I grew up in a working class, northern England home. As a child, Dad would lovingly bring a full cooked breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrabbled egg and tomatoes, on trays to my brother, sister and I, in our beds. It was a traditional treat which he continued long into our teen and hangover years. After church on Sundays Mum would cook Roast Beef and Yorkshire puddings and we would argue over the best bit of the beef – the seasoned crust end, as Dad carved. Weekdays were egg and chip dinners with white bread covered in thick butter, liver and onions with mash and gravy and as Mum became more adventurous, chicken stir fry. I loved our family cat Lucy, my pet hamster and the horses I watched in the fields from my bedroom window, but I never considered the animals on my plate. Eating these animals was normal, they were food! I didn’t know any vegetarians and had never heard of veganism.
So how did I get here? Why veganism?
It was a slow, evolving process for me, no real light bulb moment. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine not eating meat, never mind going vegan. It all started with a book called Fast Food Nation, given to me by a friend. The book exposed the horrors of the industrialised meat industry and opened my eyes to the truth of the sanitised, packaged pieces of meat on the supermarket shelves that I had eaten for years without considering who they were. So instead of buying from the supermarkets I began buying meat from the butchers telling myself it was Ok because these animals had had a nice life, they roamed the fields and were cared for by the farmers, I told myself that they had had a nice death too, in a nice, caring, family slaughterhouse.
It wasn’t until I began exploring Buddhism and the concepts of loving, kindness and compassion that I really started thinking about eating meat and what it really meant, condoning the killing of a sentient being for my appetite, a being that didn’t want to die and I realised that there is no nice slaughter. So I stopped eating meat and fish. Veganism though, I still considered a little extreme, the animals didn’t die because I drank milk or ate cheese. I never imagined the suffering that was involved in the dairy industry until I began debating the vegetarian vs vegan point with a vegan friend. Let’s just say she enlightened me with the help of a few choice films, Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives to name just two and some YouTube videos. It was like in The Matrix when Neo takes the red pill. I realized everything I had been brought up to believe and consider normal was just programming.The footage of animals suffering was not easy viewing. I had previously scrolled quickly passed many similar clips online, which had made me instinctively close my eyes because I didn’t want to see, it was too painful for ME to watch. But my friend had made me open my eyes, to look, see and feel, feel their pain. So I watched each one that I came across. One was titled, Is your appetite worth my suffering? Finally my heart woke up and screamed NO! NO! NO, it isn’t! And I stopped eating or using any animal products. But, this wasn’t enough, I wanted the world to know and understand what I had learned. I wanted them to understand the consequences of their choices. I wanted to expose the cruelties that are done in our names for meat, dairy and eggs, for leather and fur, cleaning products and make-up and the impact on the environment, wildlife and on their own health. My heart and head was constantly screaming out ‘LOOK, PLEASE DON’T TURN AWAY’! So I used Facebook to post the same clips I once closed my eyes to, hoping that just one person might have the courage to watch and change their choices. But those videos got 2 likes at best, usually by vegans or vegetarians, whilst my dog with a blanket on his head pictures continued to get 20+. I was frustrated, with a heavy, breaking heart as to how to get the word out, how to educate people without offending people and alienating myself?
This is where An Animal Sanctuary Called Lotus came in to my story and the whole point of writing this. I saw a link on trusty Facebook, a place I treasure because it has enabled me to keep up old and make new connections with wonderful people. The link was to a page called Lotus Animal Sanctuary – Raising Awareness. Awakening Hearts. Saving Lives. The sanctuary is the life mission of Lynn, a vegan animal rights activist. When I met her, she tells me she is following a Buddhist path and was inspired by her teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh to become vegan and to get off the meditation mat and put compassion into action in everyday life, and she is.
She believes that angry veganism will not inspire people to change, but positive education will. People need to know and learn the truth and be helped to make their own conscious choices, but in a kind, compassionate, non-judgemental way. Lynn’s ethos and vision for Lotus is that it is a place for people and animals alike. Somewhere where she can educate people about the animals society refers to as food animals. She explains on her website why Lotus will be a vegan sanctuary rather than a normal animal sanctuary.
“…non-vegan sanctuaries are more specific about the animals they take in. They do not believe in rescuing animals from slaughter, their protocol is only to rescue animals who they consider to have been abused. A vegan sanctuary, on the other hand, will attempt to save all animals unconditionally”.
“Having ex-food animals in a sanctuary where people are able to visit and interact with them is hugely important in encouraging the public to see them for the sentient, emotional creatures that they are. As people rarely have immediate contact with cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and turkeys, in the way they do with cats and dogs, there is often no connection made between the animals and the meat purchased in supermarkets. Providing a platform for this kind of interaction will help adults and children to understand that these animals are just the same as the ones we share our homes with, with an equivalent capacity to give and receive love; to form friendships with other animals and humans; to play; and to feel and experience the same wide range of emotions as we do ourselves.
However Lynn’s aim isn’t just for the sanctuary to provide a safe haven for all animals living there, but for it to be a sanctuary for humans too. She hopes that it will become a space in which to enlighten children, young people, and adults about these ex- food animals, alongside providing cohesive and important information about animal rights, the huge impact animal agriculture has on our environment and global warming, and about leading a compassionate and cruelty-free lifestyle. It will offer holistic therapies, stress management, meditation and relaxation and with a view to providing yoga and counselling too. There will be a shop selling animal rights/vegan merchandise, to raise money for the sanctuary and ideally a vegan café too.
She aims for the sanctuary to offer jobs to volunteers; to work hand-in- hand with the job centre to provide employment opportunities; and secure placements for people referred from psychological services, social work, and children’s homes. Lynn has shown me what compassion in action is, how to positively educate and what it means to take it off the mat; she is an inspiration. I feel privileged to have met her and that she is allowing me to help raise awareness for Lotus. I wish Lynn and Lotus success and that they are of benefit to many.
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