I went to a livestock auction in late November. It took me a while to process the experience because it was so traumatic.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, livestock auctions are where farmers buy and sell the animals they exploit. It’s an awful place that I’d like to say I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but anyone who pays to eat animal flesh, milk and eggs ought to take responsibility for what they’re funding and witness every moment of the process before so casually continuing to consume the products of extreme cruelty while either scoffing at the vegans in the room or congratulating them for their “lifestyle choice.”
At the auction I witnessed the selling of calves. I watched babies being yelled at and hit with sticks and forced into an arena, surrounded by men gawking and yelling and calculating if they’re worth the price per pound. I watched human families eating fries and gravy and hot dogs while scared lonely animals desperately paced the small dirty space looking for any escape. They do “escape” within a matter of minutes, but to a place where they’ll be fattened up and then shipped off to have their throats slit within the year. I heard the auctioneer shout out “organic” from time to time, pandering to the misguided consumer who hopelessly keeps trying to find the right way to do the wrong thing. I felt cold, distant, slightly paranoid human eyes look at me and my fellow activists with the rightful sense that we don’t belong, while I looked forth anyway – beyond the scared eyes and cries of being after being – to signs advertising bovine insemination services. We heard baby goats crying in the background. We heard trucks pulling in and out. We smelled diesel fumes and fear.
The individual that remains burned in my brain is a perfect little brown calf with a white triangle on her head. There’s no photo of her because you can’t take cameras into auctions, a reminder of the industry’s intentional concealment that is voluntarily maintained by those who pretend to play no role in supporting it. It’s overwhelming to think of her too often. I move on by knowing that she doesn’t benefit from my being broken and frozen. So I get up again and again and try to wake a sleeping world. Doe-eyed and just a week or two from birth, she innocently circled the centre of the arena, delicate legs carrying her where she doesn’t want to go. Humans welcome her to a world of violence, to a microcosm of a dying world where men wager on the value of her body. She was a calf from the dairy industry. She is every calf from the dairy industry.
When someone asks at dinner if there’s any “real sour cream” because the cashew sour cream won’t do, it can’t quite be shaken off as a matter of “personal choice.” This is a matter of life and death. It’s not a mere difference. It’s not an opinion.
What do non-vegans see when they witness any part of what it takes to put animal meat, milk and eggs on their plates? What do they hear when they listen to animals crying in fear and pain? What do they read when their eyes pass over these words?
“Don’t tell me you ‘understand’ why I’m vegan. If you understood you’d be vegan too.”