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With Gratitude

The work we do here at Catskill Animal Sanctuary has a lot to do with joy. Creating a safe space where people can come nose-to-nose with a pig named Sister Mary Frances who might otherwise be called “food” is good work. Educating people about why a vegan lifestyle is important and urgent comes from a place of hope, love, and the whole-hearted belief that choosing compassion is not only necessary but it’s what we, as humans, were designed to do.

But there is more than joy here. Our work, and frankly the work of all vegans, also includes pain, sorrow, anger, frustration, and exhaustion. To choose veganism means we have to make room for all of that mess. The road is not easy for people who grieve when the vulnerable and voiceless suffer. We walk on anyway because once we’ve connected that suffering to our individual choices, there is no other way for us.

What we have decided to leave off of our plates and out of our lives can cost us. We have to unlearn some deep-seated habits and create new ones. Thinking critically about what we buy, wear, and eat takes time. And sometimes, especially on holidays that are centered around food, we bear the brunt of unkind criticism or the discomfort of feeling different even when gathered together with those whom we love and trust the most. In those times, the journey can feel particularly hard, and often, very lonely. We walk on anyway because there is no other way for us.

And if we slip, if we surrender to convenience or pressure, our hearts hurt and we relive that choice, often berating ourselves for not being better, stronger. But we don’t give up. We walk on because there is no other way for us.

The abuse and slaughter of billions and billions of animals can leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless, wondering if our choices really matter. But if you’re lucky enough to meet a pig like Sissy, a turkey like Imogen, or a cow like Tucker, you’ll know that our choices most certainly do matter. Individually and collectively, our compassion creates ripples of change.

I sat with sweet Sissy in the days before she left us, her small body swaddled in blankets. Feeding her bits of popcorn, I felt her warm breath and cold snout. I smiled at her muffled grunts of happiness as she ate from my hands. And I marveled at the profound impact this one little animal had while she lived her days here at the Sanctuary doing what pigs like to do. We’ll never know how many hearts were changed because of her but the life of this one pig had value, not because of who she met. Her life was important because it was hers. We were just lucky to be a part of it.

That day was a day, like so many others, when I had to make room in my heart for the messy stuff. The joy of connecting with another being, the sorrow as we said goodbye, and the piercing agony for every animal who will never know a moment of kindness, who will never feel the tenderness of someone caring for their needs, and who will never have a one, single, joyful day. The animals we use, wear, and eat will never have a life they can call their own.

Living vegan is living with that joy and agony and everything in between. We choose this life because there is no other way for us.

As we give thanks, I am so grateful for Catskill Animal Sanctuary and for all the sanctuaries that provide safe havens and second chances. These places exist because of good-hearted people who work and give and believe that the lives of animals are important, even the life of one small pig. I’m also so profoundly grateful for the people who turn their love and compassion into action, the ones who walk this way. Finally, I’ll offer a prayerful thank you, for Sister Mary Frances, and for all the animals who teach us, without judgment, how to lead with love. And to the nameless who suffer, you have my promise that I’ll keep on walking, along with all the others, because there is no other way for us. We are coming for you.

Wishing you the strength to walk on, to be the change, and to create peace where you are this holiday and every day,

“Chef Linda”



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