By Jennifer O'Connor
We are clerks, teachers, lawyers and nurses. We are mothers, sons, secretaries, construction workers, accountants, firefighters, soldiers and interior decorators. We attend PTA meetings and take our kids to soccer practice. We are pro-choice and pro-life. We are vegetarians who don't wear leather. We are animal rights activists.
In the 12 years I've been an animal rights activist, I've been called many things. Wacko. Zealot. Kinder folk have said misguided. But I'm you. I'm the part of you I believe you would embrace if you knew more about the cruelties perpetuated upon billions of animals every minute of every day.
I, too, grew up eating meat, going to the zoo, wearing leather shoes. I didn't question it. I didn't even know to question it. I didn't know. One day, I was walking past a demonstration outside a McDonald's and was handed a leaflet. It was impossible to ignore one glaring fact: producing a single hamburger patty uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles and enough water for 17 showers.
The skeptic in me questioned these statistics, but my research changed my life, and I believe that most compassionate people would alter their living habits if they knew how significantly their choices affected animals.
We eat animals. We wear their skins. We force them to entertain us. We demand our mascaras and oven cleaners and pharmaceuticals be tested on them before we try them.
But do we give a thought to how that neatly wrapped, bloodless piece of flesh came to be in grocery store Styrofoam? No. Do we give our couch made from the skin of a cow a second thought? No. Do we let ourselves be conveniently convinced by the profiteers at Ringling Bros. Circus that elephants enjoy standing on their heads? Yes.
What is an animal rights activist? It's someone used to being ridiculed, someone used to being told to get a job, get a life, someone whose every action and behavior is microscopically examined in hopes of finding hypocrisy.
It's sitting at a family picnic, watching with sick sorrow as loved ones gnaw on hot dogs, hamburgers and the actual ribs of a once-living pig. It's letting that pass without comment, so as not to make waves. It's knowing my child's school is going to the zoo on a field trip, and being powerless to take a stand against it, lest she bare the brunt of her teacher's displeasure.
It's being asked not to bring your PETA coffee mug to work because it might offend someone. It's suppressing one's every instinct to shout, to beg and to cry out against injustice. It's feeling the weight of the suffering of billions of animals, while few listen to your protests.
It's also the absolute belief that as atrocities are exposed, as people begin to realize the power they have through the choices they make, changes will be forthcoming.
The easy choices are right in front of you. Eschewing fur is a given. Choosing man-made materials over leather is the next simple step. Pasta marinara instead of meatballs. Olives or onions instead of pepperoni.
A cruelty-free brand of shampoo (and there are hundreds now) instead of one dripped into the eyes of a caged rabbit. A trip to the museum instead of the zoo. The alternatives are there, right in front of you. You don't have to do without. Why not make the choices that cause the least harm?
JENNIFER O'CONNOR lives in Buffalo.
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