my lifetime I've come across severe forms of animal
abuse more than once. You could even say it was sort
of a family tradition. My father was from Spain and
from childhood he unfortunately clearly sympathized
with Franco's regime. For him this also included a mild
form of nationalism, which was mainly expressed by the
pre-eminent national festivities of bullfighting. Visiting
bullfights and advertising them to Dutch people served
as a pattern, in his opinion, for a European orientation
without losing the Spanish identity. For instance, he
bought Spanish films about bullfights and showed them
at home to his guests, along with his own family films.
As a child my brother was given a bullfighter's costume
complete with hat, and he was encouraged to "dance"
in it like a real torero. Toys completed the picture:
we were given among other things a box filled with plastic
bulls that had spears sticking out of their backs, bullfighters
with capes in various colors and horses that are used
by the "picadores". This way my father tried
to make us proud at a young age of this - for him -
great symbol of Spanish culture. But even as a boy I
was rebellious and I didn't blindly accept everything
my parents told me.
I don't remember how old I was exactly, but one day
at home we were watching we a bullfight on TV (I think
it was the German show "Aqui Espaņa")
together, and I suddenly saw what these festivals were
really all about. I saw a bull being injured several
times and bleeding profusely and at first I remember
wondering how it could possibly still win from the matador.
But then I realized that the outcome was preset: the
bull would kick the bucket and nobody did anything about
it. I felt a chill of panic and I had to think of history
books about Marie Antoinette and such that I used to
love as a boy, in other words: of public executions.
On the understanding that what we were dealing with
here was a completely innocent animal that wasn't killed
swiftly with one stroke, but that was tortured to death
slowly but surely. Nobody did anything about it, and
they pretended it was all grand and good.
Disgusted I turned away from the TV, and outraged I
asked my father if he thought this was "fair".
He didn't know what to say about this, besides something
I would hear a lot later, namely that I didn't have
a clue what bullfighting was all about. It's not about
torturing or killing a bull, said my father, but about
the elegance of the movements of the torero and his
cape and the torero's great courage. This "explanation"
made me feel sick and my father's "aficion"
always stood painfully between us until he died in December
1997. Several times he tried to convince me to visit
a bullfight with him or at least see one on TV or in
the theater, but that was always in vain. From the moment
I realized what people were doing to helpless bulls
in the arena, I started to gain the insight that whatever
happened, we had to have good reasons to do anything
to animals in the first place. For me, beauty and the
exhibition of masculinity definitely do not come under
that heading since then. I did keep eating meat for
many years, until I was 18. And as a teenager I had
been guilty of massacring scores of maybugs as a 'game'
with other children, by hitting them with a tennis racket
as they flew by. I still remember that I would feel
so guilty at night, and was frantically looking for
rationalizations for my behavior. In the meantime I
had refused to eat all kinds of "exotic" animals
such as frogs or squid because I didn't feel the need
to add to my list of edible creatures, and even had
an increasing urge to limit that list further.
A broadcast about the violent reality of factory farming
and a talk with one of my classmates who was a vegetarian
decided me. I permanently wanted to stop eating meat.
But it took another year before this became really possible
at my house, because my father kept making trouble.
And it was also made extra difficult because I was given
tempeh almost every day, one of the few vegetarian products
I still don't like.
But from the age of 18 I've been a vegetarian and from
the age of 19 a vegan. Under social pressure I 'sinned'
at parties about ten times, which means I used products
that had dairy ingredients. And I used to occasionally
buy liquorice that could be expected to contain gelatin.
But I have never eaten meat anymore, not for half my
life (I'm 36 now). My veganism is now more consistent
and more obvious than ever.
Since my 19th birthday my respect for animals has become
a part of a wider respect for individuals. For me this
fits liberal socialism. I regard the exclusion of animals
from individual respect as speciesism, discrimination
on the basis of animal species. In my psychology studies
I wrote a paper together with my brother Esteban Rivas
in this framework about animal consciousness. Nowadays
I express my personal battle against speciesism mainly
by writing essays, mostly for the magazine "Gezond
Idee!" I hope it will become increasingly normal
to assign rights to individual animals, and at the same
time increasingly absurd to sacrifice animals for human
pleasure or enjoyment.
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