Last weekend, I stood in the main shopping street in Edinburgh alongside some of the most passionate people I've ever met for my first Earthlings Experience.
If you haven't heard of the Earthlings Experience, then chances are you may have already seen us. We're the people standing in the street, often in a circle, with white masks on. We don't shout or preach about veganism, we just show you footage of animals suffering in slaughterhouses, farms and hatcheries. The footage we use is happening to animals every single day in the UK. I wish I could tell you that these were isolated cases, but the truth is that it's happening to animals right now as you read this article.
My road to veganism began two and a half year ago. I made the decision to stop eating meat when I was around 12 years old, but I had never really given much thought to the egg and dairy industries. I have never drunk cow's milk or ever understood why people did, and I never really bought or liked eggs either. That's not to say that I didn't buy into these industries through other products like cakes and ice cream though. I just never really made the connection that animals in these industries suffer just as much as ones who are killed for their meat.
Once I started to do my research, I couldn't quite believe what was deemed as normal practise in these industries. Did you know that virtually all male dairy calves are stolen from their mothers within hours of being born? Since only female cows can produce milk, most of the male calves are slaughtered for that veal you tuck into in a fancy restaurant. The female calves might get to live, but they're not treated as anything other than a milk producing machine. They're forcefully impregnated which leads to them producing much more milk than they naturally would. This unnatural process leads to lots of dairy cows developing infections and diseases, as well as being kept inside rather than being able to roam around in fields outside.
The egg industry isn't much better with millions of newborn male chicks killed every year. While the female chicks aren't, millions are turned into egg producing machines kept in cramp conditions in dark cages. It's a fate that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, yet it seems the majority of people in the UK are quite happy to sit back and let it happen.
Animal activism is something I've never really been involved in before. I would happily explain why I was vegan if someone asked me, but I didn't go out of my way to shout about it. However there comes a point when you realise than not eating meat or wearing animal products is just not enough, and you have to do what you can to raise awareness about how much animals suffer for food and products that we don't actually need.
I wasn't really sure what reaction we'd get from people or if they'd even stop, but people came over as soon as we set up. People seemed really curious as to what footage we were showing with some watching for a minute and others for twenty. We saw some parents usher their children away from us, and others let their kids watch for themselves. I saw people with tears in their eyes after watching for only a few seconds and some with their mouths wide open in disbelief at what they were looking at. Of course, there were also a few people who muttered things as they walked past, and one lovely gentleman who stuck his fingers up at some of us.
We might not have turned everyone who stopped into a vegan overnight, but we did something right if people walked away thinking about how much cruelty and suffering went into the steak dinner they sat down to the night before.