'Who stole my compassion, my empathy and my conscience?' Gary Yourofsky asks me.
'When we were children', he explains, 'we listened to our parents read us a story about animals, we smiled and giggled, we mimicked the noises the animals made, we wanted to play with them.. not have someone shove a knife in their throat and cut them up into pieces'.
Gary's shocking words inevitably take me back to my own childhood. 'Children do have an instinctive love for animals' I observe, 'something obviously happens along the way'.
'When I became vegan I asked myself just that' Gary tell me, 'what happened along the way? who taught me that animals were put on this earth for food? who taught me to view animals as mere commodities? who instilled this vicious mindset of human-to-animal exploitation as standard operating procedure?'
Passionate and beaming with endearing integrity, probably the world's best known animal rights activist, tells me he became vegan when he finally understood that animals had an inherent right to unfettered by human domination.
'I wondered why it took more than 25 years to attain this nonviolent awakening', he reflects.
'Awakening comes with knowledge' I say, 'ignorance is rife..most consumers believe that cows graze contently in the field, happy to be milked'.
I obviously touched on a raw nerve and Gary's passionate reply is quick to come. 'I am here to take people's blinders off ' he says with great conviction, 'a cow, like every other female mammal only produces milk during and after pregnancy..she is artificially impregnated once a year to keep the milk flow going..the dairy industry steals cows' babies because it can't have calves sucking up all the milk meant for them when they would rather sell it to humans'.
What a viciously cruel existence I think to myself. The cow's baby is stolen, the milk she produced for her new born is pumped out of her and she is impregnated again. She staggers through this hellish cycle for 6 - 7 years until her body cannot bear another pregnancy and she is sent to slaughter.
'A milk making machine' I say with a heavy heart as unforgettable words from Gary's YouYube lecture echo in my head; 'worst scream I have ever heard' he tells the dead silent audience, 'was a mother cow on a dairy farm as she screams and bawls her lungs out day after day for her stolen baby to be given back to her'.
The landmark lecture titled 'The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear' has attracted over one million views mark and Yourofsky himself is acknowledged by PETA as 'a terrific speaker on animal rights..which is why, when he said he was abandoning his talks to go bag groceries many years ago, PETA US gave him funding so that he could continue speaking'.
Gary's impact is immense for a reason; while shellshocking with horrific secretly filmed farm and slaughterhouse footage, he raises poignant questions that shatter people's firmly rooted convictions.
To Gary it is not just about the constant kicking and hitting of an innocent calf, the slamming of baby pigs to the ground when they don't grow fast enough or castration without anesthetic, its about you realizing that this cruelty only exists because of 'your addiction to meat, milk and cheese'.
Its not the production line grinding of live new born chicks, long steel devices shooting hog semen into female pigs' uteruses or animals handled like inanimate, none feeling objects, it is about you understanding that 'these animals are enslaved and this is how slaves have always been treated'.
Most importantly, it is about you realizing that the industrial scale cruelty that every year, in the US alone murders 10 billion land animals and 18 billion marine animals can only exist when we view an entire group as inferior to us - this is speciesism; what Richard Dawkins calls the 'the wall' that man has put up between humans and the animal kingdom.
'A couple of centuries ago' explains Dawkins, 'racism would have been taken absolutely for granted and now we've grown out of that.. today we live in a spiciest world, we are automatically, without question without even thinking about it assume that there is one law for homo sapiens and one law for the rest of the animal kingdom'.
This unquestionable assumption of superiourity is at the heart of Yourofsky's message and forms ' the basis of all discrimination'
'..punching, kicking, stabbing..' he says, clearly upset, 'we are not cavemen and cavewomen anymore and these are not inanimate objects..stop claiming man is the only one capable of thought..it's not an accident that animals can build a home and return to those homes, that they care for their babies, look for shade on a sunny day, seek warmth when it's cold, figure out when to sleep or stay awake, locate water to drink, fly in a V-formation, hide when they don't want to be seen and defend their territory..animals are rational, aware and self aware..'
I present Gary with recent scientific proof of his instinct is backed by recent science where Neuroscientists, David Edelman, Philip Low and Christof Koch..have declared that 'humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness..animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these..'
His typically defiant reply is quick to come, '..I didn't need a bunch of snooty, over-analyzing..elitists with a bunch of initials next to their name explain to me that animals are rational and aware..'
This charmingly humble man is currently banned from entry to the UK, persona non grata alongside convicted rapists and self proclaimed muslim terrorists. A status achieved by Gary's past provocative statements and 13 arrests for 'acts of kindness and compassion on behalf of my animal brothers and sisters'.
The truth is that like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Mandela, this hurting man has come to realize that to end the suffering of 'the world's forgotten victims', laws have to be broken.
Yourofsky served 77 days in prison after raiding a Canadian fur farm and releasing 1,542 mink into the wild and in 2005 declared that fur wearers should themselves be raped. In response to the furore surrounding this declaration he called himself 'a proud advocate of violence'.
Gary Yourofsky has since, as stated on his web site come to realise that education is the 'most effective way to enlighten the masses'.
He avidly preaches 'radical kindness' and the core message of the hundreds of talks he gives every year is veganism as a way to 'directly participate in ending a massacre'.
'If every meat-eater logically and compassionately re-evaluated their beliefs' explains the man who has dedicated his life to the animal rights cause, 'they would see veganism as the only ethical way to live'.
'Meat and cheese eating is a life habit that is tough to break' I remark, stating the obvious.
It also requires a certain level of what Dawkins calls 'social courage' to break out of the 'meat eating norm'.
As a past 'addict' Gary agrees quickly stressing that there are no two ways about it 'we need to be unselfish and walk the compassionate talk for the animals who never inflicted pain upon us'.
It occurs to me that it is in fact their very innocence and helplessness that 'facilitates' their 'enslavement', a manifestation of Sam Harris's 'ethically asymmetric warfare' where the animals' passive nature is their 'scruples', viciously used by man, the enemy, as a weapon.
As Gary talks of new born male piglets held upside down as their tails are cut off without anesthetic, female pigs as 'unwilling baby machines of the meat industry' repeatedly impregnated against their will, piglets' teeth cut off so they cannot damage each other's flesh when fighting in overcrowded cages, debeaking, testicles ripped out without anesthetic, chained new born calves, chemicals together with genetic-engineering and drugs forcing hens to lay around 300 eggs a year, animals enduring fully conscious dismemberment, I find myself convinced that a major rethink of the way we treat animals is urgently called for. I don't expect people to turn vegan or even vegetarian in their millions, only to question the mass scale production that our meat and milk consumption demands and the brutality we allow in the process. These are thinking, feeling beings and we cannot so routinely, matter of factly inflict suffering upon them.
'We must show 'greater moral consideration' to animals, says Dawkins. 'Yes, it is an emotional case' he adds, 'what's wrong with that? we are emotional creatures..'
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