There have been lots of factors, experiences and influences that encouraged me to go vegan.
When people ask that question, “So what made you go vegan?” it’s hard to ever pinpoint just one reason.
However, I believe this story is probably a big one.
Before this experience, back in 2012, I had already began to learn about the egg and dairy industry, and was slowly cutting milk out of my diet in the hopes that it would improve my skin.
But it was only when I decided to embark on a two month expedition to India that I was able to gain an even deeper perspective on eating meat.
Up until the trip, I still ate meat, and continued to eat it afterwards, for a short time. The effects of the experience definitely weren’t instant.
But I do believe it helped to plant one of many seeds that would later help me make the transition.
This is quite a long read, so prepare yourself. Many of you won’t read the entire thing to the end, but if you do, thank you!!
My Trip to India
My trip to India was a voluntary expedition with the charity Raleigh International, who run various volunteer projects in different parts of the world.
Mine involved 40 volunteers, all aged somewhere between 17 and 22, and around 20 or so project managers and operations managers, who all helped run the expedition and many of whom were volunteers themselves.
During my time there I got to participate in two phases, each of which could either be an environmental/conservation project, a community project or an adventure trek. I was placed first on an 18 day trek through Kerala (southern India) followed by a three week environmental project, during which I lived next to a reservoir and helped build biogas units for the rural families in the nearby village.
The first few days of our arrival were spent at Fieldbase, where we underwent training. This involved various activities such as getting-to-know-you games; first aid training; a swim test, and mini-trek and overnight campout.
It was during this campout we got to learn other things too, such as how to cook with trangia stoves, how to dig a long drop and, as it happened…how to kill a live animal.
Killing a chicken??
This last part was unprecedented by everyone; nobody had known this was going to be part of the expedition.
That evening, we were gathered around in a circle. Simon, the Country Programme Manager began to explain to us that a big part of this expedition was all about experiencing genuine rural life here in southern India.
And, along with everything else, part of that involved learning how the locals sourced and killed their food.
Some of the group were intrigued to hear this; others not so sure. My friend Caroline, a strict vegetarian at this point, murmured that she didn’t want to have any part in watching an animal be killed, and left shortly afterwards to retreat to her tent.
There were also a few host country volunteers who were vegetarian for religious reasons. They too decided not to participate.
In the same car Simon had arrived in, a local had accompanied him and now stepped into the middle of the circle, holding a cardboard box. Inside was a live chicken. He was to give the demonstration, killing the chicken in the most humane (we were told) and authentically muslim way, as the local was muslim.
As Simon continued to speak, explaining was going to happen, the chicken was released from her box. Almost immediately, she looked surprised and overwhelmed to see all of us standing there. Straight away she began to back up, attempting to retreat from all of the eyes surrounding her. Uneasy and frightened, it took no time at all for the look of realisation and complete awareness to pass over her face; the undeniable truth that she was about to be killed.
People have asked me, “How can you tell animals feel fear?” or “How do you know animals know they’re going to be killed?”.
My simple answer would be: you can feel it.
You can physically feel their fear, filling up the atmosphere in a greyish, stagnant fog. You can see the darkness in their eyes; their innate urge to fight for their life…mixed with a terrible defeated admittance that this is it; their days are over.
There is absolutely no doubt that this chicken knew she was going to die. She could not speak English, but for all of her body language and facial expressions, that creature may as well have been human.
At the same time, the mood around the circle changed. It went from being intrigued and curious, to stoic and silent. The air was filled with the chicken’s fear and our uneasiness. Her increasing panic and realisation was reflected in each of our faces, as we looked on with a mixed bag of intrigue, sadness, helplessness and respect.
Not one person in that circle – even the more jokey or colourful characters – seemed unperturbed by the impending scenario. Nobody was laughing. For me, this has been one of the biggest proofs I have seen that humans are innately compassionate beings.
To the slaughter
The local man (who’s name I can’t remember) advanced towards the chicken. Wary and twitchy, she tried to edge away, but there was nowhere for her to go.
He took hold of her by the neck and held her down, with the help of his buddy. She resisted at first, fluttering her wings to try and escape. After a few moments, however, she stopped and went very still…perhaps a ‘playing dead’ response, I am not sure.
Simon talked us through the slaughter as it happened, explaining the point at which the knife would cut the chicken’s throat, and why (so she would die faster, and with less pain).
I wasn’t close enough to see the knife actually penetrate her throat, but I did see the demonstrator pick up the knife and press it against her feathers, after which I saw her wings do a crazy, flurried flutter for a few seconds. Simon explained that the chicken was dead at this point and that the flutter was just a muscle reflex that happened after death. Whether this is actually true or not, I don’t know, and unless we experience it ourselves, we probably never will know.
Following the fluttering, the chicken went limp and still. And what was left was a quiet, eerie silence across the circle, as though nobody dared to speak within these first few moments after her death.
Was this death relatively quick? Yes, you could say so.
Was it painless? I’m not sure about that, but hopefully with the speed of the death, the suffering did not last long.
Was this animal afforded a respectful slaughter, free of torment, torture and unnecessary pain? I guess you could say yes, in relation to typical factory farm animals. Aside from the strange audience, I guess her slaughter was a lot more respectful than most other animals are afforded.
And yet, she still died alone, in fear, panic and stress.
And most importantly, despite the circumstances, she had not wanted to die.
This was the biggest thing I took away that day.
Eat but not slaughter?
After the demonstration, each of our five training groups were given a live chicken of their own, to slaughter if they wished. This was with trained guidance of the locals obviously, and some of the host country volunteers who had slaughtered animals before were also able to supervise.
Of course, different people responded to this in different ways. For the guys who had spent their childhoods hiking, hunting and fishing, this was obviously seen as a great opportunity to really enhance their caveman skills. Others, however, were not so eager.
In the end, a couple of members of each group were happy to perform the slaughter. Vegetarians and many omnivores, however, took a step back.
Afterwards, we were encouraged to cook the chicken for using the trangia stoves. For those who didn’t want to consume it, the alternative was boil-in-the-bag veggie curries and rice.
So what did I do?
Well, I thought hard about it. I was a meat-eater at the time, and a happy one at that.
I knew one thing for sure, and that was that I didn’t want to participate in killing that chicken. I understood that from a primal point of view, some people would be okay with it, and that was one thing.
But I knew it was something I couldn’t do.
So did I want to still eat it? That was still a legitimate option.
Yet it didn’t seem fair – or indeed even logical – for me to eat the flesh of a living being I had not been able to kill myself.
If I couldn’t slaughter it, did I deserve to eat it? Somehow, it felt odd and wrong. What right did I have, after all?
So that night, I enjoyed boil-in-the-bag veggie curry and rice, along with two of my fellow group-members. Both of whom, incidentally, were also omnivorous.
As expected, the effects of what I had witnessed faded over time. Throughout the rest of that expedition, I ate meat a total of three times. Once I arrived back home, I continued to fall back into learned habits, eating meat regularly.
But the image of that terrified chicken never left me. This memory, along with further education and reading, led me to go vegetarian three months later.
Life vs. Death
Not everyone would be moved by what I saw, and that’s okay.
There’s also probably some people who’ll argue that so long as an animal “has a good life”, then slaughtering them is okay.
There are various arguments surrounding this, which I won’t go into right now. But if there’s one thing I can tell you – the happiness level of an animal during its lifetime does not matter in death.
When the time of its death comes around, that animal is going to be scared, panicked and alone.. and painfully aware of its impending fate.
If you’re really interested in finding out, you could go and spend some time in a slaughterhouse. Bear witness to an animal’s death; or at the very least those last few moments before.
But I’m guessing very few people would do that.
In many ways, I feel lucky that I got to experience what I did. Otherwise I might never have known the fear an animal goes through prior to slaughter for myself.
I hope that my story in some way resonated with you. If not, then it’s okay. I know it can be difficult to be affected by some things second-hand. Maybe one day you’ll get an opportunity to witness something like it for yourself.
If you’ve read to the end of this post, I thank you! Even if you just skimmed it, I don’t mind so long as you managed to take something away from it.
Once again I thank you guys. Please share this post on your social media if you found it in anyway insightful, helpful or interesting.