Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Stringer
I've always seen myself as an animal lover, but honestly, my affection didn't extend to all animals. I categorized them: Dogs were smart, loyal, and loving, so they were more valuable than, say, goats or pigs. I think that's why I never thought twice about eating meat. Steak and burgers weren't an everyday meal, but I definitely accepted meat as a necessary part of life. That all changed five years ago, when Ellen [DeGeneres]
and I moved to a farm in California.
The property was beautiful, with plenty of land for our animals: We had four cows and two calves, and after a few months, we took in a 4-year-old Canadian Warmblood mare named Diva. The night she arrived, I was so worried about her that I couldn't sleep. She had been hauled several hours to our farm, and I feared she might have colic. So at 5 o'clock in the morning, I went out to the pasture to keep an eye on her. I sat very still, watching her until sunrise. Everything was so quiet that I think the animals forgot I was there. Then I witnessed something extraordinary: The cows formed a single-file line, and one by one they touched noses with the new horse as a greeting. The calves wouldn't approach on their own, so one of the cows nudged them forward. Each of the babies touched the horse's nose, then jumped around and played like little children.
I started crying and thought, I can't possibly keep eating these animals.
Before that moment, I wouldn't have fathomed cows doing something like that. I was forced to confront the fact that I had chosen to remain ignorant of their nature because it was just easier that way.
That evening Ellen and I went to dinner at our favorite restaurant, where I often ordered the spaghetti Bolognese. I almost asked for it out of habit. But then I realized I had actually changed. I had no appetite for meat sauce. Giving up beef wasn't just some fleeting idea. Over the next year, I stopped eating all animals and animal products. I always thought going vegan would be difficult, but I genuinely don't crave meat or cheese. And I feel happier, like I'm contributing to making the world a less violent place. Before that morning on the farm, I ranked an animal's value based on how "human" it was. Now I don't judge other beings that way—every animal has its own intelligence and sensitivities. They're all lovely, worthwhile, and deserving of our respect.
More Aha! Moments
From the December 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine