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March is Not the Month of Love

I don’t do sanctuary work out of love. That statement unnerves and offends lots of other sanctuary folks, both supporters and workers. Many of them became vegan because they learned to love a farm animal. Many of them feel the safest, the most loved, around non-human animals. Many of them have devoted years of their lives to rescuing farm animals because they love them. So, I can understand why they might be unnerved. However, while I’ve always admired that love, and while I’ve felt that love, it’s not why I do this work.

My primary motivation is justice.

I learned at a very early age that love is an often capricious and dangerous thing. My father loved me. He truly, deeply, and sincerely loved me. He also sexually abused me for the first twelve years of my life. So you tell me what love is to a child in that situation, or what it becomes to the grown woman.

And that’s just one example. We can all think of others. Most of the men who beat their wives love them. Most of the people who eat animals love them. Most of the white folks who hate black folks love their biracial grandbabies. So on and so forth. It’s almost trite, how this works, and yet we still cling to the notion of love as a grand motivating force.

Why do we do it? I would argue that we have a cultural addiction to love. We need to be in love. We need to have loved ones. We are social animals and have determined that love is the glue that holds us together, despite the fact that it’s proven to be unreliable time and time again.

Whoa, you might say. What’s wrong with love? Well, before I answer that question, I will be clear: I love love. I love being in love. In fact, love is my most favoritist feeling. But it’s never, on its own, motivated me to treat my loved ones properly (not that I always have).

Ultimately, love is self-referential. I feel love; you feel love. Love is a FEELING, and in the end, it implies nothing about what I (or anyone else) will do with that feeling.

Justice, however, is impartial when applied properly. Ethics are often difficult to untangle and sometimes contextually tricky, but they do not let us down once they are in place, so long as we act accordingly.

The first time I went vegetarian (not vegan), I was 18 years old. My motivation? Seeing a deer in a zoo and making a true city-girl comment about how horrible it was that people hunt such adorable animals. My girlfriend at the time snapped back and said well, you eat cows, so what’s the difference? Slam! She was right! I gave up meat right then and there out of love for cute animals. After all, cows are cute too.

Of course that lasted all of about two months.

When I turned 30-something, though, I (and the animals I was exploiting) had the good fortune to meet Gary Yourofsky and hear what he had to say about the treatment of animals ranging from circus animals to farm animals. Through him and others, I learned about justice in the context of animal rights. Long a social justice worker on behalf of humans, the ethical mandate was clear. And when justice knocks on the door, people who care about justice answer. I went vegan and never turned back.

Last Sunday, we took in six cows and five chickens from Wisconsin. We opened the trailer doors and watched the cows walk up the long steep road to the sanctuary. As they passed, I caught the eye of one of the younger steer. He’s enormous, and black, with black eyes bigger than golf balls.

In that moment, I remembered when Pattrice and I found Victor Frankl, the chicken who started it all, by the side of the road. I didn’t think he was the cutest thing I’d ever seen; I didn’t love him right then and there; frankly, I didn’t love him for quite awhile. But it was the right thing to do. It was just. It was ethical. We’d moved to Maryland with a fuzzy notion of starting some sort of sanctuary, but had only been able to afford two acres. When we saw that white shape in the green brush, it was clear: we would have a sanctuary for chickens. So we picked him up and that was that.

Over the years that have followed, I’ve known and loved thousands of chickens. (I’ve also loved many ducks, cats, dogs, geese, and other non-human animals.) I’ve also disliked many others whose personalities have left something to be desired. But I have cared for them all to the best of my ability (and of course not on my own by any stretch). My love for someone else, or lack thereof, simply is not a motivator in whether or not I provide good care. My love, or lack thereof, is completely irrelevant when it comes to sanctuary work.

However, I loved that black cow. Watching him walk up the road, I was surprised by tears in my eyes and realized I loved him. Right away. And again, I was surprised. I don’t usually love anyone the first time I see them, regardless of species.

So, perhaps that’s a good thing. But regardless of whether it was good or bad, it was a noteworthy thing, in my life anyway, and prompted me to think about this love versus justice thing even more than I usually do (which is quite a lot, actually).

After all, we cannot forget:

Love enables chicken farmers to allow half a dozen chickens to live in their back yards while they send hundreds of thousands of others to an early, painful death.

Love enables people who feed and tend the reviled pigeons in New York City to cook the carcasses of turkeys in their ovens.

Love enables folks who spend countless hours of their lives saving dogs and cats to serve the flesh of other animals at their fund-raisers.

Love enables us to hate people in other places because they eat the animals we love, not thinking for a second that the tables are turned elsewhere.

Love clouds our ability to seek justice. We cannot see the hypocrisy of our actions because of love.

Whether or not I love anyone is beside the point. It’s the icing on the cake of justice. And so while February was made the month of love by corporate lobbyists who saw the earning potential in a fun, silly little holiday, I declare March to be the month of justice. What the hell; there’s no money in it, but if we all decide it is so, it will be so.

13 comments to March is Not the Month of Love

  • Cindy Jenkins
    LOVED the article!!! Thank you!
  • Very well written and well thought, thank you. Love is tricky shit…indeed. I always get suspicious as hell when anyone starts slathering on the love, it has been the sauce that spiced horrors and atrocities for too many years to count.

    E.B White supposedly once said that religion was like alcohol, a little bit now and then never hurt anyone, even getting drunk on it once in a while might be good for the mind…but using either (religion or alcohol) as a guide to how to live your life was probably a bad idea. I think love might fit in there too.

    I am not sure I quite know what justice is. I am comfortable with the notion that a pretty good rule to operate off of is the one where we treat others how we want to be treated. That one works pretty well I think, as long as we are disposed kindly toward ourselves. If justice mainly amounts to that then I am all for it

    Thank you for writing about your experience of love at first sight with the cow. Anyone who hasn’t been instantly smitten by a being from another species has missed out on a lot in life.

    I hope you write more and I’m with you, let’s make March a non-money making month of justice. :-)

  • bravebird
    Thanks for the positive feedback! I do dwell on this a lot, for lots of reasons, this issue of motivating factors related to being vegan and/or doing AR work in general.

    And Veganelder, you are right, justice can be tricky for sure. The golden rule is an interesting thing to me, for sure. I grew up Jewish, and our golden rule is stated in the negative: Do NOT do anything to anyone else that you would not want done to you.

    For me, I like that way better, and not just because I was exposed to it first, smile. While we all might disagree on what is good treatment (for example, we all might be happy to sit at home all day while most non-humans definitely tend to prefer being outside if at all possible), we can generally agree on what is NOT good treatment (being kicked, being murdered, being locked in a pen and having our nipples attached to tubes, so on and so forth).

    So, this way, we just avoid doing harm and let everyone decide what they want to seek out in terms of their own happiness, and/or ask for what they want to enhance their experience of life.

    Either way, though, I think it’s important to grapple with these issues consciously and publicly, with open minds — so thank you both for your comments!

  • victoria figurelli
  • Nancy
    What you are describing with your father, racists, abusers is not love. Love is unconditional more like what I see in the eyes of non- humans.
    For me love,justice and respect are inextricably linked as it relates to my relations to non humans. I have loveand respected cows that are downed as I gave them water and have seen love in their soulful suffering eyes. I have loved a cat that was struck by a car and who was still alive when I reached him, holding him until he died, my eyes never leaving his. I have loved a crippled lamb who was destined to go to auction. My love and respect increased as I saw how stoic Emma was while going through rehabilitation.
    I love and respect and want justice for all the non human animals, and if I were religious, I would say they are myriad Jesus who suffer for our sins.
  • bravebird
    Hey Nancy!

    For me, it’s helpful to separate the words love and justice, as I think they are two different, and yet both useful, things. I have seen love be displayed in ways that have nothing to do with justice, and I’ve also seen love and respect intertwined as you note. I’ve also witnessed unconditional love in cases where it was totally unjustified (such as mothers who adore their rapist sons unconditionally). However, I do know that many people like to distinguish between love and “real” love, kinds of love as opposed to love and something else, and ultimately, I think we are all getting at pretty much the same thing. :-)

    Thank you so much for your thoughts! This stuff is fascinating to me to think about.

  • bravebird
    Victoria, you’re exactly right. So many people believe non-humans should tolerate conditions that would be unthinkable to most humans. And while in some cases, the non-humans make that kind of choice (such as the chickens who sleep in the trees here through EVERY kind of weather — and we are in Vermont), no one wants to live in their own filth.
  • Hi! The new site is great and so is the new name (VINE). So glad to see things are going well there. Wonderful essay on love and justice. Best wishes from N.C.
  • bravebird
    Thanks, Kay! Hope all is well down there! We are just hanging in and waiting until spring. :-) (Thanks for the kind words too, truly, they mean SO much.)
  • Sarah
    It is pure grace that I found your blog. I have been vegan for about 8 months now and was vegetarian for 9 years before that. All of my friends, family and probably 99% of the people I interact with daily are omnivores, so of course people will usually ask me why I am vegan. My answer has always been, “Because I will not pay people to abuse animals.” I think maybe I was also saying, “Because I want justice.” My father also sexually abused me up until the age of 5 or so, and I truly believe that he loved me. So I totally know what you mean. I’ve never answered, “Because I love animals.”…and now I know why. That always seemed like the logical answer and it is probably what people expect to hear, but it never felt right. It never felt like enough. I have loved individual animals, but I don’t love animals that I have never met. I just do not believe they should have to suffer to provide us with a myriad of things we do not need. I apologize that this comment is kind of a hodge-podge of feelings, but I wanted you to know that your words profoundly affected me. I often have trouble putting my thoughts into words, but today you did that for me. Thank you.
  • bravebird
    First of all, please don’t apologize. Your note has affected me as well. It’s always so tremendously moving to know that someone else has experienced something similar to oneself, so for that alone, I thank you for writing. I also thank you for your insight and the way you have worded things here: I just do not believe they should have to suffer to provide us with a myriad of things we do not need — excellent way to put that! All of this was very moving — thank you so much for sharing.
  • bravebird
    HEY! Thank you for the note! I hope things are good for you down there — here we were surprised by another 4-5 inches of snow. Sigh. And it was 60 degrees two days ago! Such is spring…..
  • […] railed against love as the great motivator before (“March is Not the Month of Love”), so I won’t repeat myself here. But I will ask folks to watch how often these happy flesh, […]

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