Sandra Higgins

The founder of Matilda’s Promise, an animal rights and vegan education centre, on bringing her campaign to Manchester

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In 1998 I was doing a continual professional development course in positive psychology as part of my clinical work as a psychologist. One of the course aims was to discover what makes life worth living so that I could help my own clients build practices and awareness into their lives to achieve more equanimity, peace, meaning, satisfaction and happiness. I suddenly found myself the carer of two orphaned lambs which, at first, seemed to be poles apart from my clinical and academic work.

As I cared for them I witnessed how they jump off their four legs simultaneously, seemingly for the sheer joy of it. I watched them grow and fill their days with the business of living and I recognised that I had much more in common with them than I had been aware of. It surprised me to think that we shared organs and senses. Like us they have two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, lungs, kidneys and brains. Like us they sense the world through their sensory nervous system and like us their brains make sense of the information they perceive. One day one of the lambs hurt his foot and when I saw him tremble in pain I suddenly recognised that like me they feel. They experience negative states like frustration, anger and sadness just like we do – and they experience pleasure as we do. I began to see that for them, their lives are worth living and that they have their own purpose in life, unrelated and independent of the purpose we create for them, which is to die for us. I realised that killing them is a moral issue. I became increasingly interested in animal psychology and the relationship we have with the individuals of other species.

I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers were still bloody from birth, and they searched and called frantically for their babies. Their newly born daughters were in a separate building, separated from their mothers. New to this world, they trembled on shaky legs and cried piteously with no one to comfort them. They were drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers nurturing bodies. The farmer told me that their sons are either slaughtered at birth or at a young age for their flesh. They themselves are killed at six years. Their natural lifespan is much longer – cows can live to 25 years. I could no longer participate in that. I left the dairy vegan.

I was so horrified by what I had witnessed that I relentlessly searched for information on what other animals go through when we are not vegan. What I discovered shocked me to the core. It prompted me to reduce my clinical work to a minimum and dedicate the rest of my life to working for their rights and a vegan world.

My first impulse was to rescue a few fortunate individuals in an effort to save them from human use and the brutality of slaughter. However, while running a sanctuary is important for the individuals who are rescued and live there, offering vegan education is even more important so that we stop breeding them into this world for our use in the first place. Other animals are feeling, unique individuals with histories and personalities, whose lives mean as much to them as our lives mean to us. Few of us would countenance their use if we glimpsed what they endure to become the animal products we use. They may be different to us but they are not less than us. Their status as our property, to control and do with as we please, is the greatest injustice the world has ever tolerated.

I have been running Matilda’s Promise, an animal rights and vegan education centre named after one of Eden’s residents since 2012. I believe that veganism is not something that can be compartmentalised into different areas of one’s life. It is a social justice issue that pertains to all forms of animal use. Any meaningful lifestyle change involves change at the level of our hearts and minds first and then a change in our behaviour. Too many people try to be vegan by beginning at the final stage of behavioural change. They focus on recipes and diet and the latest vegan item to hit the shop shelves. It is much more helpful to focus on the motivating factors by familiarising ourselves with what other feeling beings go through to become the commodities we regard as animal ingredients or products.

In 2015, in an effort to expand the reach of the Vegan Education Centre, I founded Go Vegan Ireland, a public educational advertising campaign that quickly developed into the international campaign Go Vegan World. It has toured all the major cities in the UK, as well as some suburbs, rural areas, and tourist destinations. It is accompanied by a lecture tour, a comprehensive website, and a free vegan guide. The billboard ads, which arrived in Manchester last week, feature the residents at Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary and the campaign is inspired and informed by their lives as our teachers at Eden. These are not anonymous representatives of the species we harm and kill – they are real survivors that have escaped our domination and slaughter. We feature vegan street education days in some of the larger cities, which include free plant food samples and the opportunity to experience the life of a farmed animal through virtual reality.

The Go Vegan World campaign is committed to the principle that injustice is not less when its victims are not human. Logic requires us to acknowledge that and stop using them. This begins by being vegan.

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