When Colleen Patrick-Goudreau prepares her meals, she isn’t selective in her compassion for living things.
There are many misconceptions about vegetarians, vegans, and animal activists, and it’s a joy to debunk them whenever I can. However, one that leaves me perplexed and somewhat sad is the assumption that because I care about this issue, I don’t care about others. That in caring about animals, I don’t care about humans, as if compassion for one species means lack of compassion for another. The implication is that animal advocacy is a trivial cause and that it exists in a vacuum, disconnected from other social justice issues. But it also implies that humans have a limited capacity for mercy, kindness, and empathy – that we don’t have enough to go around and that we’ll just run out.
Accusing animal advocates of being “anti-human” is an easy way to undermine the legitimacy of animal advocacy, but it’s also odd, because, though we’re reminded everyday that humans steal, lie, cheat, kill, and hurt one another, I’ve never heard any of these people labeled “anti-human.” Wouldn’t the accusation better suit someone who actually acts against humans? Ironically, those who commit the worst crimes against humans are derisively called “animals.”
Our choice of words reflects our perceptions of animals, as well as their status in society and perhaps perpetuates the notion that animal advocacy is an unworthy cause. We call people pigs, rats, chickens, dogs, snakes, and worms when we really want to insult them. We casually talk of “killing two birds with one stone,” “beating dead horses,” and the many ways to “skin a cat.” At the same time, we call animals pork, beef, poultry, meat, and seafood and don’t want to be reminded that these words mask their original sources: once-living animals.
As a vegan cooking instructor and vocal animal advocate, I have discussions with people every day about this issue, and I’ve learned that it’s the absence of this kind of dialogue that leads to misconceptions and assumptions. After hundreds of conversations, I’ve concluded that most people don’t really believe that we have a finite amount of kindness and compassion. I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do if I believed otherwise. My work is built on a foundation of compassion for all – and that includes humans as well as all other animals.