A retired city planner from California and long time resident of Honololu, Pamela has been vegan for 17 years and is founder of the site Animal Advocate Inc. Upon her suggestion, we met at the beautiful and serene Mu-Ryang-Sa Temple, deep in Palolo Valley, on the last day of 2014 to discuss vegan paths, Buddhism, meditation, animal advocacy and the role of compassion in advocacy as well as life in general.
“I really do believe in Samsara. I don’t want to be reborn in a lower realm and I don’t want to be reborn as a human without access to compassion & Buddhist teachings. Once I did not have access to Buddhist teachings. Now I have tranquility, understanding and compassion. When I die and am reborn, I don’t want to have lost lost that.”
-Pamela on the role of Buddhist teachings in her life
As our talk unwinded in this sunny moment and very tranquil, invigorating setting, I learned about Pamela’s past as an animal activist and knew I had to ask her about the role of anger and how she experienced that. Deep sorrow and anger are not uncommon responses to an increased awareness of what is occurring in many ways with the abuse of beings on this planet. While the emotions may not be crippling for many who feel them, there is still the process of channeling them.
“I used to be very confrontational and very outspoken. I believed I would do anything to stop animals from suffering. But now I don’t want to do it that way. If you carry on like that, you may have some individual successes, but you won’t find inner peace.” She then referenced the noble Eightfold Path, noting that “You have to do things the right way.”
What were the motivators for you to go vegan?
While there are many benefits to becoming a vegan (such as relieving animal suffering, environmental sustainability, radiant health, and the emergence or development of spirituality), the underlying motivation for adopting veganism is compassion. Every vegan has a different story, however, and my journey began 17 years ago at the age of 49.
Like most of us, I was raised eating meat, eggs and dairy products—and never questioned it. But one day, I saw a graphic poster of a small mammal being vivisected, which was horrifying. I had never heard of vivisection, but wanted to learn more. I found out that an estimated 18.5 million animals per year (one every 1.7 seconds) are maimed, drugged, infected with diseases and subjected to electric shocks and brain damage in the name of medical/scientific experiments. Millions more, I found, are poisoned by toxicity testing and blinded for household products and cosmetics testing. They suffer profoundly—and needlessly, because results from animal testing are not valid for humans.
My circle of compassion, which now included lab animals, expanded when I met a medical doctor who told me that the number of animals suffering in laboratories, although shocking, pales in comparison to the number of animals used for food. This was a profound revelation because I had never questioned my eating habits and was oblivious to the suffering it caused.
Slowly, I began to uncover the cruel and violent ways in which “food” animals are treated. I read about the painful de-beaking of birds and the castration of cows and pigs without anesthetics, for example, and the terrible conditions they are forced to live in prior to being killed. I decided to learn as much as I could about all of this. I felt compelled to change, and decided not to cooperate anymore with this system of death and destruction.
Any advice for people transitioning or thinking about becoming vegan?
It can be difficult at first to transition to vegan living, especially when you have consumed animal products your entire life and are constantly encouraged to continue by television, parents, friends, and most of society. For me, it was initially hard to give up dairy products.
But if you just stick with it, you will find that you feel so much healthier not eating animal foods, and you will begin to enjoy finding new foods and ways of eating. There are vegan alternatives for just about everything (e.g., mock meat, cheese, ice cream), which are helpful for the initial transition to veganism. There are thousands of vegan recipes, and vegan food is so delicious!
But becoming vegan is much easier when you understand why you are changing. Do your own research. Surf the web and YouTube. Watch undercover videos such as “Meat Your Meat,” and be sure to read Dr. Will Tuttle’s book “The World Peace Diet” for a comprehensive understanding. Become knowledgable. Some facts are difficult to accept, some videos are hard to watch. But we must know the truth. Don’t be afraid to find out for yourself.
What is your favorite thing about being vegan?
Just knowing that I am doing the least harm possible to others is such a great feeling. I can now celebrate every meal and be mindful of the positive impact I am having on the earth, my own health, and the beings with which we share our planet.
Any other comments, suggestions, stories to share?
There is much confusion about the word “vegan,” and many people think that a vegan can eat fish, dairy products or eggs. Also, many have no idea that there is more to being vegan than simply what one eats. A man named Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” in 1944: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” We can see that veganism isn’t simply a dietary choice; it is an ethical belief system. When you develop compassion and understanding, you will not only want to avoid eating animal products, but also using products tested on animals, wearing leather or fur, and visiting circuses, zoos and “marine parks” like SeaWorld.
I believe the corporate-owned media has actively campaigned to confuse the public about what veganism means. The media receives trillions of dollars from advertisers including the fast-food and pharmaceutical industries, among others. An example of such confusion is the media reporting that Bill Clinton is vegan, although he “sometimes eats fish.”
We have been conditioned by our parents, our teachers, and our entire culture to see nothing wrong with eating meat, eggs, and dairy products, but it is important to re-condition ourselves. Every day is an opportunity to develop our understanding that all beings are entitled to lives of peace, happiness and freedom. Remember, no human wants to be killed and eaten, taken into slavery, or exploited, and no other animal wants that either.
The compassion I’ve developed since becoming vegan includes humans and the environment, as well as the animals. People eating the standard American diet (meat, eggs, and dairy products) suffer greatly, developing cancer, diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, obesity, osteoporosis, and many other terrible diseases. It is all unnecessary. I have deep compassion for exploited people who find work in slaughterhouses and factory farms. It is like working in hell, and takes a terrible toll on the workers and their families. And, the environment is damaged by the meat/dairy/egg industries. In 2010, the United Nations produced a report providing all the numbers and details as to why, if we are to save this planet, we must adopt a vegan diet: “UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-free Diet.” Most people don’t know about this. It takes a willingness to find out, and a desire to know the truth.
Finally, I believe that veganism ultimately belongs much more to the spiritual realm than the political. I have found, through my own experience, that great blessings come to us when we widen our circle of compassion to include ALL beings. I now understand the great wisdom of compassion as being rooted in the knowledge that all life is interconnected and is essentially one. Search for and know the truth for yourself, and don’t judge others if they haven’t found the truth yet. They deserve compassion, not scorn.
May ALL beings be happy, safe, and free from suffering!