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Draw the Lines of Compassion Where They Actually Reside

By Linden Mackey, Guest Contributor

Jonathan Foer in Eating Animals recounts a story his grandmother told him about her experiences in World War II, how scarce the food and desperately hungry everyone was. She tells him that toward the end of the war, when she wasn’t sure she could make it another day, a Russian farmer brought a piece of meat to her.

Foer says, “He saved your life,” to which she responded, “I didn’t eat it.”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”


“What do you mean why?”

“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

“Of course.”

“But not even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

It’s not that half measures aren’t better than no measures. And it’s not that we don’t most of us sometimes do what is expedient or even necessary in desperate circumstances. But if we don’t at least face the world with our convictions firm to begin with, our chances of fulfilling them are diminished from the very beginning.

I remind myself of this story when I find the going difficult, for example, when I am asked questions designed to make the vegan choice seem ridiculous.

Such as when a co-worker asked me what I imagined would happen if I were to eat an egg – “Well, would the world come to an end?” she challenged.

“No, but at least I wouldn’t be contributing to the end of a chicken’s world who had been forced into laying eggs ceaselessly and unnaturally for her excruciatingly short and tormented life,” I responded.

Believe me, I’m usually not that sharp on my game, and often I question whether or not I do enough, remain true enough, to this mission to every day protest the fate of those who cannot advocate for themselves.

I like to imagine that, similar to Jonathan Foer’s grandmother, I would hold out rather than compromise. I doubt I will ever be put to such a severe test – but in the meantime, her words remain a staunch motto: “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save”—we are all called to draw the lines of compassion and morality where they actually reside, not at our convenience and to where we are accustomed.

Photo: Pete Reed