I know this is supposed to be the Vegan Month of Food and animals are not our food, but today’s prompt is the rather touching request to honour a human or non-human animal that inspires our veganism. And I’m not gonna lie, not being strictly-speaking a food blogger, I can definitely do with a break from trying to make my food sound or look interesting!
At first, I was a little stuck with this post. While I have always felt a genuine affinity with animals, and while my journey towards and into and through veganism has been supported by inspiring humans, I didn’t really have any sort of one-off epiphany that pushed me to take the leap into veganism.
But the beauty of a challenge like Vegan MoFo is that because I want to keep up with all the prompts, it forces me to think outside the box a little, or delve a little deeper into my memory, in order to find some was of fulfilling the brief. And so I remembered somebody who was very important to me, and who truly deserves to be honoured in today’s post.
The house I grew up in backed onto a paddock that housed a gorgeous male Haflinger pony named Eiko (though I never did know how to spell it). I was fascinated by him from a young age and, when I was a little older, daydreamed about being allowed into the field to groom him and ride him and whisper my secrets into his fluffy ears. Apparently he bit me on the hand when I was a baby, but I guess I got over that pretty quickly!
The paddock down the road also housed a number of Haflinger ponies – the mares and their young. When I walked to school, I would walk past them every morning and great them under my breath. They were such beautiful creatures.
According to Wikipedia, Haflingers are generally used as work ponies due to their sturdiness. However, they are also bred for human consumption, and I starkly remember the day that my mum told me the horses I dreamed about befriending were probably going to end up in a styrofoam tray in a supermarket. I was so upset – and, in fact, I still am – at the thought that these beautiful, powerful, and expressive beings could be coldly slaughtered and butchered and end their days as anonymous slabs of meat. It genuinely makes my stomach curl.
I was absolutely obsessed with horses until I was about 10 or 12 years old, and every Sunday I would spend the afternoon at a horse stable run by a couple of farmers. They didn’t train the horses for riding, but we could ride some of them for a little bit if we wanted, and spent the rest of the day mucking out stalls, grooming the horses, cleaning and polishing leather tack, walking through the forest, and making pancakes together. It was such a good way for a kid to spend an afternoon among animals and nature!
Although these days I wouldn’t encourage the riding of horses, nor take part in it myself anymore, I think it was a positive experience that may have indirectly contributed to my going vegan many years later. I remember one of the owners of the stables telling us a story one day about how one of her friends had served her (or maybe threatened to serve her?) horse meat, and how disgusted and upset she was. And while I did agree that the idea of eating a horse was disgusting, I distinctly remember thinking that it was no different to eating a cow or a pig. Hypocritically, I wasn’t vegan or even vegetarian then, nor did I transition until a few years later, but I think it was an important seed that had been planted.
Although I grew up with a cat whose memory I cherish no matter how unrequited my love for him, I believe that it was growing up around animals like horses that didn’t “belong” to me, and having to learn to interact with them on their own terms, accepting that they had better things to worry about than my entertainment, that taught me to appreciate that non-human animals also have their own reasons for existing. Seeing them and co-existing with them day after day, it was so plain to see that they had their own instincts geared towards survival and health and happiness, and that they have very little to do with me.
Non-human animals can teach compassion far better than humans can – if only we would learn to listen to them.