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The knowledge of suffering was too much to bear alone

The Vegeteers at work on Gabriola Island.


Our guest blogger Sigrid Bjarnason is an animal advocate and vegan living on Gabriola Island. Here, she describes why she made these important life choices and how she and her fellow “Vegeteers” work on behalf of animals.

Forty years ago when I was in my mid-20s, I stuffed my flip-flops, a bathing suit and some shorts into my neon orange backpack and headed off with a couple of friends on a South American adventure.  Two months into our trip we found ourselves on a bargain-basement ocean voyage to the fabled Galapagos Islands.  We’d booked passage on a rusty old ship that was taking supplies to the Islanders and, we later learned, picking up cattle to transport back to the mainland of Ecuador for slaughter.

You might think I have happy memories of blue-footed boobies and lumbering tortoises from that trip to the Galapagos so long ago.  But no, instead I carry two unsettling memories: The agonizing sight of dozens of cows crammed together on the open deck below us standing day after day in the blazing sun without food or water, a handful of them collapsing and dying along the way; and worse, the screams of a tethered pig, destined to be dinner for travelers and crew, struggling for her life as two crew members stabbed and sliced at her until her desperate shrieks became pitiful whimpers and finally, mercifully, stopped altogether.

You might think those two incidents would have been enough to cure my meat-eating habit right then and there. But no. Instead, I told myself a story. The story was that farm animals were treated harshly in Ecuador but Canada was a kinder, gentler nation and we had laws to protect animals from such horrible suffering. I didn’t research it. I just decided it was true.

Then, seven years ago, a close friend phoned. She was devastated. She had just watched a Global TV documentary called “Revealed: No Country For Animals.” The documentary showed in sickening detail the horrific hidden abuse of millions of animals trapped out of sight in Canada’s industrial food system. Turns out Canada does not have effective laws to protect farm animals after all.  So, that was it – my story was blown. 

I’ve been a vegan ever since.

So, what to do with the knowledge of all that suffering? It was too much to bear alone.  So I found some like-minded people on Gabriola Island where I was living. We formed a group, called ourselves the Vegeteers and set out to raise awareness about compassionate food choices.

We are now a well-established organization on Gabriola Island.  One of our regular activities is to set up information tables at community events on Gabriola like the fall fair, the food forum and theatre festivals. When we started tabling we had to entice people to talk to us by offering vegan treats and prizes. We got used to fielding the usual derisive comments and bacon jokes, but these days people are more likely to search us out for new vegan recipe ideas or plant-based nutrition information.  The world is changing but it feels right to nudge things along by giving people who want to change some support to help them do that.

We have a website and a Facebook page. We show animal advocacy movies at our local library. We hold regular vegan potlucks, arrange special restaurant meals, distribute brochures, participate in street fairs, hold cooking demonstrations and organize plant-based cooking workshops.  This summer, we sponsored a Gabriola music festival where all the food was vegan.

There are billions of animals suffering in horrific conditions in Canada and around the world, but there is reason for hope.  More and more people are coming to recognize the environmental, health and ethical advantages of a plant-based diet.  The shift to veganism is snowballing and it feels wonderful to be part of such positive change.  

To learn more about what the Gabriola Vegeteers are up to, check our website or our Facebook page.