The Power Of One \ Susan Kalev

The story of how i got to be a vegetarian and an animal rights activist is the story of my personal journey for the last 30 years.
My natural interest in holistic healing stirred me in the direction of a healthier lifestyle and a vegetarian diet. I got drawn into the study of Macrobiotics not merely for physical healing but for the large spiritual view of life, the understanding of some secrets of the universe based on ancient Chinese and Japanese teachings.

susan kalev

Way back in 1981animals entered our lives- we adopted our first cat from the local park (because my 2 daughters pestered me for years to get a pet), followed by more cats, we housed 3 cats at a time and a poodle. From this first pet Misty, a domestic short hair kitty I understood how human his needs were – for attention, love, play and nourishment. He could speak to me with his eyes.

In the spring of 1990 I was crossing the street near Union Square when I spotted a woman wearing a bright red T shirt that spelled out in large letters how calves are raised for veal (confined in pitch-black space so small they cannot turn or sit and deprived of iron and nutrients for white meat), I initiated a conversation with her and she immediately invited me to a veal protest at a nearby restaurant. There I was introduced to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the Animal Rights movement and to people passionate about animal exploitation, human health and the environment. My consciousness awakened, my life changed, I became one of those people.

A hidden world of cruelty and slaughter of the innocent resonated with me and brought back memories of my mother’s stories of the Holocaust . As if all that came before culminated to bring me to this point in my life, this point of feeling the pain of others. No, it did not render me helpless, it empowered me, it empowered me to speak out in protests, and to volunteer for the ASPCA, to educate visitors as a Central Park Zoo Guide (until after 4 years I could no longer watch the animals confined). It led me to become a humane educator in NYC public schools. I became fearless and spoke at senior centers and gave Biblical Ethics courses in synagogues, organized talks at Barnes & Noble. I wanted to have hands-on experience with animals and volunteered at wildlife rescue organizations and obtained a Wildlife Rehabilitator license. Combining my training as a therapist I began a ” Healing Circle for Animal Activists” support group. Those of us who lived our days with the knowledge of animal suffering suffered with them and needed healing.

I could not understand how pigs who rival the intelligence of dogs can be kept in tiny crates or confined to “gestation stalls” and have their babies removed, how animal mutilation can be practiced without pain killers, how billions of chickens can be bled to death on conveyor belts. Over 8 billion sentient beings are slaughtered each year in the US for food with great waste of land, water, energy and enormous pollution caused by the manure of the animals farmed for food. Millions of acres of forest destroyed for livestock. How do I live knowing that minks are electrocuted and skinned alive to make a fur coat, that animals like elephants are abused in circuses, that innocents are used for medical research and the cosmetics industry. Once I was interviewing a research lab assistant at Columbia Presbyterian and he took me on a tour, lot of mice and rats, then I spotted a white afghan in a cage looking at me, thin with big eyes, that image haunted me for years, I imagined that I would go back and adopt him. The only thing I could comfort myself with is to whisper to him that I know and that I care.

Because the cycle of life is all connected when we abuse others we silence the feelings in ourselves, we numb our capacity for compassion. We pay not only with spiritual hollowness but also with physical ailments – the “modern” maladies of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, kidney failure. Humans have never eaten the way we eat today – HOW we eat determines how the world around us is being used. We value ease, speed, efficiency, devoid of consciousness, distanced from the soil from which everything comes, oblivious to the creatures that once lived. Everything modern technology creates shields us from the reality of suffering.

I wanted to transfer this fierce commitment to others, especially my family – this was the greatest challenge, I was relentless and it took me years to realize – and accept – that compassion has many facets and people find their calling in many ways. I met Peter Singer, the modern founder of the animals rights movement (author of Animal Liberation) and understood that yes, we can all find our own way of making a difference in the world. I am quoting Julia Butterfly Hill who in 1997 spent 2 years literally sitting in a 1000 year-old redwood tree to protest logging: The question for us all is not “How can I, one person, make a difference?” The question is “What kind of difference do I want to make?”

This way of life has worked for me, I know that I am not ignoring the suffering of others, I know that I have tried to be a good person in how I eat, dress and think. I know I feel the pain of others.

If you find a way to give part of yourself to a cause the world will look different.


Susan Kalev was born in Hungary during the Holocaust. Her father and sister perished in the Holocaust.


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