A fourth-grade teacher (Suburban Snow White) snuggles with some rescued goats at Farm Sanctuary.

The goat friends I made visiting Farm Sanctuary. They were such fun!

I love our world’s large and small creatures and I’ve been a happily plant-based teacher since 2012. As animal and environmental issues have become a big part of the world dialog, veganism is getting major traction as a way to be kinder to the animals in our lives and to the planet we inhabit. Here are some commonly asked questions.

What does vegan even mean?

  • Eat amazing food that comes from non-animal sources.
  • Buy products from companies that understand that animal testing is not only mean but, frankly, ineffective.
  • When you have room for an animal companion in your life, adopt her instead of buying her.

By creating a happily-ever-after for animals, you will find yourself becoming happier. This admittedly sounds dopey and “kumbaya,” but eschewing cruelty rounds one’s life out in a cool way. You’ll still have to pay your taxes and take out the trash. Dingdongs will still cut you off in traffic. But there will be an overall pleasant shift.

Is vegan pronounced VAY-guhn or VEE-guhn?

It’s VEE-guhn.

But strange-sounding words aside, a vegan guy or gal is a person who chooses not to eat, use, or wear products that come from an animal. (A vegetarian, by contrast, mainly forgoes animal meat.) Some do it for health. Some for the environment. And many do it because they don’t want to pay others to hurt animals. Because the long and short of it is that no matter how nicely-labeled the package — locally-raised, cage-free, grass-fed, all-natural, organic, humanely-raised — the animals get a pretty raw deal.

Wait. Hold the phone. I get the meat argument. But dairy and eggs? Why is that so bad?

That was something I used to wonder too. Cheese omelets seemed so innocuous.

The quick answer is that all the animals in animal agriculture — the fathers, mothers, and babies — get killed. And they live unenviable lives before that final moment. There’s unfortunately no Medicaid, retirement communities, or  senior discounts for retired dairy cows or egg-laying hens. Once they are “spent,” as the industry calls it, that’s it. What’s left of their bodies is killed and processed.

Additionally, cows will only lactate if they are pregnant. And as soon as a male baby is born, he is taken from his mother and raised/killed for veal. Females are taken away to ultimately become milk machines themselves. {The videos of this moment of forced separation between mother and baby are notoriously hard to watch.} A few weeks later, the females are impregnated again in what is called by some in the industry as a “rape rack.” (I swear, I am not making this stuff up.) After about five years of this nine-month gestation cycle, the mothers’ bodies are so depleted that their milk production slows and they get the “spent” stamp — “Thanks for everything, ladies!” —  and off they go to the slaughterhouse. (Cows can typically live to 20 or 25 years of age.)

As males chicks that are born in egg hatcheries are useless to the egg industry, they are immediately killed. Usually — and I don’t want to freak you out but there’s no delicate way to say this — by grinding them alive in macerators. The females have their beaks cut (very painful) and endure the worst abuses in animal agriculture.

Eggs and dairy make for very unhappy animals.

But animals are not human, after all. Right?

It’s true. Animals are not humans. But most animals have nerve endings. Humans — being one species of animal — have nerve endings. Being cut, hit, burned, or shocked feels the same, no matter which species you happen to be. If we don’t want it to happen to us, then why would we let it happen to another? Pain is pain. Fear is fear.

I don’t mean to sound selfish, because I really love animals, but I could never give up cheese/bacon/______ {fill in blank}.

Fair enough. That you have read this far indicates that these issues hold merit for you on some level. Given that, if you saw a quick video on legally standard treatment of pigs, cows, etc, you’d be amazed how quickly those products would lose their appeal. You never forget those images or sounds.

But if seeing the reality is not in the cards for now, then go animal-free except for that one product. See what happens. It reminds me of my own resistance to cleaning the house each week. My motto is “just ten minutes per room,” and I literally time myself to get going. It quickly becomes a game. Sometimes I stick to the ten-minute limit and my house looks pretty spiffy in just about one hour. Usually, though, I get so pleased by the visible progress, that I put some extra effort into each room. It’s the same with any change. Just try something small and manageable, and see how you do. Relax and have fun with it. Even if you don’t give up that product, small changes will make an enormous impact to the animals trapped in the system.