As a child, I went to a Catholic school that taught preschool through eighth grade. I watched with envy as my public-school friends had graduations in kindergarten and fifth grade. So when it came to my eighth-grade graduation, I wanted to be as involved as possible.
When my teacher taped the volunteer list for the yearbook committee to the blackboard, I rushed to add my name. As a committee, we went back and forth on who we would dedicate the yearbook to, which event photos we would add, and how we would showcase who we were as individuals.
Three of my friends and I were given the task of assigning the songs to classmates and teachers that best suited them, while another group had the task of imagining what our little eighth-grade classmates would eventually do as a career. Being in the meetings with that group, I was able to see what they thought I would be when I got older.
I was shocked that they said I would become an animal rights activist.
I had always loved animals to the point where I would fall asleep with the same book about orcas in my hands almost nightly. But I never thought I would be labeled an “animal rights activist,” not at the grand age of 13.
My dad grew up behind the scenes of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where our great aunts were famous aerialists. I remember attending the circus on Long Island, seeing all the protesters outside, and asking my dad why they were standing there.
“They think the circus abuses animals,” he sighed. “These people are crazy.”
So when I was told that I was going to be an animal rights activist, I was pissed AF. I didn’t want to be labeled “crazy,” and I was hurt that they would think that about me.
Five years later I went to my first circus protest and became a vegan a short while after. Now almost 14 years after my eighth-grade graduation, I spend my waking hours at Mercy For Animals fighting to end animal cruelty. And we’re not crazy for fighting to extend compassion to all beings.
I’ve seen many videos where children, upon learning that what they’ve eaten was an animal, cried hysterically and wished they hadn’t.
Watch as this child explains she doesn’t want people “chopping animals up.”
This is just one of many videos of children who refuse to eat meat when they know that an animal died for it. We’re born with compassion, but somewhere along the way, society molds our compassion to fit its agenda. Ads from major food chains promote “kid-friendly” products, and children, being impressionable, are easily hooked with a kids’ meal toy. This marketing strategy creates lifelong consumers of products like chicken nuggets (commercials always show children eating these) and cheeseburgers.
As a child, I was naturally compassionate and didn’t want to harm anyone, but I ate meat because it was what my parents told me to do. When I did eat meat, I still thought I was compassionate: adopting animals, saving strays, and picking up lost animals and returning them to their guardians. I didn’t realize that the dog I shared my home with would be someone’s dinner had she been born a chicken.
Society hinders our compassion by normalizing cruelty and violence on our plates. Animals at factory farms endure hell on earth every single day. Then they are violently killed, and their bodies are cut up and processed into the salable meat products on supermarket shelves. If I had known better as a child, I would have refused to eat meat.
What my eighth-grade classmates saw in me, I saw in myself years later. I was going to become an animal rights activist. I was going to dedicate my life to fighting for sentient beings who are underrepresented. Here I am. And I won’t stop until every cage is empty.