My father was an adventurer who drove across the salt marshes of the Great Rann of Kutch at the most dangerous time of the year, took his little boat out into the Gulf of Mexico in tropical squalls, and climbed up a 200-foot tower on a windy day just to change a light bulb.
When I was born―his only child―he made the best of having ended up with a daughter rather than a son. He taught me boys’ games, like how to spit cherry pits, and practical things, like how to read survey markers. Together, we clambered up mountains, including those covered with ice above Tangmar in Kashmir, and out onto rocks on the wild Cornish coast.
He was a bear of a man but also kind in his own way: He gave to the poor in Bangladesh after seeing the devastation caused by a typhoon there, he hired men who were down on their luck, and he would share his packed lunch with a stray dog or a passing seagull. But it was only much later that I witnessed how his generational bias, his old-fashioned belief in not being “soft,” would be the death of him.
He loved meat and milk: steak and chops, cheese and ice cream. In his day, not to indulge in feasts of flesh when the opportunity presented itself was thought to be unmanly. And so it evolved that my father, who fearlessly traveled by a traditional boat called a dhow in the Gulf of Arabia and on foot across the Sahara, was felled by his own fork.
Gout got him first, then heart disease, and finally prostate cancer, all the diseases that today’s men―at least those who have read up on the artery-clogging and cancer-inducing properties of meat and milk-based foods and are no longer afraid to show their compassion for animals―are, in large part, able to avoid.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken to my father more about his health, albeit a touchy subject, like politics. What would have happened, had I, when he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, said, “The best gift you can give me is to stop eating meat”? Perhaps I and my mother, now a vegetarian, would have had his company for many more years.
It is often said that animals have no voice so we must speak for them. But of course, they do have voices: Elephants communicate in rumbles too low for us to hear without auditory equipment, rhinos communicate with breathing sounds, frogs tap out their messages on tree trunks, and monkeys have various screeches that let their fellows know if a threat is coming from the ground or the sky. Studies of prairie dogs have shown that they use verbs and nouns and have different calls to indicate the approach of a stranger, more than one person―perhaps even a traveling salesperson! Still, they need our voices in order to be heard in a world in which our species’ most trivial considerations drown out their most basic needs. Indeed, to be good people, we must speak up for all those who cannot adequately defend themselves: the chained dog, the injured bird, the elderly, the battered woman, the abused child, the homeless.
And perhaps we must also speak up for those who don’t yet understand that by no longer sanctioning the killing of animals for the dinner table, they may live longer, healthier lives that they can spend with those they love. That’s why, at PETA, we say, “Animal liberation is human liberation.”
Written by Ingrid E. Newkirk