Thomas, Peter, Philipp, Riccardo and Tom have something in common:
They have worked for years in fattening farms or butcher shops.
Some of the former butchers, butchers and butchers were responsible for slaughtering hundreds of animals every week. Today they all live vegan.
In a very detailed, emotional and personal interview, they tell us how it came about. Be inspired by their positive change.
Disclaimer: This interview reflects the reality and everyday life in slaughterhouses and is not for the faint of heart. Please be aware of this. We will never show pictures of suffering animals, but you know yourself - our mind is often the biggest weapon.
You have worked as butchers and butcher and now all live vegan. How did you come to this decision?
Thomas: It was a gradual process from vegetarian to vegan, decisive were my last days in the slaughterhouse. A small group of untrained people should take the certificate of competence for stunning/killing. A bad horror movie was still comedy against it. That shook me up and was the moment to turn my back on the industry.
Peter: As a teenager, I started an apprenticeship as a butcher delicatessen & canned goods, because I had not found an apprenticeship in my dream job as a chef and this training would have harmonized well with that. As a young boy, I regularly helped out on the farm; my grandparents still lived in the countryside. Through this I came into contact with land slaughtering at a very early stage. For me, it was the most natural thing in the world to produce my own meat, so killing the animals was also part of it. Within my training, however, I came into conscious contact with the slaughterhouse for the first time, which shook me.
Right at the beginning I noticed the fearful cries of the animals, the penetrating smell of copper from the blood mixed with the sweat of the workers and the fearful smells of the animals. I saw the transporters full of animals, their fear was literally palpable, and then the workers who drove the animals to slaughter in an emotionally cold way – merciless and hard, because the workers on the belt were paid piecework wages. Insufficiently stunned animals were simply hung up and stabbed, because there was simply no time for post-stun, because the next animals were driven in. When you see the eyes of the animals, in the pigs fearful, panic, in the cattle sad and empty – and even tears, it touches the heart. From my point of view, you can only numb this with alcohol and in the end you lose all sense of life and the feelings of the animals, I didn’t want that.
Inside the butcher shop, where I ultimately processed the products, it went well, but every time the slaughterhouse was on the agenda I felt sick.
I have also not worked in the profession after the training, but slaughtered with a column longer time also still on the land, but no longer professionally.
In 2005, I gradually questioned my actions. Yes, I was a convinced meat eater and I got my meat from the neighborhood, especially from my Swedish neighbors, because I had bought a little house there in the meantime. The meat there came mainly from hunting, fish I fished myself. My conviction was until then that the animals had lived well until death, but more and more I saw the eyes of the animals I had killed myself and felt more and more compassion. I questioned whether I could take away a living being’s greatest asset, its life, just to eat it. A multi-year struggle.
The last drop in this barrel was poured at the end by a pike – actually not a typical slaughterhouse animal, but a pike. I had once again fished in Sweden and was able to get a pike in the boat. When I tried to stun him and looked him in the eye – which was no problem before – I couldn’t hit him anymore and I put this animal back. I watched him escape and was happy for him. At home I didn’t tell my wife about it, I just hadn’t caught anything and the rest of the vacation we had just always done something other than fishing. At home it took a little while until I came home and told my wife that I would live vegan from now on. My wife had already guessed this and joined me on my way.
Philipp: The rethinking process only began for me a few years ago. I had an outdoor pen with pigs as a sideline and over time I developed a very strong bond with these wonderful animals. Their killing ultimately led to the turn of events, because even the most beautiful life does not justify a bestial death for a palate.
Riccardo: Until December 2017, I was convinced that I had a healthy lifestyle and a conscious diet. As far as I remember, I ate meat once or twice a day. Usually once for lunch and once for dinner. I also consumed an alarming amount of eggs, eating up to 15 eggs was normal for me. My favorite restaurant was a steakhouse which I visited regularly and also encouraged many friends to come along. Then when I was at Thomas’ house on December 19, 2017 with my buddy David (chef), he casually told us he was vegan. The picture of Thomas did not fit for me at all into the image of a vegan and therefore I became skeptical and asked. Since I perceived Thomas as very health-conscious, athletic and healthy at the age of 42, I wanted to know exactly. We talked for about an hour about why he went vegan, and this led to an exciting and respectful discussion. At one point I looked at David and said, “David, I guess we have to put our egos aside and admit that Thomas is right.”
Thomas then cooked us something delicious and asked, “Is the taste difference of that, compared to what you usually eat, worth more than an animal’s life?”
I answered no to the question and decided to listen to my heart and go vegan about 90 minutes after I first got involved with veganism.
The very next day I reduced the consumption of animal products by about 80-90% and after three months of step by step change, I was then vegan and act since then consistently according to my values.
How long were you active there and what were your tasks?
Thomas: I worked as a butcher for a total of 20 years, or 17 years as a personnel service provider for slaughterhouses. Mainly in the field of cutting, but also some years of slaughtering. I thus coordinated more personnel, procured, controlled the work. Likewise, several times a day the area of the killing. I am shocked today what footage is shown in the media. I do not know these “conditions” from my career. Of course, in the area of cattle slaughtering, there were also cases of mistaken stunning, but I, as well as the slaughtermaster and owner, made sure that it was done “sensibly”.
Peter: Professionally, only the short period of training, however, I slaughtered for another 15 years with farmers I knew. Professionally, my main task during the time was the cutting of animals and sausage preparation.
Philipp: It will soon be 20 years since I trained as a butcher. The business was a small village butcher store. I was taught all the activities from stunning/killing to sausage making. The week basically began with the slaughter of pigs, then followed, as needed, calves / cattle / bulls, and on certain festivals, sheep and lambs. The handling of the bolt gun or the electric stun gun was routine for me after a short time.
Since my successful graduation, I have not worked in this profession, but have done home slaughtering for a few more years.
Riccardo: I worked for 4 years behind the meat counter of the biggest supermarket in Switzerland. There I processed meat, fish, sausages and cheese. The animals were killed in the slaughterhouse, then the body parts were cut into pieces and these were delivered to us so that we could process the meat further. We shredded, chopped, separated chops, skinned liver, marinated, breaded and got the meat ready to cook. So in the background we processed meat and at the counter we sold the weighed meat to the customers.
Was there a decisive moment that made you make this decision?
Thomas: I would describe this moment as decisive as described above. You start to wonder if what you are doing is right. From that moment on, I have also consciously always watched the stunning, and have noticed that when the pigs go down in the elevator to the gas, they suffer terrible agony and there is no escape. The screams are memorable. There’s one thing that’s always stuck in my mind too, that was a beautiful, pitch black bull, real as painted, who didn’t want to die. Six times he was shot. But it was not a false stun, it was the right point and the right place, but he did not want to go. You never forget something like that.
Peter: The decision was not an existential one for me, as I was still at the beginning of my professional career, but it did have an impact, namely that I didn’t start training as a chef and changed jobs for several years, thus gaining experience in different professions, before I completed my retraining as a tax clerk in 199 and have been working for my current employer ever since.
Philipp: At that time, this decision had nothing to do with the animals. I just didn’t want to do this hard and also dirty work for poor pay anymore.
Riccardo: I left the butcher’s profession three years before I became vegan.
I just wasn’t happy there and was never proud to work there. I was always uncomfortable talking about the meat industry and so today I also know that I have always been vegan at heart, but let society mold me into someone I was not. I can still remember talking to my work colleague in the first two weeks of my apprenticeship and he said, “You’ve loosened up a lot, we used to have to go to the slaughterhouse for a few weeks.”
To which I replied, “Fortunately, because I could never do that.”
I was starting a three-year apprenticeship in the meat industry and knew that I could never kill an animal voluntarily. However, I did not realize at that time that everything I sold was against my values. Meat tasted good to me and I was told that it is healthy and necessary.
Were there any key moments when you really wanted to save an animal?
Thomas: You would have wanted to take so many with you, but once they are behind the walls there is no escape. You have to flip the switch in your head or it won’t work. When a curious pig sniffs your fingers and it is killed the next moment is not nice. You have to endure.
Peter: That happened outside of the actual butchering, which was fishing:
I had once again fished in Sweden and was able to get a pike in the boat. When I tried to stun him and looked him in the eye – which was no problem before – I couldn’t hit him anymore and I put this animal back. I watched him escape and was happy for him. At home I didn’t tell my wife about it, I just hadn’t caught anything and the rest of the vacation we had just always done something other than fishing.
Philipp: I can’t remember sparing an animal back then, unfortunately! However, many cruel events have been burned into my memory. Emotional closeness to an animal is often created by a single look into its eyes.
I can remember very well a gentle goat. His owner led him into the yard with a rope on his collar. I had prepared a bowl of concentrated feed for him so that I could shoot him without stress. However, he had such large horns that I could not position the bolt gun properly and it took three shots to achieve a reasonably effective stun. I can still see his death throes today.
Riccardo: Having worked only in meat processing, I cannot share such a story.
How did your work colleagues and your environment react when you told them that you no longer wanted to be part of this system?
Thomas: I first dropped out and then shortly afterwards took the step to become a vegetarian. I became a vegan later. I don’t know anyone in my environment who has expressed a positive opinion. They knew me as a butcher, and then suddenly changing fronts was an outrage. I had to listen to a lot of stupid stuff. But probably because many do not get along with my consistent way.
As my neighbor at the time said: from Saul to Paul, it’s all spin, all animal rights activists are crazy….
Peter: Since I was in training, my feelings about the slaughterhouse were dismissed with, “Well, you’ll get used to it, we had to go through it too.” Of course I did not reveal the full insight into my feelings, as a man one is strong and untouchable. But I didn’t want to get used to it either, I saw more and more of the slaughterhouse workers drinking, even during working hours. I never wanted to become like that.
Philipp: Many of my customers of the slaughtered free-range pigs had no understanding for my 180-degree turnaround. “Nobody can do it better than you” and “Your pigs had the best life on earth” were only a fraction of the statements.
Riccardo: In my opinion, it’s always a question of how you communicate something. I simply said that I have informed myself in detail and do not want to support this anymore. For the sake of my health, the animals, the earth and the poorest people in the world.
Animal rights activists repeatedly gain access to slaughterhouses to draw attention to the suffering of animals. What do you think about such actions?
Thomas: I think it’s good and necessary, but it’s sad that something like this is necessary at all and that all control instances fail in the companies. It is of course always cruel for outsiders to see when an animal is murdered. These are never beautiful pictures. I see the problem in the lack of interest on the part of politicians in wanting to change various things for the better in the long term.
Peter: I agree with the judgment of Naumburg and very much consider such actions as emergency aid. However, I want to clearly emphasize that I do not tolerate when some activists find themselves in false activism and simply enter stables unprepared. However, I see many well-trained activists who have previously obtained background information on the farms through good research and who also observe the hygienic regulations when entering, which is a prerequisite for me.
Philipp: 2017 I let myself be hired for Soko Tierschutz with a hidden camera as a head butcher in two slaughterhouses and caused a big media scandal with the recordings. The workers then lost their jobs and one slaughterhouse (Eschweiler) was closed. The investigation against the Düren slaughterhouse is still ongoing today. One of the biggest customers there at the time was McDonalds, which subsequently terminated its cooperation with Düren. This uncovering work has become a very important part of my life and I am still involved in research of all kinds. As long as the control of the farms systematically fails, I will continue to draw attention to the suffering of the animals with exposures. Consumers have a right to know the truth behind animal products and should leave them on the shelves.
Riccardo: I think these actions are good and necessary, as long as no other living beings are hurt or attacked in the process. These actions should be peaceful and serve to educate. It is good if the media make a fuss about this topic and cover it in newspapers, radio and television, so that more people are made aware of it.
Your joint video went viral and received a lot of positive feedback. Many media outlets have also reported positively on it. How did you come to make the video and how did you meet?
Thomas: I was friends with Phil on Facebook, and he came up with the idea to create the video with a few other former butchers. I was immediately enthusiastic and then it also went very quickly. Unfortunately, the five of us have not yet had the opportunity to meet in person, but we will do so shortly.
Peter: I had been in contact with Phil for some time, as we had both documented a lot of animal cruelty as well. I was focusing on a different clientele, but nevertheless this led to an exchange of ideas, and we found that we had a relatively similar professional background.
at some point the idea for the video came and was thought on and on, our other 3 colleagues also came along. Then it was “video message, maximum 30 seconds and go”. That’s how it had to be, we all shot with our cell phones without a script, just the thumb on ourselves and the finger into the camera to the text: “If I can change, so can you,” was the default. We all had hopes for a corresponding spread, but none of us could have imagined this success in our wildest dreams.
Philipp: We got to know each other through social media. Each of us contributed suggestions and ideas to this joint project. It should not be a professional film, but simply a simple montage of your own short and authentic clips.
Riccardo: Through Thomas I came across the radio interview of Philipp Hörmann at Radio Proton. I found this interview so exciting and successful that I commented on the station’s Facebook page, mentioning that I also worked in the meat industry. Phil then contacted me and told me about the “Butchers Against Animal Killing” project. I told Thomas about it and so a group of vegan ex-butchers formed.
How important do you see social media in the context of education about what happens behind the walls of slaughterhouses?
Thomas: Of course, you can spread information incredibly quickly via social media. I just don’t know if it’s useful or a deterrent to bombard meat eaters with it on a daily basis. We do not proselytize either! This can also backfire. It is a very sensitive topic, and thus there are also very many vegans who act and rant very emotionally. But I have seen it very often that many meat eaters were insulted. And that’s the wrong way to pick them up. But you can’t convey the soundscape via social media – experiencing that “live” is pure horror.
Peter: The meat lobby is very influential, it even occupies the important political posts. A perfect PR campaign always gives customers the impression of free-range animals that have been happily slaughtered. No one questions whether happy killing can exist at all, PR has done a great job. In the TV institutions scandals came rarely to the Thematisierung, because naturally the animal lobby paid much money by advertisement.
The spread of the Social Medias made then however also animal protectionists and Tierrechtlern possible their discoveries outside of the normal media to spread and by this also the TV institutions came and reported. The social medias have become a blessing to me as an animal rights activist, because through this no one can stop the spread of animal cruelty.
Philipp: I see social media as the educational platform of the future. The younger generations are growing up with it almost exclusively, so that’s exactly where we need to pick them up and educate them.
Tom: Thanks to social media, people have at least a rudimentary opportunity to see what’s going on. But even photos and videos are not 100% “real”. The feelings, the energy, the smells, the sounds… are missing. Why do you think greenhouses have walls of glass and slaughterhouses don’t? 😉
Still, I don’t think any of us are ranting. We talk as respectfully as possible. We know what may open people’s eyes and hearts. Name-calling does neither.
Riccardo: Social media is essential for any movement, in my opinion.
Never before was it possible to reach hundreds of thousands of people within hours and days without being in the media. Today we are so strongly networked that information can spread very quickly. Videos, documentaries and lectures which can be found online help to spread veganism and educate people.
How do you manage to stay constructive in conversations here? What is your path?
Thomas: People who live omnivorously often come up with excuses like: I only buy organic, from the trusted butcher or I only eat very little meat. I always tell them that they don’t have to justify or apologize for it, but maybe they should just think about whether organic, very little or trusted butchers don’t also mean death.
You can only try to bring them on the right path, but that does not always succeed on the topic of animal welfare, also topic environment often plays a big role. You won’t achieve anything with rejection or moral arrogance.
Peter: Well, it took me many years to understand everything, so do I have the right to deny my counterpart this development? I think as a new vegan one believes that by the fact that I have understood it my opposite must also understand it, however, that is not so, he needs just as time as I also. I hold up a mirror to it by questioning the entire basis of its social development – meat is healthy, milk is important.
No, we have to approach this with patience, and that is the goal of our campaign:
You are not guilty, you just didn’t know any better until now. Now, however, we ask you, inform yourself. We thought and lived the same way you do, but were able to evaluate the societal biases ourselves and made empathetic choices. You be there too.
Philipp: I convince with knowledge and facts. I know almost all areas of “farm” animal husbandry and also have experience regarding breeding/fattening. We simply have the better arguments and it is enough to bring them to the people in a factual way.
Riccardo: I remind myself that I am an activist for a better world, for all the suffering that animal products cause. And in order to spread veganism efficiently, I have to choose a strategy that doesn’t necessarily have to suit me, but brings good results. That’s why I try my best to take my ego out of it and to reach my counterpart in a way that this person becomes open to it and deals with the topic.
In my environment I could celebrate many successes and inspire numerous people to become vegan, to eat purely plant-based or to reduce the consumption of animal “products” strongly. I managed to do this mainly by showing understanding for my counterpart’s opinion and always remaining friendly and respectful.
Can you understand that yet millions of people still lack awareness and empathy on this issue? What do you see as the main reasons for this?
Thomas: Ignorance can often no longer be it – enough pictures go and went through the media. It is simply the fading out of the “production processes” and… for me a huge problem: The price! It is far too cheap and is traded as a disposable item. It must become more expensive so that the consumption is declining, so it is with everything that is there in abundance.
Peter: Ignorance definitely not, but repression. Man represses what shakes his innermost being. Everyone knows about the conditions in the slaughterhouses and in the fattening farms, but one calms his conscience gladly with the fact that we had always eaten meat – which is not true in such a way by the way, because e.g. in the Middle Ages it was reserved to the rich to eat meat, the poor received it extremely rarely. Since society practices it this way, it must be all right. Through this social compulsion, so much disaster has already come upon mankind, let us think of the wars. No one questions because they are afraid of the truth. Who still sees cows and pigs in our meadows and fields today – this one is seen extremely rarely and yet it stinks of manure everywhere. Where does it come from? No one wants to know. The PR of the meat lobby does its further to deceive people and make them feel good. For me, every animal product, like cigarettes, should be provided with a picture of the animal husbandry, or slaughter. Sir Paul Mc. Cartney once said, “If slaughterhouses were made of glass, no one would eat meat anymore.”
Philip: Ignorance is hard to justify these days because people have almost unlimited access to all media. It is certainly also the fear of questioning one’s own attitude to life. “We’ve always done it this way…. Tradition… we were raised that way…” – it’s hard to change entrenched habits.
Riccardo: I think it’s not just a problem of awareness regarding veganism. Society has shaped many people to believe what is said in the media, to no longer question themselves and to gloss over their problems with problems of others.
Also in terms of health, ecology, self-realization, personality development, drugs and dealing with people, I often see people who “vegetate” through the world completely without consciousness. That’s why I think it’s a holistic problem. People like to be in the comfort zone and like to look for the culprit everywhere but themselves. Many feel comfortable in the victim role because they can hand over the responsibility and do not have to move a step out of their comfort zone. But this thinking has led us to where we are now, in a world where love, respect and sustainability are not very important. That’s why we should set a good example and inspire people to work for a better world.
What do you recommend to people who want to change something but don't know how to start yet?
Thomas: I like to lend then times a vegetarian cookbook so that they see which one can eat everything. At first I also thought: “Great, only noodles, potatoes and rice!” – but I was taught better. Also good always comes: invite them to dinner.
Peter: Connecting with vegan groups, testing recipes from good vegan cookbooks, subscribing to magazines and blogs, and reading the China Study for those who want to approach the health aspect as well. In the cities today you can meet so many animal welfare organizations and now almost everywhere Anoumymos for the Voiceless (AV) with their Cube.
Talk to them, come out, ask for advice. They will be happy to help you.
Philipp: You should connect with like-minded and more experienced people. For the most part, the vegan movement is very supportive and wants to help newcomers. You are welcome at events everywhere and meet great people. There are (free) vegan startup guides and apps from animal welfare organizations. You can also find many great videos about it on YouTube.
Riccardo: On the one hand, most people are inspired to do this by someone in their environment. These should definitely get tips from their vegan friends. There are also countless videos, blogs and websites online that provide valuable tips on how to make the switch. On the other hand, there are also people who have informed themselves and they should use the online tools. For example, there is also Challenge 22, which will guide you on the path to conversion.
What jobs are you pursuing today and what has changed for you personally in the time since you changed your thinking?
Thomas: I have a pension with a small attached farm, have ponies, donkeys, pigs, goats, rabbits, cats and dogs. I am also an animal healer, behavioral therapist for dogs, cats, horses, nutritionist for dogs and will soon begin training as a dog trainer.
What has changed? You are freer in your mind and no longer trapped in this machinery. Of course, it was also a lot of fun when I was training to be an animal healer. Everyone insinuated that I must now make good what I had done badly the years before.
Peter: I have been working in an internationally trading organic food company for many years. What has changed? I became a pacifist, so I don’t solve problems with violence. With regard to animal rights, I have become more patient and am also prepared to respect intermediate steps – defined as such.
Philipp: I am now a professional firefighter and paramedic. The vegan lifestyle combined with active animal rights work makes me feel satisfied and sorry for the time before the awakening in terms of the victims of my consumption.
Riccardo: Currently I am actively working with my friend Thomas on our joint project V-Form.
On Youtube and Instagram we offer content about veganism. We have already planned events, been allowed to speak at events and schools, and are actively spreading veganism through our channels.
Through my conversion to vegan, I realized what really makes me happy. To use my time to make the world a better place. To invest my energy in something that adds value to other living beings and make a difference. With V-Form we want to expand awareness around the topic of veganism and inspire people. Numerous people who became vegan through us have already thanked us and are now themselves part of the community which spread veganism to the outside world.
Do you have any kind of "flashbacks" or conflicts of conscience "having to do something well"?
Peter: No, I don’t need to make anything good there, because I think every person will make mistakes, their whole life. The greatness of a person is based on how he deals with his mistakes, or avoids them when he is aware that his actions were wrong.
Philipp: You can’t get rid of the images of struggling animals in the dying process. The panicked screams in the drifting corridors or the stun box can be heard over and over again. The unbelievable noise in connection with blood/urine smell burns itself indelibly into the memory. Yes I know the story behind a schnitzel and would like to end this suffering. I can’t change my past, but I can change the future and yes, I will try to make up for a lot of things!
Riccardo: I don’t see it that way, if I had the information I have today, I would have acted differently from the beginning. That’s why I care so much about sharing this information with the world.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Thomas: I wish myself that everyone goes times deeply in itself, and times its consumption reconsiders and seriously the question asks itself whether it would like to support this exploitation industry further. Not only are animals exploited here, as a human being you are also worth nothing in these factories.
Peter: Yes, please question “traditions”, don’t always follow the herd. Just because others do something doesn’t mean it’s okay. Also, don’t be afraid of change, because change is an expansion of your horizons. Even my mother became a vegan at 72 – it’s not a decision of age, but of empathy.
Philipp: As long as the consumer with his purchase gives the order for the exploitation in the attitude, the violence of the transports and the bestial killing, nothing will change. This realization is also the great opportunity. Leave animal products on the shelves and fill them with plant-based alternatives.
Riccardo: Please do not think only of yourselves, think of your family, of future generations, of the beautiful earth on which we are allowed to live and of your health.