Tag Archives: vegetarian

Eating Animals

When my review of “Eating Animals” gets 300 likes on GoodReads, I’ll write a blog post about it.

301 LIKES. SHIT.

I guess, let’s do this.

This isn’t as much of a review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book as it is a reaction to it–a reaction to the reactions of others, even. The title of this book garners a reaction from people who haven’t read it and who may never read it. Just carry Eating Animals around for a few days and you’ll understand. There’s an assumption that a book about eating animals is going to tell you that it is in some way wrong to eat animals–whether for the welfare of animals or for your own welfare–and most people “don’t want to hear it.” We know something is wrong with meat today–with how completely estranged we are from the process that turns animal into product. We have that general feeling and we don’t want the specifics. We don’t want to face being held accountable for what we know. We don’t want to think about eating animals. Why not? If there’s no shame in it, then why is there such an aversion created by the title alone?

I say “we” because I’m guilty of the same, and it took this book to make me realize it. It took seeing how the people around me wanted nothing to do with a book that might challenge their eating habits. Allow me to explain with a little bit of backstory here, which is irrelevant to the book itself, but entirely relevant to my reading of the book:

I’ve been a vegetarian for close to five years. I’ve had a moral qualm about eating animals since I first made the connection between the meat on my plate and the animals in my backyard. (I grew up on a farm. There were cows and they had much happier lives than most do these days, though I never saw what end they met once my parents sold them.) Why then did I only become vegetarian at the age of eighteen? (I mean, obviously, I pieced together that burgers were made from cows long before then; I wasn’t that slow of a child.) My various attempts to give up meat failed. I’m not sure why. The obvious answer would be that I had weak willpower, but I think that’s a cop out. When vegetarianism did stick, I didn’t feel any more self-empowered. In fact, the attempt that succeeded started as a fluke. I had no intention of seeing it through. I found out about PETA’s 30-day challenge and I was curious. “I can abstain from eating animals for a month,” I reasoned. When the month was over, I didn’t want to eat animals anymore. No craving for meat was strong enough to compensate for the amount of suffering inflicted on animals. (What can I say? I’m a bleeding heart, a pussy, whatever.)

I surrounded myself with literature and images of slaughterhouses long enough to fend off the desire for flesh. The desire disappeared and I felt better. I felt better because I was eating better (fresh fruit and veggies was a vast improvement over my childhood diet of Hardees and Mountain Dew). I felt better once the nagging guilt the conflict between my beliefs and my actions caused was no longer. Or so I thought.

The truth is that over the years I became lax in my beliefs. Not eating animals became more habit and preference than moral conviction. People wore down my enthusiasm. Oh, the enthusiasm was there to begin with! There’s nothing more exciting and refreshing than newfound vegetarianism! I felt better and I wanted other people to feel better, too. I thought I could help initiate that. I thought that I could lead by example–I wouldn’t push my opinions down anyone’s throat, of course, because I didn’t want to be uppity about it. It doesn’t work that way, or at least it didn’t for me in rural North Carolina–in the county supporting the largest Smithfield slaughterhouse in the world, to be exact. People were interested, but only for the sake of arguing. Foer obviously experienced the same, writing:

“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. (I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.)”

There’s only so much antagonistic query I was equipped to handle at the age of eighteen. To be perfectly blunt, I stopped giving a fuck. I decided to be a vegetarian, not explain my reasons to others, and to stop giving a fuck what others thought about it. When someone asked me why I didn’t eat meat, my responses ranged from “I don’t like being overwhelmed by choices” to “I was raped by a butcher.” When you stop giving a fuck, then people generally stop harassing you. These people aren’t that clever to begin with, so they usually don’t bother if they have to compete with another’s nonchalance.

My initial reason for not considering becoming vegan was the difficulty. I felt it was a big enough change to quit cold turkey cold turkey. Yeah, I know, there’s no excuse for my sense of humor. Over the years I should have made the necessary steps to eliminate eggs and dairy from my diet. I have no excuse for that either. I knew neither were essential to my nutrition or well being–that it was just a matter of putting forth more effort. In the back of my mind I knew, too, that my inaction was supporting animal cruelty towards laying hens, as well as indirectly promoting the veal industry. That nagging guilt was still there, but I pushed it aside.

I realized this past week that I can no longer do this. It is no longer acceptable. In fact, it never was. Nothing changed.

I was hardly beginning the book when I started to suspect that I was on the brink of a life-altering decision. Was Foer so persuasive that he alone managed to turn me vegan within the first few chapters? No. It wasn’t even the news that Natalie Portman turned vegan after reading Eating Animals, either. 😉

It was my boyfriend telling me that he “didn’t want to hear it” when I mentioned that piglets on factory farms have their testicles removed without anesthesia within the first ten days of their lives.*

It was the moment when my literature teacher asked me ifEating Animals contains information so disturbing and disgusting that she would probably never want to eat meat again; and then without pausing for a reply, she said, “I’d better not read it then.”

It was this general reaction I received coinciding with what I read that made me re-examine my own unwillingness to live by what I know–something I’ve known without needing to be told, but something I needed to be reminded of: shame. I am ashamed to be part of a system that is inexcusable.

“Not responding is a response–we are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.” 

What does all of this say about the book? Not much. Just read it. Throw your assumptions away, quit looking for someone else to tell you what to expect, and just read with an open mind, and a willingness not only to accept what feels right, but to take the actions necessary so that you may be at peace with yourself.

In defense of my boyfriend–although no defense is necessary–since the conversation mentioned took place, he has agreed to read Eating Animals. Ideally, he’ll read it and never eat another bite of meat again; just as ideally, when I handed my copy of the book to my mother a few hours ago and asked her to please do me a favor and read it, she would have done so in earnest, in an attempt to understand her daughter’s lifestyle, instead of putting it down after a few pages and resuming her crossword puzzle, which although not ideal, was what actually happened. I can’t allow myself to expect much to come of it, because there’s enough disappointment in life as it is, but I am grateful for this much: that he cares enough about me to read what he would otherwise rather turn away from.

That officially concludes my “review” written on 11/12/09. BUT WAIT! I have jokes! I mean, updates. I have updates.

Update (7/6/11): He never read it. We broke up, for reasons unrelated to diet. But if you know any cute, single, straight, literate, vegan boys, send ’em my way. If they do, in fact, exist.

Update again (5/2/13):
I’m a feminist now, so I apologize for the derogatory use of the word “pussy” within the original review. If there were any point to it, I’d also amend the previous update to exclude the word “straight” and change “boys” to “men” (not the band) because it’s creepy when grown men want girls, so vice versa? There’s no point though, because I’m not looking. I’m no longer single.

We’re dating again. Everyone advises against dating an ex, but everyone can go fuck themselves. I’d like to think compassion is about second chances. For whatever more-complicated-than-that reasons, I’ve decided to give it a second go. He recently read the book. Kudos, right? Everything in its own time, or something. He’s been vegetarian since, but I announce that tentatively, because obviously, things change: you can see that in just the span of updates to this not-a-review review. I’m happy right now. I’m hopeful. I finally realized I can’t change the people I love. I can’t shake them until they see what I see if they don’t want to look, but I can tell my truth and maybe, just maybe, it will reach someone willing to take off the blinders.

 What’s today’s date again? The most up-to-date update thus far:

So, spoiler alert: I’m still vegan.

I keep forgetting to celebrate my veganniversary. This past year was the first time since going vegan that I didn’t attend the Thanksgiving buffet hosted by the Triangle Vegetarian Society. I was too far away in upstate NY, interning for Farm Sanctuary. I’m okay with it because I’m trying to be less food-centric… while still remaining pretty food-centric… damn it, I can’t explain. Being vegan is confusing sometimes. Mainly, when it’s a convenient way out of explaining myself.

Sorry! No time to explain! VEGANISM!

I still revisit my initial GoodReads review to read the comments I made as I was reading Eating Animals. They’re so naive it’s comical. Take this one I wrote on November 5, 2009 for example:

“Well, his other books are made of WIN so I’m expecting great things. I just don’t know how the meat-eating readers will respond. I mean… it isn’t likely to change my life since I’m already a vegetarian, but I like his writing. I read the first few pages in a magazine before the book was released officially and it made me feel kind of passionate about being a vegetarian again.” 

I didn’t have a clue! Would I have even been open to reading it had I not felt so sure that it would require no action on my part? It’s another moment frozen in time–kind of like that photo during high school biology class–that I keep coming back to because I need reminders that it didn’t always seem easy to me. I need reminders that once upon a time I, too, didn’t think there was life after cheese.

Even knowing this, I can be rather demanding of the people closest to me. I want to handcuff them to me through this journey of mine, but I know how illogical that urge is.

That ex I started dating again? His name is Matt. (I guess I’ll give him that much recognition as an individual whose life doesn’t begin and end anonymously in my book review updates.) Matt is still vegetarian as of this post. It’s been almost a full year and part of me wants to scream Y NOT VEGAN ALREADY??!

Obviously, that part of me needs to revisit this review more often as a reminder that it took me five years before I decided to transition from vegetarian to vegan. Maybe I should be a little less urgent, less jacked up on yerba mate. I am very proud of him, especially for making it through his first trollsome family Thanksgiving, but my impatience bleeds through even when I’m trying to acknowledge what a big fucking deal it is that he’s come this far in a society where apathy is the more comfortable path.

What can I say? I’m working on it.

I hope that other people will sometimes have patience with me as well. Eating, dressing, buying vegan have become second nature. It’s fairly straightforward. It’s the other-people part that can be hard. It’s especially hard coming back from three months at Farm Sanctuary–after meeting individual survivors of modern farming and witnessing their progress and sometimes their deterioration, as well as empathizing with the amazing caregivers who spend every day engaging in such emotionally taxing work–it’s hard then to come back to the non-vegan world and to be around loved ones who “get it,” but don’t act on it. I know they could act on it. The potential is there. I don’t want them to underestimate the capacity for empathy and change within themselves. Also, I don’t want them to underestimate how important it is that I am able to steal noms from their plates all of the times we go out to dinner. (On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s, like, really important.)

In conclusion, don’t forget about the book. 

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Anatomy of a Vegan Care Package

Vegan Care Package Guide
A few months ago, I began an outreach hobby of sorts. I began offering care packages to friends who are willing to give veganism a try for one month. I do this not because I think it is the most effective use of time out of all the available forms of activism, but because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy making care packages and gift baskets and all that nonsense. I enjoy giving to my friends. I enjoy being a resource to them when needed. A few fellow vegans have inquired about what exactly goes into these packages. Although my endeavor is still a work-in-progress, I have decided to provide as much guidance as I am currently able to vegans who might be inspired to make a similar offer to their friends. If you’d like to cop my style, I’m here to tell you how.

Step 1: The Pitch.

Offer You Can Refuse Yanno If You Feel Like It Whatever
I know you want to skip to the goodies, but don’t underestimate the importance of how you make your offer. I prefer to make my offer as laid back and low-commitment as I possibly can. This means stifling my raging vegan hard-on… I mean, enthusiasm. Sometimes I have even had to try my best to tone down the enthusiasm of well-meaning, intervening friends who make grand promises about how going vegan will DO THIS, THIS, AND THIS, and YOU WILL NEVER MISS MEAT AGAIN, etc. (Basically, shit I can’t promise because everyone’s experience will differ.) Low-key is key. If your transition to veganism was anything like mine, then you didn’t go vegan because a friend was yelling awesome promises at you, but because you read or watched something that allowed you to make that decision for yourself. Your goal is to get compelling information into the hands of your friends. Don’t scare them the fuck away before you get to that step.

Consider where you want to make your offer. Facebook works for me because I can make the post friends-only. If you have 4,000 Facebook friends you’ve never met in person, maybe reevaluate your life. I mean… err, um… okay, reevaluate your life is exactly what I mean. I can’t edit out my personal judgement here, folks! Well, I could, but sometimes you have to make a stand.

Let’s try again: Consider where you want to make your offer. An environment where you can have people come to you is ideal. Don’t push the offer on people who are kicking and screaming “I NEED MY MEAT, BECAUSE PROTEIN!” when your efforts are better spent on people who are receptive.

I specify that friends can message me privately if they are interested. This not only helps lure in more timid friends (MUAHAHA), but it protects your privacy as well. There will be months when few people are interested in a care package. Why advertise this? Friends may be less inclined to accept an offer if they’re worried they’ll be the only ones. We are social creatures, after all. Initially, people may be reluctant to accept your offer. Maybe they don’t want to be the first because they fear you’ll misplace all your hopes and dreams on their fragile vegan-hopeful shoulders. Maybe they’ve got other shit going on this month. There are so many factors–unless you’re a real ass-hat, it’s probably not you. It’s just timing. Try again next month.

You know your friends better than I do so your pitch might not look like mine. It is important to know your friends. You could make this offer to anyone, but you’re making them to friends, damn it! Acknowledge that they’re individuals and tailor your approach to that fact. I think starting with your friends is the best method for this particular brand of activism. Why? Anyone can order a Veg Starter Kit from the myriad of organizations that offer them, but people who choose to commit to a month of veganism because a friend offers to help usually want more than an impersonal guide. They’ve chosen to connect WITH YOU, because something about your approach appeals to them; something about you as a representative of veganism makes them think “maybe this is for me.”

Step 2: Put Shit in a Folder.

Sample

Seriously: Folders make everything look official. Here are some things I place in folders:

1. Coupons. Write to your favorite vegan food companies. They will provide. You will want to do this step in advance. Be cognizant of what food options your friends have. Try to send coupons for brands that are actually available in the area where they live. Even if you make all of your noms from scratch because you fancy as fuck, it is your moral obligation to keep up-to-date on current vegan brands so that you aren’t recommending some outdated cardboard-tasting shit.

2. Stickers, temporary tattoos, and buttons. If you’ve been vegan for awhile, you tend to accumulate some cute odds and ends such as these. (A lot of companies will send you some freebies along with your orders.) My favorite thing to include is a sheet of stickers from Action For Animals, but it appears they no longer sell them in bulk. I has a sad. As with all of the things, keep your friend’s personality in mind. Try to exclude merchandise from organizations that might be alienating. (I’m looking at you, PETA.) Check out sweet designs from Herbivore Clothing and Compassion Co.

3. Veg Starter Guide. You can get these from almost any major vegan organization (Mercy For Animals, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary, Friends of Animals, etc.). You can typically buy them in bulk or receive your first copy free. Organizations, especially those with less funding, often allow you to print .pdfs of their literature free.

My current go-to starter guide is from Mercy For Animals. Their most recent edition has the most mainstream appeal I’ve seen thus far. It’s filled with celebrity faces, recipes that don’t look like they’re from the 80’s, and recommendations for the best of the current vegan food brands. There is absolutely NO factory farm or otherwise graphic imagery, which is a different approach for Mercy For Animals. It’s easy enough to add an additional brochure for friends whom you think could benefit from a visual reality check. I personally don’t like for violent imagery to dominate my care package.

4. Recipes. Besides those included in whatever literature you provide, you may want to include some of your personal favorites. I don’t print recipes that I haven’t tried. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time. It also ensures that I’m not sending anything too complicated or expensive, because I don’t mess with those recipes myself. If you’re just getting into the whole cooking thing yourself, The Post Punk Kitchen is a great starting place.

5. Articles. I dedicate an entire SIDE of my folder to articles that are near and dear to my heart. You should choose ones that are near and dear to yours. Your activism and my activism will have variations, and perhaps even disagreements. “You mean you include an article written by Jonathan Safran Foer? But he doesn’t advocate for veganism, you fucker!” (Ahem, that article is Against Meat, and it was the beginning of my own veganism.) Try to show variety in style and length when choosing articles. Don’t limit yourself to non-fiction, either, as long as it’s clear to the reader which is which. Poetry can provide a welcome break from the information overload of essay after essay. I recently started including “Pigeon Manifesto” by Michelle Tea. Yes, you want to include fact-packed essays, but don’t veer away from an emotional appeal as well. Alice Walker’s “Am I Blue?” is another favorite of mine.

Choose writing that focuses on both the why and how of veganism. I like to include Chapters 8 and 25 of Erik Marcus’s The Ultimate Vegan Guide, which is conveniently free online, as a beginner “how.” I typically defer to Melanie Joy’s writing to add a little psychology to the mix.

The really awesome thing about your personal search for the most awesome essays and literature you can possibly include is that it provides an opportunity for you to continue your own education as well. Never stop reading! Seek out essays that provide different perspectives, such as the thought-provoking essays in the feminist collection Sister Species. Knowing your audience will guide your choices. For instance, I send far more nerdy articles to my fellow Sociology-majors than what is typically socially acceptable. However, don’t feel that you have to compromise your ideals to appeal to your friends. While I have no problem referring my religious and/or Republican friends to Matthew Scully’s well-written Dominion, I would never send ANYONE a copy of his pro-animal, anti-choice rant (unless that someone was a masochist in need of toilet paper).

6. A Personalized Resource Guide. This doesn’t sound that exciting, but it is! It’s where you get to type out all of the awesome things you recommend–movies, books, cookbooks, YouTube videos, websites, online shopping, restaurants to try, and ways to connect to local vegans. When I said exciting, I meant exhausting. This is the most extensive work you will do for this care package. NO PRESSURE, but: do this right. Don’t half-ass it. Your list should include not only titles, but descriptions and why you recommend these resources.

Example

Not every description has to be a novel. Maybe you’re more concise than I am. (Congratufuckinglations!) Each description should be an honest effort to reach out to your friend and show that you care enough not to copy and paste from IMDB. How many resources you want to provide is your decision. My guide is several pages long and now ends with a local dining and Meetup guide. Previously, I added a plug for Happy Cow in my recommendations. Lately, I’ve upped my game by visiting the site myself, researching my friend’s city, and writing out a short restaurant/shopping guide for my friend. I follow this with information about any local vegan listings on Meetup.com, because social support just makes life easier. Take some of the legwork out of it for your friend. Yes, it can be a pain-in-the-ass for you, but it isn’t unfamiliar territory. You’re already good at sifting through this information if you’ve made it so far in your vegan journey that you’re care packaging it up. Printing up a local guide can take some of the guesswork out for your friend, who will already be overwhelmed by the art of reading food labels.

7. A note to my vegan-hopeful. Complete your folder with a note to your friend. Mine is hand-written, typically on the folder itself. Say “hi, and thank you, and I’m here for you” in whatever regard you find appropriate. It’s your friendship, not mine.

Step 3: Feed A Friend.

You will want to provide a treat or two for your friend, the scale of which will depend on the size of your budget, package, and affection for your friend.

Real-life examples of foods I have included in vegan care packages: Go Max Go bars (Jokerz is the best!), Primal Strips, Dr McDougall’s (Spicy Kung Pao Noodle is my fav), Clif Bars (try Pecan Pie flavor for the holidays), Luna bars (hello, S’mores), Larabars (sample size perfect for care packages: mini variety pack), Tasty Bite pouches (be careful, some contain dairy; Mushroom Masala is my fav), GoPicnic meals for your gluten-free friends (Sunbutter & crackers or hummus & crackers), Lucky’s cookies (also GF), seriously…

omnom

…I’ve gotten slightly carried away with the food-gifting in the past. (If you decide to order any of your noms via the links provided above, it’ll help offset some of my costs.) Knowing why your friend wants to give veganism a try is important here in that you don’t want to send a bunch of delicious, delicious, delicious junk food to someone who is trying to turn a healthy leaf. Be sure to ask if they have any food allergies as well.

In addition to store bought goods, I typically send a small sample of homemade cookies to my gift recipients. Often I will send these separately, a week or so into the month as a bonus incentive to continue being awesomely vegan. Be sure to send along the recipe as well. My favorite is “Banana Everything Cookies” from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.

Optional Step 4: Gift or Re-gift.

Steps 1-3 are adequate, but if you have the resources and feel that your gift recipient will utilize it: Add a final gift. This is typically a book or DVD, but it could also be a piece of art or some sweet-ass Lush soaps. People like to hold something concrete in their hands, and you will often have an intuitive feel for what your friends might appreciate. Chances are you have a few books and DVDs lying around that have already served their purpose. You could even reach out to your vegan friends to donate their used vegan literature. (Just make sure you stand behind what you send.) Sometimes this is worth it, sometimes not. It’s worth it if your vegan-hopeful will read or watch it, but there’s no use bombarding someone who doesn’t like to read with books. For your friends who don’t like to cook, printing a few recipes is a safer bet than sending a cookbook. For my friend who went to culinary school, a brand-spanking new copy of Isa Does It was a totally worthwhile expense for me; it isn’t one I can afford to make frequently though. Consider both what you might have found helpful as a new vegan and what your friend might appreciate. Sometimes friends will be specific in their requests, such as my friend who did not want any graphic content. (Lucky for him I had an extra copy of Forks Over Knives.)

Supplemental:

In the event that you aren’t sure where to start in creating your own list of recommendations, here are the movies and books I currently include in mine. (Note: Not all of them are strictly animal rights/veganism.) I’m not including descriptions or why, because you should experience these for yourself before including them on your own list. Your friends don’t care what books random-blogger recommends; your friends care about you and your opinion.

Movies:
Vegucated
Forks Over Knives
Nature: My Life as a Turkey
The Cove
Blackfish
Nature: Animal Odd Couples
Year of the Dog
Maximum Tolerated Dose
Earthlings

Youtube videos:
Gary Yourofsky’s “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear”
Modern Warrior: Damien Mander at TEDxSydney
Melanie Joy – Carnism: The Psychology of Eating Meat

Books:
Eating Animals
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism
Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
Duncan the Wonder Dog
The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak
Defending Animal Rights
Watership Down: A Novel
MAD COWBOY: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat
V Is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind
Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week
The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan

A Work-in-Progress:

Feel free to add your favorite AR book/essay/film in the comments as I am always looking to expand my list of resources. One rule: you must explain why it speaks to you.

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Goats in Coats

goats in coats

I shared this photo on Facebook last night, because, um, hello, goats in coats. I couldn’t keep that to myself.

I didn’t think much of the post. I’m not sure where the photo originated. It wasn’t advocacy for me. It wasn’t meant to provoke deep thought. It was just fucking adorable.

A friend from high school commented “I love this so much I saved the pic,” followed shortly thereafter with: “So I do eat meat but I don’t like animals being treated cruel.”

Although goats are the most “popular” animals slaughtered for consumption worldwide, goat meat isn’t common in the area where we were both raised. It never occurred to me that goats in coats would spark such a comment. I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Don’t shun me for my optimism, but the comment left me feeling hopeful. There’s a subconscious recognition of the disconnect between loving and eating animals present. Why else bring it up–unsolicited, at that–if you are not in the process of reevaluating and questioning? Other than those of you blessed by chance and circumstance enough to be raised vegan, we’ve all been there to some degree. As I was composing a message to my friend, I realized there were many aspects of it that I wanted others to know as well. I hope my friend does not mind that I have decided to share that message, with an edit here or there, but many run-on sentences remaining.

Hi J,

I wanted to thank you for your comment because it reminded me a lot of myself just a few years back. I think some ass-hat acquaintance of mine–I’m looking at you Ray–left some snarky commentary so please ignore that. Some people forget how conflicted society can make us feel about animals. You and I are from the same area so I don’t think either of us are shocked that people can fish and hunt and even work at Smithfield, and then come home to their dogs and cats, or be enchanted by images of horses, or awww at baby farm animals, and still sincerely care about animals. My sister will share a picture of me and one of the cows here at the sanctuary one day and then share a picture of her fiancé or son beaming proudly over a row of dead turkeys or a skinned buck the next day. I know she is capable of great love for animals. I glimpsed it in the raw emotion brought on by the recent loss of her cat. And while some people may not relate or understand how she can have such deep love for some animals, and suppress those emotions for others, equally worthy of love, I get it. It hurts to witness and I hope someday something will shatter that apathy, but I get it, because it’s the same place I came from. (Literally, we came from the same vagina.)

(Was that last bit a bit too much?)

I wrote a blog post awhile back with a photo of me in high school bio lab, pretending to lick the pig fetus we dissected for class. A lot of people virtually patted me on the back for being “reformed,” but missed the point that I was still at that point someone who loved animals. I ate them, I cut their corpses up for class (rather sadistically), and I wore them, too, but I loved animals. I have loved animals and felt a connection with them for as long as I can recall, even if it didn’t manifest in every regard of my life. (Yes, that’s an understatement.)

One of my first connections to animals was with dogs, because we ALWAYS had a litter of puppies in the yard. (I was too young to know about spaying/neutering, a concept still new to most of my family. “Where are his balls?” my mother asked, laughing, when I brought home my dog-son Sora, but I digress.) After the mama dogs had their first litters, they were usually less patient with their second or third litters. (Their bodies were probably a bit worn out from all the nursing.) They’d leave more often even when the puppies were still crying out for milk and warmth. I would warm a bowl of cow’s milk, and carry it out to them. Usually they were too young to drink out of a bowl, so I would curl up in the dirt with them, and tediously place drops of milk into their crying mouths using a drinking straw. One of my brothers would frequently taunt me by threatening to hurt the pups. I spent so many hours “guarding” them, not realizing that he would’ve had no interest in them had I not cared for them. My love for them made me vulnerable. Even then the message was loud and clear that caring was a weakness, especially when it meant caring for someone even more defenseless than yourself.

We had cows up until my freshman year of high school. I resented them for the many evenings they broke free of their enclosure and my sister and I had to herd them back from the woods surrounding the pasture. But I loved them, too. I loved that my sister was afraid of the bull, but that I was not. (In hindsight, that was probably recklessly stupid of me considering the sheer size–one accidental misplaced footstep would’ve crushed my lil kid feet, but still, I felt very brave, and I felt as if he and I had an understanding. He wouldn’t charge me because I was such a bad ass little kid.) I enjoyed feeding the cattle ears of sweet corn now and then, as well as the rinds from the watermelons I devoured. I loved the way their tongues felt like sandpaper, and the abrasive sound of their tongues against the treats I gave them. But I also loved hamburgers. At the age of twelve, I probably knew somewhere in the back of my head that hamburgers were cows, but I don’t recall ever thinking about it. Society isn’t structured to encourage us to think about such things. It’s just the opposite. Every step possible is made to remove that association between ground beef and the living, breathing, sentient beings slaughtered, and it is made with such expertise that not many tweens are going to see through it. There were so many days I’d be outside, feeding and petting the cows, or simply watching them lick salt blocks, which was oddly entrancing, and then run inside when my mother called to have steak or porkchops or fried chicken…. We probably never even had an accidentally vegetarian meal as my mother seasoned all the vegetables with pork.

So people who congratulate me on being a different person now than the person I was in that photo, holding that fetal pig, completely miss the point: I am EXACTLY the same person. I have always held the same values. I have never wanted to be “cruel” to animals. The difference is now I am informed to better align my actions with those values, and I am emotionally open to do so. I had to undo decades of social conditioning that taught me “these” animals were pets, but “those” were food. I had to shrug off the behaviors of my parents to live the values they had inadvertently taught me (or maybe it was PBS–I watched a lot of TV). I had to come to terms with the fact that eating animals inherently entails cruelty when it is possible to avoid eating them. In the words of Matthew Scully, “When you start with a necessary evil, and then over time the necessity passes away, what’s left?”

It is entirely possible to avoid eating animals for many, if not most, people in the United States. (Though it may be more difficult for some than others without resources and support.) There is no nutritional necessity provided by animal sources that cannot be derived from plant sources. Even people who otherwise have no moral dilemma with the act of taking an animal’s life would find the conditions of modern farming appalling if they were honest with themselves. And 99% of meat comes from such conditions, so getting hung up on the idea that there might be some “humane meat” source becomes simply impractical for meeting the nutritional needs of this country.

I don’t want to “preach” at you, and I would never send you this lengthy message unprovoked, but your comment reminded me of a time in my own life when I began to recognize the disconnect in my life: that avoiding cruelty to animals might just extend beyond concerns for the animals I accepted into my “family.” And I wish someone had come along, not hellbent to persuade me one way or the other, but just to present me with the information so that I could have decided for myself sooner, instead of stumbling upon it in fragments over the years.

You’re in the unique position of being one of the few people I’ve kept in my life from my teenage years. You knew me when I was kind of a dick to people, for lack of a more apt phrase, because I didn’t know how to relate to people. I was conditioned to view caring as being weak. It is not. Caring is strength because it takes strength to deviate from the norm of apathy. It can be depressing to think of the cruelty towards animals and to face having been complicit in it, but I hope that knowing me then and knowing me now is enough to show that the good, the positive, of feeling connected with one’s values can outweigh the uncertainty of facing those unpleasant truths. If you’re inclined to do so, you don’t have to face those truths alone.

Veganism is starting to come into mainstream consciousness in ways I would never have predicted. (Just the number of celebrities switching to a plant-based diet is overwhelming. Exhausting even, if you have to hear everyone be angry about it.) There has probably never been a better and more convenient time to give it a try. If you are at all interested, I send out care-packages to friends who are willing to go vegan for a month, with the outcome after that month being entirely up to them. I have only been doing it since October so it is still a working project, but I am proud of the effort I put into it and the selections I currently include. I would love to send you one. I am putting together the packages for January now. It would be a good time to give it a go as everyone else will also be hacking away at New Year’s Resolutions. All I would need is a mailing address and a list of any food allergies. Let me know if you’re interested.

Sincerely,
This is the end of the letter/I don’t really end Facebook messages with signatures/You know who this is; it’s me.

I won’t include the reply because I don’t have consent to do so, but I will be sending out another vegan starter kit. It isn’t a lifetime commitment, but it is a start.

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What Will You Do?

“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”

– Jonathan Safran Foer.

New Undercover Footage at Tyson

You can’t determine if something is morally acceptable unless you know what it is you’re supporting. If you aren’t vegan, this is what you’re supporting.

Feel free to watch and summarize this video for me, because I’m just not doing it. Go vegan and get a free pass: never have to watch horrifying farm animal abuse videos again.

When you buy from Tyson, you are literally supporting this exact cruelty. You are more likely than not doing just the same when buying from other brands. Factory farms account for 99% of the meat sold in this country. Don’t fool yourself into thinking what you buy is any different or more humane.

I’m only speaking very generally because–as previously stated–I am not watching this video. I imagine it features some of the more egregious examples of cruelty–the types of cruelty we all hope are isolated incidents even when they aren’t. It’s easier to sleep at night when we think that this is the exception and not the rule. People can’t really be this horrible. But I remember being sixteen, very much not a vegan or vegetarian, and dating someone who worked for a local hog farm. He enjoyed telling me in graphic detail about finding rotting pig corpses that had been overlooked because there were too few people to manage the number of animals being held captive. He enjoyed making me uncomfortable. Surprisingly (considering what a sociopath he turned out to be), he didn’t enjoy telling me about the piglets he slammed against the concrete or smashed with wooden boards just because they were the runts of their broken family units.

He told me because it weighed on him emotionally and he couldn’t keep it to himself. I told him I didn’t want to hear about it. I’m going to ask that you do as I say and not as I did: Don’t turn a blind eye to suffering when you are contributing to its demand.

If this video–if even the idea of it–disturbs you, then please engage the problem. Don’t look away. It may hurt, emotionally, but you need only glimpse it. You aren’t the one living it. Please watch. Please employ every ounce of empathy at your disposal for these individuals and their plight. Know that you don’t have to be a part of this. Know that there are alternatives and that they are not out of your reach. Take the first step: ORDER A FREE VEGAN STARTER GUIDE.

“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?”

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Throwback Thursday: upsetting image warning

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This is me aged sixteen years. This is me in my high school Advanced Biology class. This is me. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

For those of you who didn’t know me as a non-vegan, or those who have simply forgotten what I was like as a teenager, there it is: reality check.

Every person to ever tell me “I could never be vegan, because I love cheese too much” can basically shut the fuck up now. Does this look like a future vegan? I think I can top you on the apathy scale. DO YOU LOVE BACON? No fucks given. Been there, done that, originality points somewhere in the negatives.

If you had asked sixteen year old me to go vegan, I would’ve asked you “WTF is vegan?” (Followed by “Go away.”) If you had asked me to go vegetarian, I would have told you I could NEVER, because it’s too hard, you know. I would know, I tried it for like… a whole week once.

I would have also said that I love animals. If you had tried to point out the obvious contradiction while I was midway through my first directing role on the set of “Fetal Pig Kama Sutra,” my head may have imploded? I don’t know. I can’t honestly predict what would have happened, because I can’t slip back into that ignorance, and also, I’ve been watching too much sci-fi to be an accurate judge as to whether my head is actually capable of imploding.

Hypothetical responses amount to little though. Here is what actually happened: Less than two years after this photo was taken, I became vegetarian. Five years later, vegan. I’m taking a few story-telling shortcuts here.

Alone this photograph is merely an ugly reminder of humanity’s potential for cruelty and indifference. It’s just a snapshot; it isn’t the full picture. It doesn’t tell what comes after. And after is the best part! It’s somewhat redeeming, though not entirely. I mean, it’s definitely an improvement. It’s good enough.

I have seen my own potential for compassion and change realized. I must have hope that the same potential exists for the rest of humanity.

I keep this photograph around as a reminder to myself when my outlook on humanity is at its bleakest: Hey, don’t hang yourself yet. There’s still hope, even if it doesn’t look like it.

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