We were enjoying a drive through the mountains and woods of Pennsylvania the other day. Fall is a beautiful time of year; I’m always drawn in by the dramatic colors, the quiet, cold air, and the sunlight that breaks through the gloomy sky. As we drove, we looked to the field on our right and saw two hunters, with their bright orange gear on and weapons in hand. Suddenly, the startling sound of a gunshot broke the silence, and the hunters watched as a bird fell to the ground. We later drove by other hunters, and were disheartened by how many there were just in this one area on this one day. We made noise to scare animals away. But, I have no doubt that lives were taken and families were torn apart. And it was too late for the bird, who alive just minutes before, lay dead on the ground. My husband said quietly that the bird had been close enough to see the two humans standing below and decide that they meant no harm and presented no reason to try to fly away. Why would this bird even be able to imagine that we would inflict such senseless violence?
Even before I was vegetarian or vegan, I couldn’t understand hunting. I would debate with hunters. I couldn’t understand how anyone could see an animal, look him or her in the eyes, and take their life. And for what? To have a “trophy” on your wall? To prove to yourself that you can “conquer nature?”
I still don’t understand hunting. But, I have made a connection that I wasn’t ready to make then. Our cruel exploitation of and violence toward animals is not isolated to the woods of the “country,” but permeates our everyday lives and every corner of the world. That bird shot from a tree had no more right to live than the chickens we abuse and kill for eggs and meat. As we continued our drive, we also passed the unmistakable sight of a “free-range” or “cage-free” chicken farm. You might have the image of chickens peacefully roaming a green field in the sunshine in your mind, but the reality is a much different picture. The chickens were packed into a long shed with a window on the end. They will suffer for the remainder of their short lives, and in the end, will be met with the same fate that so many other chickens face on a daily basis.
We are all connected on this planet, and we affect others with the choices that we make every day. As a hunter fires a gun, a life is taken. But we can also choose to support violence with every meal on our plates. In a world filled with violence, we have to start teaching compassion. As we saw a hunter with his young son armed with weapons, I wondered, “If we teach violence, how can we expect not to live in a violent world?”