous, innocuous community events, but as insidious animal cruelty paloozas endorsed by the meat and dairy industries. At Cornell, an institution regarded as a bastion of critical thinking with a tradition of students rallying to enact change, it is our job as young adults to emphatically, yet respectfully, raise our voices during campus events such as the one mentioned here and call into question the status quo. My hope is that with the growing presence of vegan activism, our generation can be the one to tackle animal agriculture and spread awareness about its contribution to both animal cruelty and climate change. All it takes is an open mind, a willingness to make people uncomfortable when confronting hard truths and a little bit of research.
Isabella DiLizia is a freshman in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at [email protected].