Alongside sporadic thoughts, on occasions I am asked what led me to become vegan. I had narrowed it down to a handful of memories which I think planted seeds and laid foundations for later coalescences, intersections. These are memories stretching back to my youth. I consider my first to come from watching the Australian film Storm Boy, released in 1976 (I can’t recall when I first saw the film, though it was quite a few after its release). Storm boy also exposed me to what might be my first recollections of Aboriginal people, and the immense talent of David Gulpilil (a story for another time)… This morning, a pair of King Parrots flew overhead whilst I walked to my office — which brought forth a memory and an association: reflections on society, anthropocentrism and human chauvinism that are also foundational to why I am vegan and see the importance of intersectionality.
I am fortunate to work in a location that has a significant number of open spaces that provide habitat for a range of species. Birds appear to take the most advantage of this, and a number are quite comfortable with the humans that constantly walk by — whether the are in the trees and bushes, or doing their thing on the ground (the birds, that is!). It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work-workplace, one that I note and value every day — with my reflections on seeing a pair of King Parrots this morning being an indicative example.
In Storm Boy, based on a children’s book (which I have never read: now might be a good time), a young boy comes across some newly hatched Pelican chicks. Hunters have shot their parent(s). The young boy takes care of the three before releasing them. One of the Pelicans, Mr Percival forms a relationship with the boy and returns. Spoiler alert: He is subsequently shot by hunters. Recalling the film now fosters a similar level of profundity to when I first saw it. Before I draw directly links with the film and my experience this morning — the connections to which are coming to light as I write this — two other memories which have directly shaped my everyday existence and becoming vegan are prudent.
Much later than Storm Boy, two distinct events shaped my outlook: French nuclear testing in the Pacific, and the Canadian seal hunt. More specifically, protests agains these. The former was influential given the complete disregard for life that such weapons of mass destruction are founded on, and their central role in a culture of war. The latter was more a gateway to inherent anthropocentrism and human chauvinism for socially constructed human vanity (i.e. fashion): seal pups, at times only days old are killed for their fur.
In many ways, as the examples above are, my journey to becoming vegan is about me. The same can be said of my experience this morning, and the connections I am making now. Whereas it can be argued these are anthropocentric, perhaps partial anthropocentrism is a more appropriate moniker. I like to think that my veganism is not about me, in that it emerges from a concerns for other species. I do not seek credit for being vegan, or promote being so for my own benefit. Rather, I see it as a the right thing to do, as justice. Much in the same way that my opposition to racism, sexism and homophobia is similarly about justice for all. Am I tied up in these, most certainly. It can also be (not too difficulty) argued that I benefit from my everyday practices and activism confronting these.
My experience this morning, in seeing a pair of King Parrots and reflecting on the simple beauty, even nonchalance of their existence, their everyday — it is very likely that I was not even a passing thought of theirs — recalled a memory. This memory was evoked in wanting to share my sighting with someone. It is someone I have talked with about the why and what led me (vegan) question in recent times. The memory is not a good one.
In secondary school in Australia, all students participate (or at least did so when I was one) in a work placement (unpaid) for 1-2 weeks. At the time, I was interested in being a vet (which can be read into). I had arranged to undertake this a local small animal surgery (i.e. companion animals). A few days prior to starting, my school had realised that their was a mixup: myself and another student were misconstrued into being one person. In short, they had inadvertently agreed to both of us, thinking it was one person inquiring. As a result, my placement was transferred to a pet shop with a lot of animals. I was informed that they cared about animals, and I would receive some hands on experience. Little did I or the school know what the latter would come to.
During my time there, a ‘shipment’ of King Parrots arrived and were placed in a number of adjacent cages. These were not small — the shop was in an semi-industrial area and was on the larger side. There were also cages, so limited in size. The birds call fly from one side to the other. Not full flight by any means, though much larger than the cages they would likely have ended up in when purchased.
The following morning, on arriving at work, I was asked to clean these cages out. I can’t recall how many of the birds died overnight — it was either all of the three dozen plus the store had received, or all but two or three. The owner hinted that they had likely died of shock. Irrespective of why, I was horrified.
The value of Other life is what I drew from this. Instrumental, anthropocentric value. Vanity. These birds (I viewed them as majestic, though their lives were of no more value than any of the Other species in the pet shop and beyond) had died on speculation. Their deaths were factored into the retail value. Some losses would occur.
At the time, I did not directly link the exploitation of Other animals to relations of capital. It did plant seeds for my later emergent understandings. In reflecting now, based on the recollections emergent through my sight of pair of King Parrots merely doing their thing this morning, this experience — a horrible one — was also foundational for my becoming vegan. Intertwined with class, the essential nature of intersectionality in an analysis of social relations within and across species was also central.
In future recountings of the why and what, this, far from pleasant, experience will likely be included…
Image credit: Male King parrot (Alisterus scapularis) feeding on the seeds of Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia), October 31, 2009. Photo: Doug Beckers (CC BY-SA 2.0).