Perhaps a picture of a woman kissing a zebu at a farm sanctuary was not what you were expecting to find on a page titled ‘existentialism…’

But Angel, the Zebu who now calls Iowa Farm Sanctuary her home, can teach us a lot about this philosophy. Existentialism focuses on individual autonomy and personhood. Angel was born without the ability to use her back legs. For this reason, she was surrendered to the Iowa Farm Sanctuary where love, optimism and respect for her life regardless of her ability to be ‘productive’ is the norm. Her right to integrity and autonomy is respected so much, she has even been given a customized wheelchair so she can now walk. Angel has a sweet disposition, living up to her name as a Divine Messenger, she is a reminder of the love and respect we should all have for our fellow beings. Her identity, her personhood, her soul and her existence, are not diminished because of her species.

Let’s further consider the existential issues inherent in our relationships with non-human animals and indeed, the natural world at large. We are taught to judge the worthiness of one’s existence by their ability to produce or be of commercial value. 

At the Farm Sanctuary with Angel, and other sanctuaries around the world, the luckier non-human animals live in as close to their natural settings as possible. They were lucky to be discarded as ‘useless’, rescued from hoarders or abusers, or from transport accidents. 

They are lucky because their lives were not deemed valuable enough to industries of animal abuse and exploitation, and so as a result they are allowed to live. Meanwhile their healthier, younger, or generally less fortunate counterparts are commodified, often for food. 

As long as we believe the narrative that, as George Orwell’s characters put it “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others…” our society will continue to create existential threats that destroy the lives of anyone deemed ‘subhuman.’

Or hadn’t you noticed?