Let me be clear: I’m not saying we should all be happy this happened. My mother is 75 years old, not in great health, and my best friend. If I lost her, I’d feel like an orphan—even at my current age of 49. COVID-19 could kill her. It could kill me. There is no part of me that’s not aware of the gravitas of the corona situation. But we are all at a place where we must choose what we take away from this unprecedented experience, and as feminist writer Sonya Renee Taylor points out, going back to what we’ve normalized is simply not an option.
Nor should we want it to be.
Heart Disease. The Rainforest. Dairy videos. Joaquin’s Oscar speech. And now this. I mean what, exactly, do we need before we all go vegan? The pandemic of human’s consumption of meat and dairy is killing the planet. It’s killing animals—including human animals. It’s killing our souls and our sensitivity. It’s disconnecting us from our authentic, loving selves. And yet we still resist. In the U.S., we wait in long drive-thru lines to get a winged-animal sandwich, which we’ve normalized, but we think it’s disgusting that other countries normalize eating other winged-animals. We eat animals during a pandemic that was caused by eating animals. We do everything but go vegan, despite how destructive we know our animal-swallowing habits are to literally everything on the planet.
Just like the Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and Mad Cow disease before it, the zoonotic coronavirus came from animal exploitation, and it may—if our collective conscience can still function holistically on this polarized ball of granite—it may be the wake-up call we finally cannot ignore. We all need to go vegan, and we know it.
Well, OK, not all of us. I respect that the Inuit and other important cultural groups can’t just ‘go vegan,’ nor am I advocating they try. So let’s not digress. But for those of us who are already vegan, the silence around the animal slaughter/COVID-19 connection can be maddening. Many of us want to shout from our rooftops. In Italy, people are singing from their rooftops for humans who have died as a result of animal exploitation. After all, animal exploitation is what allowed this virus to jump from animals to humans in the first place. Even if conspiracy theorists who say the virus was leaked from Wuhan Institute of Virology turned out to be correct, wouldn’t that serve as an even more urgent reason to let this experience serve as an awakening to our interconnectedness and our fundamental need for compassion and humanity?
With the leader of the supposedly-free world seemingly incapable of cogent reasoning and leadership, Asian-Americans are now living in a culture of violent threats. However, since we don’t call herpes the ‘ancient Greek virus’ or AIDS ‘the African virus,’ let’s not call COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus.’ COVID-19 is but another animal-exploitation virus, and all of us—carnists, flexitarians, and vegans alike the world over—are experiencing its consequences. It’s time we appreciate our undeniable interconnectedness and shared vulnerability.
THERE’S HOPE FOR US YET
Ford, GM, Tesla, Chrysler, Carnival Cruise Lines, and even the RV industry have all offered to contribute by making ventilators and face masks and offering hospital beds and mobile health care units. In India, the Mahindra Group is figuring out how their manufacturing facilities can make ventilators. Even the most conservative of conservatives are eyeballing Universal Basic Income with a twinkle, and many are suddenly supporting things they’ve been voting against for years—like economic stimulus and unemployment benefits.
So yes, the coronavirus started with animal slaughter and taught us unassailably that it’s time to end animal slaughter. But it’s also taught us that we humans work best when we work to protect and care for one another. It’s teaching us how good it feels to see governments, corporations, healers, artists, educators, and individuals working together to take care of us—all of us. Because here’s what we all are on this still-beautiful earth: vulnerable living beings who belong to each other.
Originally published on the Main Street Vegan Academy blog in April, 2020