Warning- I’m a Christian so some of what I will write today will be reflective of my faith. For those of you who are of a different religion/faith/atheist/agnostic, please don’t take offense. Acceptance and love for all our differences, right?
It’s Saturday (Holy Saturday for those following the Christian Easter calendar) and I’m standing in the queue of my local supermarket with a bag of bananas, strawberries, dates and lentils (the essentials, right?). The supermarket experience for me usually involves zoning out from the comprehension of who is around me to focus on what is: as in food. It’s a concentration game of memory, probability, algebra, critical analysis and physical exercise…No wonder I’m always exhausted when I get home. Anyway, back to Saturday, standing by the cashier, with just one person in front of me, unloading her trolley. I look down to estimate how long she will take and there I see an eye staring back at me. I lie…it is a blank stare, mere blackness shooting in my direction. The eye expands to reveal a head, neck, body, 4 legs, skinned, stiff, dead. A goat lies in the trolley in front of me, still fresh from the kill, blood just then cooling. I close my eyes and then, after three whole minutes, take another peep to make sure that it is still there. It is. I divert my eyes and start concentrating on my bananas. Counting them, comparing their yellowness, their browning. I am holding my breath at this moment to avoid inhaling the smell of raw meat, fresh cut. Of blood. Death. All I want to think about then is bananas. Banaaaaaaanas. Baaaaananas. But, really, all I can think about is how there is a carcass of some dead animal in front of me that keeps staring at me. As if it’s my fault it is there. And not back home. I couldn’t but feel guilty.
As a vegan, I believe guilt is one of the crucial factors for making the decision to stop consuming animal products. Guilt has always been such a debatable topic, from being depicted as evidence of one’s virtue or villainous act, weakness or disability. According to a Christian narrative, the presence of guilt equates to the presence of sin and the dire necessity of confession. Guilt in itself is never let alone to remaining a mere sate of being. You don’t usually go to your friends and say ‘Hey, I’m feeling guilty today. How about you?’ But should it?
Easter is a time of reflection, meditating and allowing the experience to wash over you, in order to renunciate and move forward with a new stride and appreciation of life. Guilt is a transitional momentum. It is not so much a ‘half-halt’ (riding jargon) in that it does not necessitate that the outcome you have already established in your mind coming into this space/moment of mere thought/stillness. Isn’t it ironic that this time of personal critical thought is being stigmatised as a lack, a dysfunction? A weakness.
When it comes to participating in the Easter festivities of egg hunts, breaking eggs, roasting massive amounts of lamb/goats, the guilt factor, which let’s be honest, does creep in when you see that head in its frozen expression. The guilt in acknowledging that our actions of amusement (eating, playing etc.) may be contributing to another’s suffering or death is being numbed because the occupations are part of tradition. And Easter is about sacrifice, is it not? Blood, murder and pain. The cross, the nails and the crown of thorns weren’t exactly reflective of fun times.
Unlike GUILT, which is a continuous cycle, not fixed in the past but a recurring area of growth, the SACRIFICE Easter celebrates is a point in the past. It happened in order to discontinue similar events from reoccurring. The one Sacrifice was to end all further ANIMAL sacrifices. The blood is no longer quintessential in adhering to the Christian religion. But in an environment like that of Cyprus, the Greek Orthodox tradition continues to demand the blood of lambs and the sacrifice of animals to redeem another point of guilt. Creating more guilt which is then atoned for by the term ‘tradition’ and the fact that everyone is doing it. And that what we are feeling (‘guilty’) for the animal on the skewer is us being merely sensitive.
But if, as a vegan, I do not conform to tradition, decluttering in a way, am I not taking a more aggressive, stronger stance? By refusing to buy and consume the animals that are solely raised for this day, am I not disregarding the practice altogether as unnecessary. Am I not giving myself the time and opportunity to reestablish what this time should be about, about my own personal journey and faith. About where I stand as a human being, in regards to culture and the environment. Where should I draw the line and where should I be more compassionate?
The idea here is not to guilt trip and bash everyone to become vegans. But to rethink their decisions and reasons for doing things. If you personally believe in eating meat and in the sacrificial necessity in your own Easter celebrations, then that is your right so go for it. But if you are more of an agnostic, merely going with the flow of everyone else, with the excuse of ‘it’s tradition’, then I would ask you to stop, think and let guilt be your moment of reflection, research and reconnection with yourself, your faith (doesn’t have to be in God) and with the environment around you.
The feeling of guilt upon not just seeing the carcass of the goat in the trolley at the supermarket was not the consequence of my having committed or wanting to commit a murder. Maybe it was my doing nothing to avoid the murder (though I hadn’t known the murder was being committed at the time it was). If I were a vegan activist, vegan terrorist, vegan spokesperson, maybe this could have been avoided. Should I become these things? Is it my duty as a vegan? Am I ready? Is it in my nature?
But most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to reflect about the essence of what I stand for and think about the future, about the essence of guilt and its value to helping me grow as a human being.