21 April 2023

Letter to a New Vegan

Thinking Like a Chicken Podcast
News & Views!

Liqin and Franklin on the street handing out pamphlets
UPC staff activists Liqin Cao & Franklin Wade
Photo by Jessica Fomalont

Today’s podcast episode, Letter to a New Vegan, is based on an essay I wrote for an anthology of this name, addressing the person who has chosen to abandon a diet of carnage in favor of an animal-free, slaughter-free diet. While so many of the products we buy incorporate hidden animal suffering, the most blatant is food. Food is also more than anything else we consume the most personal and intimate. Determination to throw off years of culinary conditioning can be daunting at first, but it can be done and I urge that it must be done and discuss in this podcast a few of the challenges and, best of all, the lasting rewards from my own experience of being vegan. Tune in!

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Letter to a New Vegan

Podcast: Letter to a New Vegan by Karen Davis, PhD

Hello, and thank you for joining me today. I’m Karen Davis, the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes compassion and respect for chickens, turkeys, ducks, and other domesticated birds.

Some years ago I was invited to contribute a short essay to an anthology titled Letters to a New Veganpublished by Lantern Books in 2015. I recommend this small, paperback book, subtitled Words to Inform, Inspire, and Support a Vegan Lifestyle, to anyone considering, or newly committed to, a vegan life.

So today I’m going to read this Letter, to which I’ve added a thing or two, and hope that even if you have been vegan for a while, you will still find it motivating and worth sharing.

Dear New Vegan,

I welcome you warmly to the growing community of people who are choosing to eat and live compassionately. As you begin your vegan life, you may feel at first that your choice is a difficult one, perhaps too difficult at times. But I urge you to stay true to your decision, because it is the right one. I became vegan in 1983 after being vegetarian for ten years, never realizing, during those years, that dairy milk and eggs are every bit as much a part of an animal’s body as meat is, and that hens and cows and their young are treated just as badly, and are eventually slaughtered the same, as animals raised for meat.

They too are slaughtered for human and nonhuman animal consumption. All farmed animals, if they don’t die first, are slaughtered.

I will tell you, briefly, why I stopped eating meat, and, finally, all animal products. I grew up in a meat-eating household in Pennsylvania. Although I always loved animals, I ate animal products so unthinkingly that I would argue with my father against hunting at the dinner table over a plateful of once-living creatures who at that time were invisible to me as having recently been animals.

Even years later, I ran almost daily to the Lexington Market in Baltimore to purchase a barbecued “Cornish hen” to devour on the floor in my boarding house room as thoughtlessly as if this bird had been a piece of bread.

But then, in the 1970s, I discovered an essay by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in which he vividly described his visit to a Moscow slaughterhouse. Having witnessed the animals’ suffering, he urged that the first step toward a compassionate, non-violent life is to get the animal bloodshed out of one’s system. I immediately quit eating meat. A decade later, philosopher Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation and a cookbook called The Cookbook for People Who Love Animals opened my eyes to the truth of dairy and eggs. I saw I could no longer ethically consume those products or any “product” from an animal.

For many new vegans, including me, cheese was the biggest hurdle, but I got over it. One day I sat in my car in front of my favorite Italian restaurant in College Park, Maryland, crying because I could no longer have pizza with extra (or any!) cheese. I had a good cry in the driver’s seat. Then I dried my eyes, went inside, ordered rigatoni with mushrooms, and never looked back.

I wish that in childhood I had made the connection between eating and animals, but I didn’t. As a child growing up in a community where schools were (and still are) closed on the first day of hunting season, where ring-necked pheasants are pen-raised to be released into the woods to be shot for pleasure by hunters, I hated those things, yet I didn’t think about animals in relation to the dinner table. While I don’t hold myself responsible for what I didn’t realize at the time, once my eyes were open, I was, and am, responsible.

To this day I consider my decision to keep faith with animals by respecting them and not eating them to be the single best decision I have ever made. For me, being vegan is the opposite of renunciation and “doing without.” It is a totally positive, deeply satisfying diet and dietary decision that has influenced my attitude and behavior in other areas, including household and personal care products, and in trying to act consciously instead of just conveniently.

If I have any advice to give, it is to stay firm in your commitment and be happy about it. Practically speaking, I would encourage you to eat a wholesome vegan diet and not gorge on vegan junk food. I would encourage you to educate yourself about vegan nutrition and to share what you are learning with others in a friendly way. Offer to cook a family dinner once a week (or more), making sure that what you serve is delicious, and do everything possible to make being vegan an affirmative, pleasurable, and fulfilling experience. Remember the animals whose lives you are no longer ruining just for a meal. For me, this is the most powerful incentive.

I hope those of you who are listening to this podcast today have found it informative and inspiring on behalf of vegan living. Please remember to do a Compassionate Action for Chickens on or around May 4th for International Respect for Chickens Day in May 2023.

Thank you very much for listening, and please join me for the next podcast episode of Thinking Like a Chicken – News & Views! And have a wonderful day.

Thank you!

KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl published by Lantern Publications & Media.

Karen with Rainbow the rooster
Photo by Unparalleled Suffering Photography
Rainbow looking into the camera. Karen smiling and looking at Rainbow