Open Minds, Open Hearts – An Open Letter To Non-Vegans

My name is Keith and I hope you’ll read this essay.

You are not here by accident, mistake or coincidence.  There is a reason you have found this page.  I’m asking your attention for only a few minutes and hoping you’ll seek to answer the three questions at the end of this essay.

What is it that opens a closed mind and lets in the light?  What image, word or sound softens a heart hardened by societal norms, traditions and expectations and allows fairness and justice to flow?  What is the catalyst for one person to change?

I’d like to tell you mine.

I was a staunch meat, dairy, egg and honey eater from as far back as I can remember.  I wore leather, wool, silk and used other products derived from the bodies of animals.  I used products that involved animal testing and contained animal secretions.  I enjoyed various forms of entertainment that involved the use of animals.  In short, I did what it seemed everyone around me did – the things society taught me were acceptable – and I did these things without a second thought.  When I was too ignorant to know that McDonald’s “food” ought to have quote marks around it, I would routinely order 2 Big Macs, a 20-piece McNugget and a chocolate milkshake and have one Big Mac devoured by the time my lunch companions reached the table with their orders.  I ate at every steakhouse I could find, identified my mom’s pork chops as my favorite food on the planet and greedily consumed every type of animal flesh that came my way, from alligator to ostrich, never once giving a second thought to what the consequences of this type of blind consumption were to my health, the health of the planet and – least of all but most importantly – the freedom and lives of the animals I was eating.  After all, they were already dead, so I had no part to play in any of that… right?

I mean, it’s not as if my consumption of and demand for animal products for eating, wearing and other uses was a direct contributing factor in supporting a worldwide system of unjust animal enslavement, abuse, torture, suffering, neglect, indignity and, ultimately, the mercilessly brutal taking of their lives… right?


In 2004 when my cousins sat me down to eat a delicious home-cooked vegan meal and watch Peaceable Kingdom, a beautiful documentary that gently challenged me to examine my beliefs about animals – only hours before which I had defiantly declared, “I’m not drinking your vegan Kool-Aid, so don’t get your hopes up” – I became aware in 70 minutes of what I’d been blind to my entire life: I was complicit in a well-hidden, cruelly concealed worldwide atrocity that was, to my mind and the minds of many others, nothing short of an animal holocaust (similar to the human Holocaust right down to the stark, overcrowded housing conditions, merciless brutality and the increasingly efficient methods of killing, but differing wildly in terms of sheer numbers.  In fact, there are six million animals slaughtered for food globally every hour of every day.  Six million per hour, the equivalent of a Holocaust every… sixty…minutes).  I had no idea, on any conscious level, that nearly 10 billion land animals and countless sea animals are killed for food every year in the country I call home and in even greater numbers abroad.  I had no conscious awareness that my choices about the food I ate, the clothes I wore and the products I used were directly responsible for the unimaginable suffering and death of countless individuals of other species.  At the end of the film, I had cried more than once and could only sit and mutter, “I had no idea… I had no idea…” and desperately wonder what I could do to stop supporting this nightmare.  The answer was simple – start living vegan.  Change what I can where I stand, right now.

In truth, it wasn’t the sheer numbers that affected me – it was the individuals.  I can’t imagine what six million or ten billion of anything actually looks like, but looking into the terrified eyes of one calf being torn away forever from her mother, one pig in the slaughter line watching his companions hung by their feet and having their throats slit, one baby chick having her beak seared off with a hot blade, one dog being skinned – ALIVE – and thrown in a pile of dying, mutilated dogs, one cow struggling valiantly to evade the man trying to shoot her in the head with the captive bolt gun… that’s what haunted me.  The eyes.


Eyes like yours and mine.  Eyes that rolled in their sockets in pain and anguish.  Eyes that screamed and cried and pleaded.  Eyes that, if they could speak in words, would say, “Why are you doing this to me?  What have I done?  I don’t understand.  Please stop.  You don’t have to do this”.  And though there were no words, I understood the language conveyed by those eyes and I could not pretend to not understand.  I saw the pain, I saw the fear, I saw the misery, I saw the hope and the life drain from those eyes, I saw defeat… and I was affected.


At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was.  It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible and practicable, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice.  I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.

This footage is not graphic, but it tells a haunting story in three and a half minutes:

My only regret about living vegan is that I didn’t have – or didn’t pay attention to – information that would have gotten me there sooner.

Veganism is a way of living that affords other individuals the dignity, freedom and right to live their lives free from intentional harm and from being treated as the property of others.  It is the spiritual principle of Live and Let Live extended beyond one’s own species.  It is a selfless act in a world overrun with selfishness.  It is putting aside one’s entitlement in favor of allowing other individuals to enjoy life in their own ways.  It is stepping out of an ego-driven, fear-based life into the light of Love.  It is the conscious choice to stop hurting others and, in so doing, to stop hurting oneself and the world we all share.  It is a social justice movement that aims to bring an end to the most violent, egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet: speciesism.

Speciesism, analogous with racism and sexism, can be defined as a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.

vegan-superior-michele-mccowanVeganism is not some sort of moral “high ground”, but rather a recognition of and respect for equality between individuals.  As my friend Michele McCowan so eloquently put it, “I don’t feel superior because I’m vegan.  The truth is I am vegan because I don’t feel superior to others.”

To define veganism as simply as possible, I take you to the source:

“The word ‘veganism’ denotes 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society, 1979

Now that you’ve read what might be some new information (or had some existing information reinforced), I ask you to answer the following three questions:

What is it that might open your mind and let in the light?  What image, word or sound might soften your heart and allow fairness and justice to flow?  What might be your catalyst for change?

If you have even the slightest interest in living vegan or learning more about veganism, here are great places to start:

From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.


Keith Berger

Co-founder, South Florida Vegan Education Group

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
Start now, here’s how:
Facebook Comments