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Ed Winters on Why He Became Vegan

Posted on 23rd December 2021 by Anna Orhanen

A passionate manifesto against animal cruelty, This Is Vegan Propaganda is the first book from popular vegan educator and animal rights activist Ed Winters - also known as Earthling Ed. In this exclusive piece, Winters talks about the experiences that functioned as a catalyst for him to embrace a vegan lifestyle.

Growing up I had always been ambivalent towards the animals I ate. While I always said I was against animal cruelty, in truth, I never stopped and actually thought about what happens to animals and if I’m being really honest, I didn’t really care. After all, the animals I ate were there to be eaten, so why should I care?

However, all of this changed in May 2014. I was scrolling through the BBC Online and I came across a story about a truck carrying six and a half thousand chickens crashing near Manchester. The truck was in the process of driving to a slaughterhouse. The journalist described how around fifteen hundred chickens had been killed due to the crash, including many who were run over by cars. I thought about the hundreds of other chickens who were still alive but with broken bones or who were mutilated and suffering. For the first time in my life I found myself empathising with the plight of these animals, thinking of the experience that they were being forced to endure. For the first time I was viewing chickens not as abstractions but as sentient individuals.

But then I remembered that in my fridge was the remains of a KFC I had eaten the night before. In fact, fried chicken was one of my absolute favourite things to eat when I used to eat animals and I went to my local KFC so often that the workers knew who I was. However, reflecting on the juxtaposition between my enjoyment of eating fried chicken and the empathy I was now feeling for chickens caused me to feel like a hypocrite. How could I morally justify paying for animals to be needlessly exploited and killed when I recognised that they are sentient individuals who, on top of everything else, have the capacity to suffer and feel pain?

I found myself presented with two options, I could either bury my head in the sand and pretend as if I had never read about the chicken truck crash, or I could accept that my actions were not in alignment with my values and change accordingly. I thought about the values that I said I had regarding animals, such as being against animal cruelty and abuse. I then thought about what constituted animal cruelty and abuse in my eyes and realised that what I was paying for was the perfect demonstration of those two things, after all, what can be more cruel than exploiting someone for their entire life and then cutting their throat to kill them prematurely?

As a consequence of this I went vegetarian and then around eight months later I watched a documentary called Earthlings, which was the catalyst for my change to veganism. The documentary objectively shows what happens to animals, including those raised for dairy and eggs, as well as those used for clothing, entertainment and testing. It is a deeply upsetting and visually distressing film that doesn’t hold back in depicting the violent things we do to animals and as such, by the end of the film I was feeling emotionally devastated.

At that time I had a little hamster called Rupert, who was the first animal I had ever lived with and formed a real emotional connection to. After the film finished I went and sat with Rupert and I gave him some broccoli, which was his favourite food. I watched him as he grasped the vegetable in his tiny paws, proceeding to meticulously chomp his way through it. As he was eating I thought about Rupert, about his like and dislikes, his personality and fundamentally who he was. I thought about Rupert being an individual, experiencing his own life subjectively. I thought about the times I had seen Rupert fearful or in pain and I thought about how I would react if anyone tried to hurt Rupert or do any of the things to him that I had seen happen to all the animals in the film.

It was at this point that I realised that the problem of what we do to animals isn’t simply about meat, dairy and eggs - food is simply a symptom of the problem. The problem is that we view certain species of animals as having such little worth that what we do to them for food, or any other reason that we exploit them, becomes permissible. We have devalued the animals who we exploit so much that people would be denounced as animal abusers and even put in prison if they did to dogs and cats what we pay to happen to the chickens, pigs, cattle, lambs and the other species of animals we so nonchalantly dominate.

Yet, as I watched Rupert, I realised that morally there is no difference between the animals we love in our homes and the animals we kill in slaughterhouses. We have instead otherised the species that we exploit and created a mentality of discrimination that means we tyrannise certain animals simply because they were born into a different body to that of an animal whose lives we cherish.

But in the end the animals we exploit also possess the traits that make the animals we love and even ourselves worthy of moral consideration. They are sentient, conscious, feeling individuals, whose lives, to them, are the most valuable things in the world. It is for these reasons that I made the change to veganism, after all, if I can reduce the suffering I cause to animals, then why wouldn’t I?

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