As vegans and people sensitive to the suffering of others regardless of species, we face a unique set of challenges to our sensibilities. A casual stroll through the grocery store, a shoe or clothing boutique, watching a TV show or movie, or even a family holiday gathering can bring stress, sadness, frustration, and a sense of aloneness in a world that is often oblivious to the pain inflicted on the animal kingdom to serve dietary and fashion preferences.
As a poetry therapy practitioner, I work with literature as an instrument of connection and expression. When selecting a poem or other literary piece, a practitioner seeks to find one that accurately mirrors their client’s feelings. There is something uniquely comforting about the power of the written word and its ability to heal our spirits, help us feel we are not alone, and affirm our heartfelt inclinations. Therefore, I was especially moved when I came across a beautiful passage in Milan Kundera’s, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where the female protagonist watches the cows grazing in the pasture. Her thoughts, as she observes these guileless creatures, form a veritable animal rights manifesto. The essence of the message can be summed up in the following quotation from the novel, though reading the passage in its entirety is veggie soup for the vegan soul:
True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.
Another literary passage that could have a vegan cheering from a cozy armchair is from Victoria Forester’s novel, The Girl Who Could Fly. Piper, a young farm girl with many questions, ponders the following:
Ma says the Bible sets out what’s right and wrong, so we don’t have to bother ourselves with it none, but it seems to me that it ain’t so matter-of-fact. Like when you kilt that old cow last week and I didn’t want to eat it because he was my favorite and so gentle besides. Ma said I was sinful to waste food. But I said maybe we shouldn’t go about killing and eating cows when they was so peaceful-like. Ma said that was foolishness and that God put the cows here just so as we can eat’em. But that don’t seem like such a good deal for the cows to me. Preacher told us not more than four Sundays ago that God loves all his creatures, but it ain’t loving to my way of thinking to create a thing just for it to be food. Them cows ain’t never done nothing to us. Which got me to thinking that maybe we got it wrong and they got a purpose we don’t know nothing about.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, in her Vegan’s Daily Companion, spotlights “Animals in the Arts” in her Thursday passages, which provide many wonderful examples, not only from literature but also from film and other visual arts as well. On day 151, she references a now out-of-print collection of poems compiled in 1927, entitled, Poetry’s Plea for Animals: An Anthology, edited by Frances E. Clark. Colleen states:
That so many poems were written on behalf of animals…and that these poems are not just about how lovely animals are, but also about how cruelly they are treated is truly extraordinary…To be made the subject of poetry is the highest honor you can receive, and so in and through these poem, the status of nonhuman animals is elevated to a much higher degree than that which they experience in actual life. As subjects of these poems, they are exalted in ways they have yet to experience off the page.
Perhaps the time has come for another anthology of this kind! Until then, I invite you to share such quotes, novels, and poems as you come upon them in your reading with fellow vegans and clients. Keeping up our stamina in an effort to shift an age-old paradigm requires a healthy diet and soul-nourishing vegan “food for thought”!
Jackie Demeri Costello is a Main Street Vegan Academy-certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, a Poetry Therapy Practitioner, yoga teacher, and author of Animooves: Yoga & Creativity Inspired by Animals. Visit her website at www.animooves.com where you will find yoga for all ages, animal awareness information, and free downloadable coloring sheets.