The following is an interview between Robert Grillo of Free From Harm and Bessie VonMessenger, a former animal farmer turned vegan activist living in Waco, Texas, whom we recently discovered from footage of a slaughterhouse vigil on Facebook. This is her story.
Tell me a bit about your childhood and family life. How did growing up on a farm or farming environment shape who you are?
Growing up on a farm gave me an opportunity to witness the close family and friendships that farm animals have. When I was very young I raised a calf whose mama was sick. He began to see me as his mom and would moo happily when I gave him a hug. I watched him grow to become a strong bull with a heart filled with gentleness and empathy for his herd, as well as for me. When my family loaded him onto the trailer to be sold, I screamed and cried and begged them not to sell my baby, not to take him to the cruel auction house. I can still see that look of sadness in his eyes as we said goodbye.
I was witness to the many joys and heartaches of the animals at our farm. I watched mother cows caring tenderly for their young, and their families watching over the babies as they would stop to eat. I saw herd sires protecting the young as the trailer was loaded with babies to be sent to auction and I heard mama cows crying at the loss of their young. I witnessed chickens developing friendships and roosters protecting their hens in the mornings when we would collect their eggs. These experiences with the animals eventually opened my eyes to their very real feelings and family connections that make these animals individuals and not products.
What was the catalyst for your transformation from farming to veganism?
It took me learning to turn off the noise of tradition and social conditioning to finally go vegan. The strong memories I hold of the happiness and sadness of the farm animals left an impression on me. I began to understand how very much they are like us. I would never want to be used against my will or have my precious family taken from me and sold to slaughter. I realized neither do the animals want this life of suffering and grief. They want to live and be happy. You can see that desire clearly in the gentle caring eyes of a mother cow.
Did you go right into activism or did you evolve into an activist after some time being vegan?
I evolved into a vegan activist once I realized that just being vegan wasn’t enough. My anxiety had kept me from speaking out for a while, so I had to simply face my anxiety and do what I would want anyone to do for me and my family if we were in the animals’ position, to give voice to those silenced and abused.
What kind of activism are you involved in? What kind of actions and groups are you involved in?
I am involved in vigils and protests, chalk activism, fliers, leafleting, and social media activism. I am part of a dedicated group of activists in Waco, Texas, Waco Animal Save. I am very thankful Waco Animal Save is here now and making our animal friends heard.
Do you think there are other farmers out there that have doubts about animal exploitation and would like to change their occupation?
I absolutely believe that many farmers struggle with a voice of conscience versus tradition. I believe that they would change their occupation if they could put aside tradition and social norms long enough to really look into a farm animal’s eyes and see the pain there, to really connect with how the animals feel about their suffering and untimely deaths.
If you have any further thoughts to leave with us, feel free to elaborate.
I want to see a change in this world. I want to see harmony and evolution in farming, farmers switching to an occupation that does not use animals, that relies on vegetables and fruits, peaceful farming. I envision a world where animals are seen as friends and never again as commodities. They deserve our voices, our strength, our dedication to make that happen.