animal welfare

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 22

Current word count: 45,970/50,000 words.

Today’s writing soundtrack: ABC Classic FM radio

(…and the sound of one of the neighbours’ dogs howling… ugh… people, please: if you can’t give a dog the attention he or she needs to be psychologically healthy, maybe you ought to not have a dog. Keeping a highly sociable pet – evolved from a species that forms close bonds with its pack – locked up on its own for several hours every day is not good for them, and a nightly 15 minute walk isn’t going to do much to alleviate its stress.)

Anyway, animal welfare rant aside (though if you want more on that sort of thing, here’s an article I read today that I liked), I am on the home stretch and I don’t want to give into the temptation to procrastinate writing by getting caught up blogging. I can picture a hare/tortoise scenario in which I am the overconfident hare that stops to take a quick nap – only to find I lose the race.

Here’s a screenshot showing my current progress, before I begin working on my writing for Day 22. My NaNo experience this year has been, by far, my most successful. I have followed a number of different techniques and ideas while writing in comparison to previous years. After November I will (hopefully) write a retrospective piece on why NaNoWriMo 2016 was my best year so far.


NaNoWriMo 2016 progress screenshot, at the beginning of Day 22. [Source]

NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 1

Saturday, 31 October 2015

It’s the last day of Nanowrimo planning. I awoke feeling pretty horrendous. I can never anticipate when my anxiety and depression are going to hit but in the last week I had my first severe anxiety attack since last Christmas, followed by days of a sharp increase in my depression symptoms. For people who aren’t familiar with how this disease works, basically it makes normal, everyday activities about a thousand times more difficult than they need to be.

However, I pushed through and it was worth it. The kids had their weekly swimming lessons and it was strangely quiet. Here in Melbourne, Australia, today marked the beginning of the week-long Melbourne Cup Carnival. My personal opinions about horseracing and its attendant animal welfare concerns aside, and to put it all in context, the first Tuesday of November each year marks the running of the 3,200 metre VRC Melbourne Cup, first held in 1861. Much of the most recent centuries of Australian history are inextricably intertwined with horses and the Melbourne Cup is huge. It also constitutes a public holiday in Melbourne and in at least some parts of the state of Victoria. I don’t know of any other city that has a public holiday dedicated to horseracing. Because of this, often people take the Monday off, too, gaining a four-day weekend in the process. A lot of people take it as an opportunity to go camping. Since my kids switched to public (government funded) schools they no longer get the Monday off (to their dismay). But it did mean that they were the only kids in their swimming class today which resulted in a lot more personal attention and practice than normal.

After swimming we got dressed into our Hallowe’eny finest – for my daughter it meant her black cat and full moon t-shirt, for me my HP Lovecraft-inspired dress, and for my husband and son it meant, well, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. As always. We drove down to South Gippsland in coastal South-East Victoria, which has the unique distinction of being where I and my children were born, not to mention where most of my family still live. (!) Today’s stop was the town of Korumburra, and the Coal Creek Historical Village, for their annual Hallowe’en event, where we met up with my mother and sister. I haven’t been to Coal Creek since I was a teenager and I had many fond memories of it. It was really thoroughly enjoyable to return – it looks like they’ve done a lot of work to it and if you’re ever in South Gippsland it’s worth seeing if you can get to one of their special events.

IMG_6822IMG_6818 IMG_6820 IMG_6819 IMG_6821

I love Hallowe’en, and I freely admit that. I know there are very reasonable laments that it’s merely some Americanised and opportunistically capitalist festival that’s been forced upon an unwilling Australian culture. But I think there’s more to it than that. For starters, a lot of Australians (myself included) have Celtic ancestry, and Hallowe’en lines up with the Northern Hemisphere’s Samhain – an ancient Celtic festival marking the thinning of the veil between the worlds. For Aussie Celtic neo-pagans it falls on roughly the same time as Beltane, the bonfire festival marking the beginning of summer (though technically we consider December 1 the beginning of summer). I think in some ways our Australian versions of Hallowe’en appear to be a blend of both – though it would take me a while to try to explain on what evidence I base that assertion. As a frustrated wannabe Goth, I do enjoy the visual imagery associated with the event.

However, after spending their entire lives thus far in the Pentecostal community, Hallowe’en has an interesting and largely negative set of associations for my husband and children. My son was only willing to attend after I repeatedly assured him that we wouldn’t participate in any genuinely occult activity and that we were taking a stroll around to see interesting costumes and the historical park. I felt this was a positive and safe way to highlight for the kids that these events are not a matter for fear. I fully respect my children’s choice to not participate in occult, and think it’s really important they can express that. At the same time, I think that often the Pentecostal fear that there is “a demon behind every bush” as I once heard it phrased in church, easily becomes a debilitating kind of prejudice towards things and people that look different. The reality is, a bunch of families at a community event where people get to dress in fun costumes, ride an old steam train and eat good food is not a matter for fear, and I don’t want my kids avoiding the broader community out of an understandable but misguided fear fed by their paternal side of the family’s somewhat marginal* set of religious beliefs.

*In Australia, the statistics show that the most common religions are Catholic at 25%, No Religion (Atheist, Agnostic, or similar) at 22%, and Anglican at 17%. Pentecostals, while representing a fast-growing segment of Australian Christianity, consist of less than 2% of the Australian population. It’s interesting marrying someone who was raised entirely within that system, and noticing that moment he realised that his religious views were not normative, as he’d been led to believe, but really quite fringe in relation to the rest of the surrounding culture.

After the Hallowe’en event we headed into my hometown Leongatha for dinner with my mother and aunty. We went to an old favourite Chinese restaurant, the Orchid Inn, which I’ve been to more times than I could possibly recall. Once upon a time the restaurant was owned by one of my father’s university classmates, and we would regularly eat there on smorgasboard and karaoke night. I have a lot of happy memories of birthdays celebrations and meals in that place and it was nice to return. I enjoyed a great and filling vegan-friendly meal of tofu, Chinese vegetables and fried rice.

It was the first time seeing my mum since her recent trip to England and Wales, and she gave me a book she bought there, Supernatural England: Poltergeists, Ghosts, Hauntings edited by Betty Puttick (2002). It looks absolutely fascinating and reminds me of this interesting website I found recently, Legendary Dartmoor. I love “true” stories of the uncanny and unsolved mysteries and I look forward to reading it.


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Screenshot: Let the writing begin! Nanowrimo 2015, Day 1.

Screenshot: Let the writing begin! Nanowrimo 2015, Day 1.

It’s day one of writing and already I’m facing my first hurdle, a mere one-and-a-half sentences into my draft: do I want to write in first person perspective, or third person? I have changed my minds on this point multiple times over the last fortnight of planning. Normally I write from the third person: I like the sense of distance it gives in making it clear that my writing is not intended to be autobiographical. It’s interesting as an aspiring writer to realise that often my first person creative writing has been mistaken for autobiography by those who know me in real life, but don’t realise I write for fun and as a way to explore the perspectives of others. I also like that third person allows for moving between different characters’ views of the events of a story.

However, I find that third person is a bit too distant, because I find that I can’t delve too far into the the mind and motivations of my characters without becoming self consciously embedded within the story as the omniscience and omnipresent narrator. I also love the flow of stories like Interview with the Vampire, which feels first person – though technically I guess it’s a third person narrative depicting basically two scenes: most of the novel is one scene in which a vampire discloses his life story to a journalist. Dracula too is first person, but the perspective is shared between characters and the story is pesented as a collection of journal entries and letters. I really like that kind of immersion in a character’s psyche.

I find that having a writing space conducive to creative writing is easier said-than-done. Because today is a Sunday, the children and husband are at home, and it seems to me that I can’t write without someone looking over my shoulder. I am a very guarded kind of creative: I simply cannot do a first draft of anything, whether written, painted or drawn, when I feel that I’m being watched. However, my Scrivener files are all on the big computer in the shared living space of the lounge room, and anyone walking past would be able to see what I write. So I’ve now locked myself in my bedroom with my laptop, and will write from here for today. Later I’ll transfer the files across to Scrivener – and just hope that my plot isn’t going to be so complex that I need to refer to my Scrivener notes.

Time to begin.

Essential Nanowrimo supplies. Apart from writing materials, that is.

Essential Nanowrimo supplies. Apart from writing materials, that is. Having herbal teas to try to avoid Nanowrimo-induced caffeine overload.

Current word count: 28/50,000 words.

Today’s writing soundtrack: Ravenhead by Orden Ogan; Schock by Eisbrecher.

Monday, 2 November 2015

It’s a typically gloomy Melbourne spring day and not particularly conducive to wanting to write. It’s grey, damp and chilly. The house always has this messy, cluttered feeling after the weekend. My compulsion is not to write but to clean. But I know that cleaning, as important as it is, can also double as procrastination. I need to take advantage of the fact the kids are at school today – tomorrow is a public holiday – and churn out as big a word count as I can manage in the next six hours!

The first person versus third person question became surprisingly difficult for me, so I ended up writing a page’s worth of the story in both perspectives. I loved the first person perspective for my story but it felt too limiting by reducing the story to the thoughts and experiences of a single character. Third person it is… Though if any of you have read the hilariously awful Atlanta Nights you’ll know that the collaborators didn’t quibble over stylistic problems like third versus first person narrative – that book has it all, bewilderingly changing midway through chapters.

Current word count: 882/50,000 words.

Today’s writing soundtrack: Polaris by TesseracT

What I’ve Been Reading Online

It’s October which means the happiest time of the year (in my humble opinion) is coming up: Hallowe’en and NaNoWriMo. I just love having that month to revel in fun and joyful and creative things. It’s a time where I allow myself to pursue my interests – something that as a stay at home mum isn’t always easy.

Hallowe’en in Australia is nowhere near the proportions of significance that it reaches in, say, North America, but for as long as I can recall it’s been one of those optional occasions on the calendar where those of us with a Gothic leaning can celebrate all things spooky. However, cue marrying a then-strict Pentecostal Christian and it was goodbye Hallowe’en for several years. As I have shifted away from the extremely strict, black-and-white religiosity that tries to control every aspect of worshippers’ lives, I’ve found myself able to relax and just enjoy Hallowe’en, the way I enjoy the old The Addams Family tv series and atmospheric black metal music like Aquilus.

Another angle on Hallowe’en in Australia is that here it actually lines up with the Pagan celebrations of Beltane, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with Samhain. And the imagery and concepts surrounding Samhain are more like what Hallowe’en is about. Not to mention that pumpkins are not a seasonal vegetable here at this time of year. But all hand wringing over dates and propriety and spiritual warfare aside, I think it’s a bit of fun and quite frankly am far beyond quibbling over church debates as to the One True and Correct Way to Respond to Hallowe’en. Which, of course, my old church friends will likely see as evidence of my slide into heresy but, hey, that’s their problem.

Nanowrimo is, as I have repeatedly mentioned, an annual writing event that takes place in November. For all thirty days of November, the challenge is to write an original first draft of a 50,000+ words story before the clock strikes midnight, local time. I entered (and “won,” that is, submitted a 50,000+ word manuscript to Nano’s word counter) in 2013 and 2014. In late October and early November, every bit of brain space, energy, creativity and writing ability is poured into Nano. As a result, if I share any blog posts during that time they’ll probably be Nano-related. In the last two years I wrote regular updates on the Nano process. I had positive feedback about these and so I will attempt to do that again this year. Look out for them (and hit the follow or subscribe button so you can watch my progress!).

I’ll add that I’m fully cognizant of the solemn critiques and negative views on Nano. It’s a predictable sociological phenomenon that any “movement” will usually spur a counter-movement (take any political movement and you won’t need to look far before finding a group of people indignant and certain that the movement is wrong). There is a whole lot of despair that Nano doesn’t produce high level literary authors, though there are the occasional notable success stories like Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants, the first draft of which was written for Nano. Now, quite frankly I don’t feel the need to explain or defend why I love Nano to those who disagree with it or lament that it only gives hyped-up and over-caffeinated wannabes the sense that we are writers. I literally do not care if other people don’t enjoy Nano – simple, don’t do it. I thought it was an insane concept when I first heard of it too, especially as I’d just come out of a two-year honours research stint that resulted in a measly 18,000 words. How could I, who scraped together 18,000 words in two years, possibly think that I could write 50,000 in one month? But I will say that for some of us, that fast pace is thoroughly enjoyable as a one-off, a challenging and messy bit of creative writing fun with tangible goals and the support of a lovely online community and a way to link up with other local writers through Nano-organised regional events. The reality is that after years of university, having set deadlines fires up my writing powers in a way that my hectic and clinically depressed day-to-day existence doesn’t. Many of us Nano participants are people who live and breathe writing, or we would if we could, but sometimes real life steals from that. We can’t all have the luxury of a home office and blissful hours of pre-dawn writing, as wonderful as that would be. Nope, my pre-dawn routine is hauling myself out of bed and chauffeuring reluctant kids to school and then spending hours on all that housework stuff that comes with being a stay at home parent and not to mention trying to eke out an income as a struggling artist. In November I get to say to the family, “Hey, don’t bug me, I’m writing,” and yet for them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that this madness only lasts a few weeks before normalcy resumes. And as for the rest of the year, other writers who take themselves very seriously and perhaps deserve to, still don’t get to decide whether or not my daily routine meets their expectations of literary adequacy. Whether I return to my Nano manuscripts or not (and personally I always do) is not their concern. Just sayin’. As for me, I would rather be a voice of encouragement, spurring on my friends and complete strangers that read my blog to attempt to explore their creativity – whether they one-off write a Nano novel and get the t-shirt and the inherent gloating rights that come with it, or if they “only” wrote 500 words, that was 500 more than they had written before, or they suddenly decide to paint despite not having touched a brush since it was a required subject at school, or they do one of those complex adult colouring books and make a pretty mandala, I don’t care what it is. I just love seeing people pursuing the life affirming, the creative and the opportunity to challenge themselves. Even if they never go anywhere with it. Surely the world would be a kinder place if we poured our energy into life affirming creativity rather than, I don’t know, never trying anything lest the worthier gatekeepers of literary success get all offended that mere commoners dared to put pen to paper.

The arts should not be the privileged domain of the highly educated and highly organised. As an Arts / Humanities graduate, I am a firm believer that Arts is intrinsic to expressing our humanness. Why should the unprofessional hobby writer be scorned for their efforts? Further to that, Nanowrimo doubles as a charity, supporting literacy programmes for underprivileged schools. Those of us who compete are able to buy the merchandise and donate to the charity and do so knowing that some of that goes towards teaching kids to read.

Phew. Anyway, while I’m busy being a Wrimo in November, I won’t be writing as frequently on wordpress. To keep my readers occupied, here are some interesting links to online articles I’ve been reading.



  • Skool of Vegan on Instagram – a webcomic exploring the reasoning behind veganism.



  • A BBC article called, “The slow death of purposeless walking.” I wholeheartedly agree with the movements for slowing down and unplugging and letting the natural world catch our attention.
  • On the topic of the social movements for slowness, if you haven’t heard of it, check out the work of Slow Food who seek to counteract the high intensity pace of modern life and call us back to eating thoughtfully prepared, culturally relevant and holistic foods as part of a lifestyle of mindfulness.

Interview on SundayEveryday

I feel very honoured to have had an interview article published on the SundayEveryday blog. The blog’s owner Lisa is a wonderfully creative lady I met through my husband’s Pentecostal church community and I so appreciate her taking the time to get to know this little greenie weirdo! In the article I talk a little bit about how my rural upbringing, Celtic-Catholic heritage and university studies lead me to try to find a way to live out environmentalism and concern for animals through the lens of Christian faith.

Please check out the article at SundayEveryday.Me – I hope my readers enjoy it!

Calf Story: My Vegetarian Journey

Confession: this was terribly difficult for me to write. It brings up a lot of pain. I know there are people who will brush it off as sentimentalism or delusion. That’s okay – I don’t reasonably expect everyone to agree with my perspective. But it is my story and I will share it. It may be that it is what someone needed to read.

Next month (June 2015) will see the 20th anniversary of my becoming a vegetarian. I have wanted, for a long time, to write a little bit about the reasons why I became vegetarian, at first lacto-ovo veggie, and now sitting on the predominantly vegan side of the spectrum. I want to share a bit about what moral contextual vegetarianism is, as a part of ecofeminist philosophy and praxis. I also want to share my “vegetarian testimony,” and explore a little bit about how my faith and vegetarianism interact (especially in a context where animals and the environment are barely on the radar for most people I’ve met of the same faith perspectives).

However, as always, when I sit down to write it I get a sense of having bit off more than I can chew (figuratively speaking). For now I wanted to share this little snippet of one of many little moments I had in my vegetarian journey. It’s interesting that for many people I speak to, the fact that I have a farming background seems to validate (for them) my vegetarianism in a way my city born-and-bred plant-based friends don’t experience. Where the city vegans and veggies are assumed to be deluded or misinformed about farming practices – ironically, it would seem, they are accused of this delusion by people who also have not experienced farming first-hand – for whatever reason, the fact I have stood there in the mud and rain distributing hay to a paddock full of hungry Holsteins seems to make my testimony more valid. Personally, I disagree with the philosophy that we have to go through an experience in order to qualify as a spokesperson for it. I’d say it helps to give weight to our views, as a first-hand witness, but I don’t accept the notion that it is unreasonable that when a city-born person views one of the many horrifying documentaries about slaughterhouse practices and walks away a committed vegan. However, having said that, I still want to share my personal experiences that led me away from eating my fellow creatures. I know that the vast majority of people I know disagree or think it’s my quaint / eccentric / seemingly naïve approach to life; I have heard the criticisms, I have been thoroughly ostracised for it, but in the end it’s what I have to do to be able to live at peace with myself and with the world around me.

I often feel like I need to put a pile of disclaimers in front of my anecdotes and experiences, but in the end, it is what it is. This is just a little piece of my life, as I perceived and understood it. I am more-or-less motivated to operate according to the Dinotopian idea to “Breathe Deep, Seek Peace,” and in my life that peace is offered to the Earth and its creatures as much as to other people.

This tale is fresh in my mind, after recently recounting it to my younger sibling (who is also a vegetarian). To the best of my recollection it would have been sometime around the 1996 or 1997 calving season, when I was in my mid-late teens. It happened on my grandparents’ farm in the dairy farming region of South Gippsland, which is a cool temperate region in south-east Australia. Their farm had an excellent standard of animal welfare and the livestock were always very well treated, according to all expected regulations and practices in the agricultural industry here.

I worked on my grandparents’ farm throughout my teenage years. Usually that entailed spending most of a Saturday helping out with the chores, giving Grandma and Grandad a bit of a break from having to do all the labour themselves, especially since their youngest children had moved away. Their farm was in the steep hills of the Strzelecki Ranges, with one border of the then 250-acre property running along the popular tourist drive, the Grand Ridge Road. We’d arrive in the morning, fixing fences, feeding livestock, picking fruit, collecting eggs, and then go get the cows in for the second milking for the day. On Saturday evening we’d head back into town for mass and then I could go home and settle down in front of the fireplace, feeling that I had earned some book reading time. Some of my happiest childhood memories trace back to those days, and I wouldn’t exchange those memories for anything. I find it terribly sad that my children don’t get to have similar experiences, and try to take them visiting my hometown whenever I can make the 110km drive.

I don’t have enough space to detail all of those things that I loved about living rural for the first 24 years of my life. In the joyful experience of farming though, there was also plenty of silence and situations that demanded I have a good, hard think about life, meaning and the universe. Perhaps it was simply a quirk of being raised Catholic, to some degree, because there was a sense that God and Spirit permeated everything and that in every situation there was an ethic to be considered. My church was quite open-minded and encouraged ethical conversation, and I think I really took that on board in my day-to-day life.

To some of my family’s despair, that thinking eventually led me to rampant vegetarianism, environmentalism and, eventually, to getting the heck out of that insular rural community to get a uni degree in ecofeminist sociology. It was taken as a personal insult to them – that I somehow spit on my family’s great farming heritage, but that was never the motivation. I loved farming, I loved working with my hands, outdoors, with the animals. I loved the silence, the space and the landscape. I loved the subtle shifts of the seasons. I loved the mud and cold and rain, and the hot sun baking the grass in summer. I loved the home grown and home cooked meals. I loved the incomparably beautiful sunsets. I loved that, on the clearest days, we could see the sparkle of the ocean in the distance, and at night the faint glimmer of Aurora Australis sometimes made an appearance on the southernmost horizon. I especially loved the cattle, those funny, massive animals with personalities as unique as any of my pets at home, and I loved working with them every Saturday. Farming was life, and that life was good, and even now I miss it terribly. Having married into a middle class suburban family where the great joys are in big tvs, big cars, big houses, big meals, and it requires sensory overload just to get someone’s attention, I simply can’t relate to the way they think. To me the great joys were in sitting in a hillside paddock, listening to the frogs croaking in the dam, watching the way the wind caused the long grass to move like waves, the wind whistling through the tree tops, and the cattle and old retired horses grazing nearby. I loved seeing my grandparents, too, and am so grateful I spent so many years getting to know them well. I can’t believe it’s been almost eight years since Grandad passed away, but I know that he had a profound influence on who I am now and I often tell my children about what a funny, intelligent, compassionate, interesting man he was. Grandma is still alive and well, thank God, and I am glad my children know her.

We lived in the nearest town, taking half an hour to drive 20 kms along the narrow, precarious, corrugated dirt roads. To this day driving along that route makes me terribly car sick – especially in the parts where, looking out the window, there is nothing but a sheer drop from the road down into one of the many gullies where farmers waged an ongoing war against ragwort. However, despite the car sickness it was an incredibly picturesque drive. I loved seeing the various farms, and knew most of the farmers along the way. Many of them attended mass at the same Catholic parish church as us. Most of them were dairy farmers, some beef, some sheep, and a few tried branching out into pigs, ostriches, goats and alpacas. But dairy farming was the pride of the region, with enormous herds of Holstein-Friesians, Jerseys and Guernseys grazing the rolling green hills. Once upon a time this whole region was a eucalyptus and tree fern rainforest. The rains still came in those days and during winters the depth of the mud had to be seen to be believed.

It was a typical night at the farm. Milking was finishing up, but there was still a little sunshine – it must’ve been springtime. Some of the cows had calved and their anguished bellows as they searched for their calves echoed across the gully. It often surprises me to find out that people don’t realise that cows must be repeatedly impregnated and give birth in order to produce milk. The calves are taken away within the first day or so, so that the milk can be mechanically extracted for human consumption. The cows and calves alike can become very distressed at the forced separation. The male calves are usually killed within the first week for veal. Very, very few of them are raised for breeding. As a rural-raised farm kid where nearly every family member had worked in the dairy industry, I was more-or-less numb to this reality. It was normal. The cows would get upset but they would soon fall back into the routine of being milked, fed and sent back to the paddocks twice a day. They were otherwise well-treated, as far as it goes, and led the idyllic life of a relatively-small herd grazing on a large, well-pastured farm. The calves that were kept on the farm were likewise well-treated, and often became quite friendly and comfortable around humans. It did not feel cruel, or seem wrong. Any time I suggested that it didn’t feel particularly kind to the cattle to forcibly remove their babies I was quickly silenced, told that was just the way it has to be so that people can have milk, that this was the natural order of things – or told outright lies about the eventual destination of the calves by well-meaning family members who preferred to avoid cold, harsh reality. They made up stories about how the calves were really just going to another farm somewhere else. I never did believe them but they insisted. At the same time I was studying agriculture at my high school, too – my school was built on a 50-acre farm and many of us took agriculture studies, with the intention of becoming farmers. Many of my classmates did. I enjoyed agriculture classes, and hoped to one day go into some aspect of farming.

I had heard there was a male calf out in the covered calf pen and that he was starving himself to death. He would’ve only been a day old. I offered to go feed him, and in that patronising way the family often took with me, they agreed – more for their own benefit, I think, so they wouldn’t have to spend the night trying to tolerate my excessively compassionate self being upset over the fate of a baby bull. I think they considered it a useless exercise to try to save the life of what was really just a dairy farm by-product. I took a calf bottle out to the pen, needing to crouch down just to fit in the dark, hay-filled box, and found a little calf curled up in the corner. He was in a state of depression; there is no other way to describe it. He had recently entered the world only to be immediately removed from his mother, who was probably one of the cows bellowing out in the paddocks. She would likely be looking for him for some time, possibly for days, but in vain. This calf would be killed within the week for veal.

For an animal that can potentially live around fifteen years, this little guy was just one of the hundreds of thousands of Australian calves that will not see out one full week on this Earth. That plate of veal will briefly satiate the tastes of a human who will likely not stop to consider that their tastebuds were given a moment of enjoyment at the expense of a life. A fast food hamburger scoffed down in the moment, not so much as giving its consumer any kind of benefit in regards to health or quality of life, cost at least one animal’s life. That bottle of milk could only be produced because somewhere a cow – with all the strong maternal instincts given to her by nature – had her calf taken away.

It used to quietly trouble me but I would regurgitate the words of wisdom given to me by my farming family. Humans need the milk to live, they’d say. We’re evolved to eat it, or, God made the animals for us (depending on who was speaking). It seemed abhorrently cruel that God would create these creatures with the ability to suffer pain and experience emotions if He merely intended them as food factories for human benefit. This is the way it has to be, I was assured. Calves couldn’t drink the milk, anyway, I was told, as it’s too rich for them because it’s been purpose bred for human consumption.

I crouched down next to the shivering calf. It was growing dark outside but still I patted him on the head, talked to him gently, and eventually pulled him onto my lap. He knew what the bottle was for but head butted it away. He didn’t want it. He wanted his mother. I knew that all too well. I wished I could sneak him back out there, in the darkness, to reunite them – but there was no way I’d get away with that. He eventually relaxed in my arms and I found myself pleading with him to take a drink. He was dying, dehydrated, and needed to drink. I must’ve sat there in the growing darkness for a full hour before he gave into my insistence and started to drink. Even then he was terribly weak. I was not sure he’d make it through the night. Would anything be done for him? No, the vet was only really called out for the adult milkers, when it would be economically problematic to lose one of them.

I rarely cry but in that dark calf pen, with a starving calf essentially dying out of his distress at losing his mother, I found myself with tears rolling down landing on his little body. It was a hopeless moment. If I fed him and he survived, he’d be killed for meat within the next few days. If I didn’t feed him, he’d die, anyway.

When he finished the bottle I left him, with one last glance at the little shadowy form on a pile of hay. He was a bit more content now that he’d eaten and known a gentle touch, but what he really needed was his mother. I knew I’d never see him again. Whether he died in his sleep, or died in the terror and blood and noise of a slaughterhouse, I never wanted to know. All I know is that for a moment all I could do was offer him a pair of safe arms and tears shed for the complete and utter waste of a life that was never really lived.

Even now when I write this I am shocked at how raw, how brutal my emotions still are, when I think of that helpless little calf who just wanted his mother. I know my farming friends would see my sentimentality as a terrible weakness. Plenty of them have informed me, in clear terms, that this is the case. I’m a bit of an anomaly with the way I view animals, in comparison to the community that raised me.

Somehow the explanations and justifications for using animal lives worked for them; for me, and my sibling, it just didn’t stick. We were often told our kindness to animals was odd, or strange. But I’ve also seen that as we’ve become adults, that compassion we first learned on the farm is something we’ve both expanded to the extent that we are deeply concerned with seeking peace among humans, too. I know some people begin from a standpoint where they extend their human social justice activism to the animal kingdom. For me, it went the other way. It started for us, my sibling and I, with moments like this, when we beheld the despair, sadness and pointlessness of the way humans treat their fellow creatures; and when we encountered the reality that this is also how humans treat their fellow humans, we were ready to speak out for the voiceless – whether voiceless because they’re not human, or voiceless because they’re marginalised.

I’ll leave it there for now. I don’t want to forget that little calf, that’s why I share his story here – though, no doubt, the person that ate his little body has long forgotten that meal, and probably has no capacity to imagine that only a few days earlier, this piece of flesh on their plate was a living breathing calf, dying in the absence of his mother, while held in the arms of a young woman whose tears fell on his little body. I was so deeply grieved by the futility and injustice of it all. A life taken to satisfy a moment. Is it worth it? I decided it’s not. I couldn’t live at peace with myself so long as I voluntarily contributed to the cycle of birth and violence against our fellow creatures.