Kathy Stevens shares a kiss with Franklin, a pig who came to Catskill Animal Sanctuary as a skinny and sickly runt thrown on a "dead pile" at an industrial farm. Franklin is just one of the few fortunate ones out of the billions of animals killed every year for human consumption.
Dear Jay Z and Beyoncé,
Did you expect that around the world, vegans would be tweeting and chatting, writing and talking about your bold decision to go vegan for 22 days? I'll bet you did -- maybe your friends Marco and Gwyneth clued you into the fact that for vegans, the prospect of two of the world's biggest celebrities joining our ranks -- even if only for 22 days -- is a big deal. Maybe that's even part of the reason why you decided to try out the lifestyle -- to put the heft of your fame and influence behind something that matters so much to people you care about.
I think it's fair to say that lots of us vegans care as much about our cause as you do about the vital work of The Shawn Carter Foundation. I'll even go a step farther -- some of us make little distinction between the work that you and others do on behalf of desperate and deserving humans and our work on behalf of the most powerless and voiceless of all -- animals.
And here's why, Jay Z and Beyoncé: at Catskill Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York, we believe that in the ways that truly matter, we are all the same. It is a belief that I have always held...an awareness that has driven all the major choices in my life.
I grew up in the south in a racist home and environment. I went to a private school established a decade after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education, decision that outlawed school segregation. There was not a single black child in my school. When I was 14, I demanded to go to school "with regular people." I wanted to go to school not with privileged white kids who moved through the world much like their parents did, but with kids of color, poor kids, middle class kids..."regular" kids. I couldn't stand the pretense, privilege, and prejudice of the wealthy, though decades later, I get that "who we are" has very little to do with financial status. There are some fine rich folks around, and some monstrous poor people.
That same awareness that "what unites us is larger than what divides us" was the backdrop in my classroom when I taught high school English for twelve years. Of course, I wanted my students to be better writers, readers, thinkers -- but just as importantly, I wanted them to be braver, kinder, more compassionate -- so I created my curriculum accordingly. One year, for instance, we read Cry the Beloved Country, studied Apartheid, and celebrated Nelson Mandela's release from prison. And we collected thousands of books to send to South Africa after learning that children had very little to read.
Let me circle back now to the two of you. Jay Z, you, too, have a desire to lift people up, as evidenced by the wonderful work of the foundation that you and your mom started. And Beyoncé, your crucial roles with the Survivor Foundation, the Knowles-Rowland Temenos Place Apartments, and other efforts say a great deal to your fans about your true beauty. It seems that the two of you also subscribe to the belief that in the ways that truly matter, we are all the same.
So now, finally, to your veganism. In 2000, I was invited to be the principal of a new Boston high school. Instead, I decided to combine my deep love for teaching, learning, and kids with my passion (and compassion) for animals, and co-founded Catskill Animal Sanctuary, whose mission is not only to save farmed animals in urgent need of sanctuary, but also to save them by changing people's hearts, minds, and palates. Aaaah, yeah....the vegan thing. You see, as surely as I knew as a child that the differences between myself and an African American were as meaningful as differences in weight or height or eye color or how many siblings you had, the 3,000 animals who've come through our doors have taught me the same thing: we are all the same.
Here's a little of what I mean: all of us (human and non-human animals) have individual quirks, capabilities and preferences that make us individuals. All of us seek companionship and form friendships. All of us, given the choice, move toward joy and away from pain and suffering. A pig wants her life as much as I want mine, a chicken wants to make his own choices about how he spends his time, and a dairy cow cries and cries in agony and desperation when her baby is stolen from her right after birth. I have learned mind-blowing, life-altering lessons from sheep, cows, turkeys, and chickens, and share these lessons in my books and in my HuffPost blog. They've taught me that what I once perceived as "the differences" between "us" and "them" were based on ignorance and prejudice, on a way of life that puts humans on top and enslaves most others for our entertainment, comfort, and luxury.
Nelson Mandela once said, "Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." During your 22-day vegan venture, Jay Z and Beyoncé, vegans around the world are banking on your goodness. The reasons to embrace veganism as a way of life range from improving your health to alleviating poverty and global warming to having mercy on animals who experience a level of torture, suffering and terror from birth to death that no person of conscience would wish upon another being.
In "Hovi Baby," Jay Z, you wrote, ""I'm so far ahead of my time, I'm 'bout to start another life. Look behind you, I'm 'bout to pass you twice." Pass us, Jay Z and Beyoncé...and then lead the way toward the vegan vision of a world filled with compassion for all beings.
Meantime, I'm heading to the barn. I'm going to kiss my friend Tucker the cow, look up to the sky, and pray that in this special season, my letter, and the thousands of others from vegans around the world hoping that you'll join our ranks and change the game, find their way to you.
Merry Christmas. And thanks.