I want to turn back now to my own story, to try to share with you some more of my process of liberation. Because I know lots of us here are thinking right now: what about the happy cows, what about the good farmers, what about how my family has raised animals for generations, what about my pasture-raised chickens, what about the Goshen farmer’s market, what about the Amish cheesemakers? Certainly, this isn’t all bad, is it? I asked those same questions for five years, from my first month on Heifer Ranch when I helped kill and process 90 chickens with my friends, to Ash Wednesday of 2014 when I realized I was vegan. But the most important query of all was the one the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?” Because the gospel makes it clear that our experience of eternal life, our experience of the Beloved Community, depends on our answer to that question. Who is it that gets to participate in our community as neighbor, and conversely, who is it that must participate in our community as a slave, a prisoner, a non-member?
I’ve shared about Cinnamon, now I want to tell you about Gloria. Gloria was a pig we took care of at the Ranch. She came to us in the autumn with a couple others, all of them were feeders, piglets who were weaned, weighing about 30 pounds. Gloria and the others were cute, curious, and friendly. Every day through the fall and winter we would bring them scraps from the kitchen to supplement their grain diet. It was such fun to be with the pigs when they were enjoying these treats we brought. Gloria was eating basically what I was eating from the cafeteria. This commonality made Gloria feel to me as if she were a community member. Interacting with her was part of my daily routine, she responded to my touch when I patted her head, and she came up in conversation with other community members. It seemed she was my neighbor, and I thought of her as such.
The day came when Gloria had grown large enough. I helped load her into a trailer, and she was driven to a local abattoir. A few days later, we retrieved several boxes of frozen pork from the processor. A few days after that, the cafeteria prepared porkchops for lunch. We were aware that the meat had come from Gloria’s body. And I remember feeling this warm and deep connection with Gloria that day I ate her flesh. I felt like a circle had been completed, that the community I was a part of was a good one because of how we had lived with Gloria. But for all those warm fuzzies, that meal made one thing abundantly clear as I reflected on it later on: Gloria had never actually been my neighbor. She was born to die, she was livestock, she was a slave in our community. The connection I felt was the satisfaction of a master whose slaves are docile and obedient. I was not loving Gloria by eating her, rather I was loving my own mastery over her life and body. She was organic, free-range, lived a happy life as a pig, and she was killed so I could eat her along with my neighbors. We had sacrificed the good connection we had with Gloria the pig so that we could feel more good connection with each other as humans at table. And it is so clear to me now that her death was not necessary for the health of our community. It is so clear that she had never been on equal standing with us, she had never been my neighbor, and I had never loved her as such.
The story is the same for all the other animals I cared for at the ranch: the sick lamb I had to carry on my shoulders when we moved the flock, the chicks I hatched from eggs using an incubator, the goat kids I fed from a bottle, the cows who jumped for joy when I opened the gate to fresh pasture. None of them were treated as neighbors in the community. Every single one of them was later stunned, cut, gutted, skinned, chopped to pieces, and eaten by my friends and guests at the Ranch. And I came to see that these animals wouldn’t even have been part of our community if it weren’t for all the mechanisms of control: electric fences, gates, cages, ropes, castration, branding, de-horning, piercing snouts, separating male and female. I assure you, friends, that all farmers you think of as good utilize many of these means of control, and all animals you think of as happy have suffered from some of these. Humane means of control are still means of control. So long as any creature, human or non-human is under the dominion of another, none of us can consider ourselves free.
So, “who is my neighbor?” Who should I include in my vision of the Beloved Community? Should any creature be excluded from membership, should any creature be considered lower? Let Isaiah speak, “Is this not the fast that I choose, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?” Let the teacher speak in Ecclesiastes, “They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals.” Let our friend Jesus speak, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.”
In the book of Revelation, we read that in the New Jerusalem “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Friends, I am vegan because the resurrection of Jesus crucified has set me free from the power of sin and death. I am vegan because John the Baptist cried out that I should repent and hear the Good News. I am vegan because I am called by Jesus to be a disciple of the Beloved Community. I am vegan because my liberation is bound up with the liberation of all creation. I am vegan because I don’t want to cry anymore, I don’t want to kill anymore, I don’t want to cause pain anymore. I am vegan because the Beloved Community is a movement, and unless some of us start moving ourselves, we’re gonna stay stuck with this hellish world we’ve helped create. I am vegan because I always have been. Underneath all the messages and beliefs I heard and held about animals and eating for so many years, there has always been a core of compassion for all creation. As a vegan, I am more myself than I ever have been before. Being vegan is a coming out, not a putting on. This yoke is easy, brothers and sisters, and this burden is so light. I am eating already as a member of the Beloved Community. And I pray today that all of us gathered here would stop to consider how God is calling us to broaden the circle of our relations. There is so much room in the kingdom, friends, so who else could we be loving as neighbors today? What yokes of oppression are we perpetuating that we can break today? What bonds of injustice can we loose today? What electric fences of dominion can we disarm today? How could we be more free today? Spirit, come in power. Jesus, show us the kingdom. God, have mercy on us. And help us to repent.
Joshua Kinder is a middle school mathematics teacher at a public school and a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He is a member of the Prairie Wolf Collective, a co-housing and permaculture community experiment in south central Elkhart, Indiana. In his spare time he is a musician, brewer, and amateur herbalist.
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