FEATURE: Zachary Toliver

My pops told me that when I was a toddler, the realization that "fried chicken" was in fact an actual chicken disturbed me so much that I snuck off to flush the uneaten flesh down the toilet. Apparently, I failed to comprehend that all meat at one point walked around hyped on life before being murdered for McNuggets. I can only guess lil' me assumed meat grew silently rooted in the ground like vegetables or fruit. I like to think of this tale as a premonition to an inevitable vegan lifestyle. 

Regardless, nearly 20 years slipped by until a ruthless thunderstorm and anxious dog set me on the vegan path. 

One night as winds were shaking my windows and rain started to punish the ground outside, my dog Zero (she was born on Halloween and is named after the ghost dog from Nightmare Before Christmas) began to whine. She never liked storms, as many dogs don't. But, this was the first time she ever reacted by hiding inside the bathtub.  

Growing up in Tornado Alley, kids learn that if a basement isn't available, find shelter inside a small closet, an inner hallway, and yes, even a bathtub. I could always tell a storm was 10 to 15 minutes out because my furry roommate would scurry away to my bedroom closet or curl up inside the tub. 

Zero's instinct to hide opened my eyes to her true intelleignce. I had to learn proper storm safety but Zero simply knew. Moreover, Zero was obviously feeling fear. She was terrified by the storm, and for all she knew, her life was in danger. This showed me that Zero reacted in a way to preserve her well-being as a  living creature. Her intellect and genuine feelings of fear reflected a humanity that deserved accreditation. But more than that, Zero deserved acknolwedgment as a fellow creature, with a desire for life no more or less zealous than my own.

But it dawned on me, other animals share similiar cognitive abilities and are treated in horrible ways by humanity. Pigs are often compared to dogs in terms of loyalty and intellect, yet we EAT them. Orangutans are often called "the people of the forest" and we ruin their habitats for things like palm oil and cattle raising. The only reason I don't eat my dog is because of cultural norms. In many parts of the world, dog meat is free game. I simply couldn't live with the hypocrisy of slaughtering fellow animals for food, knowing they experience the same fear and the same yearning for life that Zero does. 

That night of shattering cognitive dissonance happened roughly five years ago. I became vegetarian after reflecting on Zero's reaction to stormy weather. After three years, I switched to full-on veganism. My vegan ethos is sustained by many other factors, most notably my work as an environmentalist. Out of every protest, signature gathering, march, or campaign I ever participated in, I find it funny that my diet exceeds all else in terms of environmental impact.

Nonetheless, my dog Zero who barks at her own farts and high fives me for treats, set me on the lifelong path I perhaps was meant for all along. 

Side note: Thank you to Black Vegans Rock for fruitful content and bringing folks together! I no longer feel like an endangered species out here.

If you care to know what happens when an environmentalist reads too much Huey P. Newton, check out my blog Coffee and Purgatory.