Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Accidental Vegan

I didn't set out to become a vegan. It just happened.

I had been playing around at being a vegetarian over the years, then went a few decades of eating meat as a path of least resistance in my home. I had married a carnivore (a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy) and eventually I got tired of cooking separate meals. So I caved.

So imagine my surprise when, after two decades of serving up a whole lot of chicken and beef, my husband came to me with a copy of The China Study and suggested I read it, then tell him what I thought.

So I did. And what I thought was, "How do I un-know this?" I wanted to continue being ignorant about how I was harming my own health because I wanted to keep on eating what I was eating.

We agreed to try the diet suggested in the book for 30 days, then see how we felt, whether we wanted to continue.

We had an easy month as I stretched my thinking about how to cook healthy, organic, plant-based foods and have everything be tasty too. It turned out to be easier than I thought, and a new fun challenge.

Thirty days later, feeling healthy, trimmer, and somewhat righteous, we received the devastating news that Michael's brother had suddenly died of a heart attack. Michael flew back from Mexico where we were staying for the winter to New York for the funeral. When he returned, we didn't even talk --- or consider --- going back to a meat-based diet.

So there we were.

I could repeat all the stuff that I learned by reading The China Study, about how our cherished food pyramid is a hoax, especially when it comes to the amount of protein that our bodies require. Or the impact of dairy on our bodies ---  I mourned giving up dairy.  Just think about --- no cheese, no ice cream, no frozen yogurt?

But here's the funny thing. I gave up meat and dairy because of selfish reasons --- the impact on these foods on my long-term health, as well as how I felt on a daily basis. My long-term hypoglycemia pretty much disappeared as I changed my diet. My digestive issues resolved themselves in record time. I felt lighter, more energetic, more like me.

And then my reasons evolved.

I started paying attention to things I had known as an adult. That we, as a species, are factory farming entire other species for our comfort --- not for our survival. And we're doing it inhumanely (because how could you do it humanely? Seriously?). We would drive by cattle lots and I would have to turn my head not solely because of the smell, but because of the overwhelming sadness of knowing all those cows were being grown to be slaughtered.

I connected the dots between the bacon on the plate of a friend to the pig it belonged to. I understood that the 'spare ribs' we had been eating weren't 'spare ribs' to the animal it originally belonged to.

A few weeks ago a truck filled with pigs going to slaughter parked in front of where we were standing for a minute. I found myself in direct eye contact with a pig shoved into the truck, while we listened to another pig squealing and shrieking with fear and pain while being manhandled on or off the truck, I couldn't tell which.

Pigs on their way to be slaughtered
I could only send a telepathic apology to that pig watching me. "I'm sorry," I thought. "I don't know what else to do."

And I watched that truck filled with pigs drive off, seeing it transpose itself in my mind into a truck full of Jews heading for the gas chambers, while humans stood by, helpless and powerless at that moment, knowing it was wrong.

I can hear some of you gasp with my analogy. My apologies to anyone I have offended. But here's my new bottom line, my new understanding: humans do not have more right to live on this planet than any other species. That our great intelligence was not created for us to impose such violence and greed on another species. That our great intelligence should be for kindness and equality towards all species. That taking these pigs to slaughter is not any different, to me, than killing our own.

Can I ever eat meat? Yes, I can. I have chosen to eat venison for Thanksgiving in Upstate New York that my cousin killed and prepared for the meal. I could choose to eat any meat where the animal grew wild and I knew the person who killed it, although I'm losing my taste for most of it. Our ancestors ate meat. But they didn't factory farm a species.

Esther the Wonder Pig
What recently solidified my thinking was following the delightful Esther the Wonder Pig on Facebook. Esther was  rescued by two humans who mistakenly thought she was a mini-pig, only to discover it was the same pig that was supplying Pulled Pork and bacon. She's such a character that she turned her humans into vegans too.

When you invite me over to dinner (and I hope you still will or I'll be really lonely), please don't apologize for eating meat or choosing to eat dairy. How you eat is up to you, your choice, just like it is for me.

But I made a silent vow that day while I watched those pigs on the way to the slaughter house that while I can't change the world, I can keep sharing my story, about how I evolved from someone who changed my diet because of selfish reasons --- my own health --  to understanding the cruelty of our species over others.

1 comment:

blissfulsally said...

I love your story! Thank you for sharing it. Where we live in Mexico, there is a man who slaughters pigs just around the corner. I'd read pigs were smarter than dogs and I just thought I can not eat pigs or any other meat a minute longer after hearing their death squeals. I find that my decision made me happy, and that's what counts.