‘I DON’T EAT ANIMALS WITH FACES’
I don’t eat animals period. That’s where I am in life and that’s where I choose to stay.
To begin, let me tell you that my only reason for not eating animals is to preserve the life of the animal. I believe that all animals, including the human animal, once born onto this planet have a right to live their life unencumbered by prejudice, discrimination, enslavement, torture and slaughter, and that no being has a right to take that life, unless in a situation of immediate personal threat. I would not personally kill an animal to eat, and I don’t expect anyone else to do it for me. By not eating animals I preserve the lives of those living and discourage the procreation of those destined for slaughter.
However, I wasn’t always a vegetarian. I was born into a family who ate animals and accepted it not only as a necessary part of survival, but as a delicacy as well – to be enjoyed. I recall many festive scenes surrounding the carving of a turkey or ham on holidays. And in my younger days was elated when Dad, knowing that ham was my favorite, would pile an extra helping onto my plate – without me even asking.
But there came a time when I started asking myself questions about the inconsistencies I observed around me. Why did hearing that a deer got shot saddened my mother, but stewing a chicken didn’t? And my grandmother who impressed me the most, telling me stories of living on the farm – loving the animals as her friends – running off into the woods during slaughter time, to chop down trees till exhausted, madder than a wet hen she’s say, while right in front of her on her plate sat two hot dogs (dogs as she called them) on buttered bread waiting to be devoured. Although young at the time, I remember noting the incongruity between her beliefs and consequent actions. Why if she loved the animals so much did she eat them?
Sometime thereafter an incident occurred that must have left its mark, because as I go over my life looking for clues as to what influenced me to care for the animals, this stands out startlingly clear. One bright, sunny Sunday morning, the air crisp, clear and sweet smelling, the whole family set out for the country to attend an all day picnic at friends of my parents. They had a big swimming pool and huge, expansive garden with every flower and vegetable. Fruit trees too.
Upon arriving we unpacked the car, then strolled across the long yard into a scene that I will never forget. The husband standing in khaki shorts, black leather shoes and black socks; blood splattered all over his bare chest and legs, cigar stub in mouth, hatchet in hand. Chickens – some running, some squawking, others barely moving. And he, laughing through a mucous-filled throat, “I’ll get you little sons-of-bitches”. Wife talking to Mom about defeathering and gardening as they walked back toward the house. And hearing faintly as they walked further away, “You know Peg, he hates to do that”. I was stunned. Those poor defenseless chickens. It wasn’t right. And why did he do it, if he hated to do it? But, he was a nice guy and so was everybody. And he didn’t kill any in front of us. I was glad of that. So, just like everybody else, I went on to enjoy the day swimming and playing, and eating my fair share of hot dogs and hamburgers.
I suppose experiences such as these as well as others along the way sit on a back burner for a while, waiting to emerge at some later time to influence your life, because it wasn’t till many years later that I actually did stop eating animals. But when I did, it happened suddenly.
Asleep one night I dreamed I was at a barbecue house in Florida. I recall sitting on a long bench attached to a long table with meat paper stretched over the top of it. In fact, there were many of these tables in a large barn-like structure with a concrete floor. The serving area was to the front of the building extending across it. And the kitchen was to the left rear with swinging doors with windows in them.
Sitting there I began to feel a little uncomfortable, but didn’t know why. I noticed a few people milling around, then became vaguely aware that no one was talking. I assumed they were waiting for an order, as I guessed I was, but I didn’t remember ordering anything.
Well, in a second what I saw carried out from that kitchen on a barbecue spit five feet long was a charcoal – broiled – to a golden brown – whole person, all shriveled up. Well, I didn’t wait around to see who ordered it – I knew I didn’t. I got the hell out of that dream in a hurry! To keep a short story short, it was that scene in that dream that convinced me to stop eating animals.
The next morning when I talked it over with my husband we both agreed that if it wasn’t right to slaughter a human for barbecue, then it wasn’t right to slaughter any other animal for barbecue; they were one and the same. So, that’s how my animal-free adventure began. As swift as that with not much deliberation, we stopped eating animals…and knew we were right in doing so.
For the next few years going meatless became an ever-present challenge – three meals a day, whether cooked at home or eaten out had to be dealt with. Since eating out offered limited taste and variety I decided to cook. I spent hour after hour scouring magazines and cookbooks for ideas, but couldn’t find much. It seemed that vegetarians back in the ’70s were primarily into taste bud punishment. So, I began experimenting on my own. I cooked day and night discovering new ways to please my palate, my husband’s palate, and anyone else’s who ate at our house. I was determined to make this work, and would prove to everyone that I could prepare meals without meat that were every bit as tasty as meals with meat. And I did just that. Proved it again and again.
But somewhere along the way our commitment started to break down. Whether it was the lack of support – and in many cases outright scorn and rejection from family, friends, associates, co-workers, wait staff in restaurants etc. – or simply a desire to do what everybody else was doing – whatever the reason (and it’s never difficult to find a reason for doing something that’s already socially acceptable) – we started eating meat again. And we did it with rebellious abandon, convincing ourselves that if everyone else did it, then it must be right. We packed our refrigerator full of meat. Bought in bulk at the warehouse, where we could pick out large cuts at wholesale prices. We had steak every night.
Then, just before Christmas one year we stopped at a farm in Amherst, Massachusetts that advertised quail for sale. We thought for something different we’d cook up a couple for Christmas dinner. We walked into a shed where a farmer was tending his birds whom he sold mainly to the University of Massachusetts for experimental purposes. He raised them. Many of them. Of exotic variety. They were everywhere. All in cages. And we moved very carefully so as not to disturb any of them.
We told the farmer what we wanted. But before filling our order he talked about the birds, pointing each one out as he told of each one’s uniqueness. He started to walk toward what looked like a refrigerator, but stopped midstream to open a cage. He removed a bird. And instead of showing it to us as I thought he was going to do, he held it securely in his left hand while forcing the mouth open by squeezing it’s jowls, then with his right hand, swiftly and dispassionately thrust a bade into the opened beak and up through the brain. He did this with a second bird, then asked, “That’s all you wanted was two, right?” I choked out a “yes”, but thought not this way! But how did I expect to get a quail? Prepackaged, defeathered, ready to cook – already dead?
Well, this meat-eating spree didn’t last for long, since once again I became subject to my own curious questioning, while at the same time being quietly nagged by a thought I had recently stumbled across – that the majority is not always right.
For the next several years I seesawed back and forth between eating animals and not eating animals. This indecision helped to further exacerbate the already present conflict in me which had been brewing for years. I knew it was wrong to kill animals to eat or for any other reason, but wanted proof of its wrongness. I went over and over the arguments I heard in defense of killing animals: We slaughter animals because we raise them for slaughter; we’re at the top of the food chain; they don’t contribute to society; God gave us permission; they taste good; we’ve always done it; everyone else does it; we developed large arm muscles with which to hunt; we developed large canine teeth with which to tear flesh; animals kill each other; it’s a matter of survival; we’re superior; plants scream when pulled from the ground; they’re dumb; they can’t feel pain or fright; they would otherwise suffer by the hands of nature from overpopulation and starvation. And some even said that there’s no such thing as good and bad, right or wrong, and if we accepted the world without judgment, then what’s one more dead cow?
I could not find in any of these arguments, or any others, a foundation of truth which could be in any way logically construed to justify the raising and killing of animals for consumption or any other reason. It just didn’t make sense to force these animals into violent, wretched, premature deaths to satisfy our own appetites.
If you raise a child for slaughter, that child is still a child. The billions of children and adults we kill on a continual basis in the animal kingdom of which we are part can only be given a name as harsh, cruel and gruesome as holocaust. It is our arrogance which prevents us from understanding and acknowledging this truth. We fear that our acknowledgement will put other needy humans (ourselves included) at risk; that we will lose the preferential treatment that we’ve been so accustomed to throughout the ages. We live under the false assumption that in order to help one group, we must neglect another group. This is just not so. The more you love, the more love you have to give. The more you care for and respect your co-inhabitants on this earth, the more caring and respectful you become of everybody’s rights. There is a bottomless well of caring in each of us. All we have to do is loosen the grip of our own arrogance on our own thoughts and actions. You will not love your own group or yourself less; you’ll love them and yourself more. We simply do not have to neglect one part of nature to care for another part.
Continuing to grow inside of me was an unrest regarding this issue that once again fulminated in a dream…in this dream I was the chicken. And scared shit I was to die by the swing of that hatchet. My heart beat so fast I thought it would stop. I awoke in a pool of sweat. I may have even urinated. But at that precise moment I knew right from wrong – judgment or not. When it was my head there was no question. The conflict melted away. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It was so simple.
That night as I laid my head safely back to the pillow, I remembered hearing a long, long time ago a mother telling her child as she pointed to the dog, “See, he has eyes just like yours…and a nose…and ears…and a mouth”…as she outlined the dog’s face with her fingers. And that’s where I am today – ‘I don’t eat animals with faces’.
As far as the inconsistencies and incongruities I observed then and continue to observe now, I attribute them to ignorance in some cases; an inability to acknowledge the fact that we’ve been committing wrongful acts for most of our lives; a resistance to change and growth (many times the result of family, friends and society’s disapproval of our choices); and in still other cases, a simple lack of commitment. In my own case, I have finally bridged the gap between my beliefs and consequent actions, and I have my grandmother to thank for that.