i’ve read that it’s important to insert pictures into your blogs to keep the reader interested. i kind of think that’s lame. i mean… do you stop reading books because they don’t have pictures? i hope not. still, i would like it if people read what i have to say, being totally convinced that my opinion is IMPORTANT, so… here’s a picture for yous that like the pictures more than the lengthy chunks of text; hopefully this gets us off to a delightful start:
so, a while back, a friend posted this video on facebook. it’s really, really hard to watch – i can’t imagine anyone with any kind of feeling not getting a little verklempt after watching a video in which calves are horribly abused at a slaughterhouse. still, though it is really difficult to watch stuff like this, and it’s much, much easier just to put it out of your mind since we are so far removed from what we eat so much of the time… i think it’s important to keep in mind what, exactly, goes on behind the scenes – where, exactly, is it that what we let into our lives, what we consume, comes from? – and i’m glad i watched it. it got me thinking. and eventually, to writing.
i first cut meat out of my diet when i was 14. my step-father was an officer with fort bend county animal control in rosenberg, texas… or maybe it was richmond, texas… it was one of those little suburban communities on the outskirts of houston. i volunteered with my step-father at the animal control office. i cleaned kennels. i rehabilitated baby squirrels and baby raccoons and baby birds and baby iguanas. we fostered those cats and dogs that were out of time at the shelter so that they wouldn’t be euthanized. sometimes, i went on calls with him over the weekend – once, this resulted in our having a young alligator in our bathtub for a couple of days, because my step-father was insane and hoarded animals. no joke. i don’t remember, when, exactly, i made the decision, or what really got me set on being vegetarian. i just have a jumble of memories… not only all the ‘good’ stuff, like rehabilitating and cleaning and feeding and playing with puppies, but also stuff that still kind of makes me uncomfortable or sad, like watching my step-father euthanize dogs in between cleaning kennels, or cutting the heads off of wild animals to send to the rabies lab, or killing rats by swinging them by their tails against the fire place to break their necks and feed them to our snakes. i feel like i just didn’t see any difference between eating pork chops and eating one of our chows, and i eventually just got really turned off by all the violence behind eating meat. it definitely wasn’t a ‘political’ move on my part – i knew very, very little at that time about what went on in slaughterhouses, or how dairy cows were treated… none of that stuff. it just kind of felt weird and hurt-y to my tender young heart-and-brains (i am so, so very emotional, folks, and PROUD OF IT!) and i didn’t want to eat something if it made me feel bad to do so.
i don’t remember eating meat again for a really, really long time… i do remember, during either my junior or senior year of high school, deciding to become vegan, and being really militant about it for three months or so. i was a member of my high school’s thespian troupe, and during this time, we went to corpus christi for a thespian convention. apparently, every year prior to that year, the troupe would head out to corpus, and about half way there, would stop at this restaurant that sold home-made beef jerky. so, the tradition continued… and we stopped at the restaurant… and there were taxidermied animals EVERYWHERE. and i was disgusted. at the time, i was really pretty much of the opinion that people shouldn’t eat meat, period, and i stood outside insulting the people entering and exiting the restaurant, in front of my theater teacher, ms. hibbert. those shenanigans actually inspired the personal essay i wrote when i applied to the university of houston (so i suppose this all must have been during my senior year), and i very distinctly remember writing something about being just as appalled by the scene at the restaurant as i would have been had all the dead animals actually been stuffed dead people. which i now feel is a little over-zealous, but it was a pretty accurate description of my feelings at the time – like i said, i didn’t think anyone should eat meat.
my god, the MONOTONY! will she ever get to the point??? just hang in there, folks. here’s another picture – one of my favorite vegan cook books:
now that we’ve all rested our eyes…
since starting college in 2001, maybe even before that, i have eaten meat, on and off, throughout certain periods in my life. i still call myself a vegetarian, mostly because it’s easier than telling people i sometimes can’t stop thinking about hamburgers and i eventually have to eat one or i might DIE. and that’s really where the problem is, for me, i suppose… this is really what watching that video made me think about – why did i chose to stop eating meat, to become vegan, in the first place? why do i eat meat now? do i want to eat meat? i have this very, very strong urge to become vegan, and at the same time, i don’t take any steps toward cutting dairy out of my diet completely. or, i’ll go to the grocery store and not buy anything with any animal products in it, but a week later i’m buying wool yarn and i figure, what the hell? might as well eat some cheese… and then i’m secretly stuffing beef jerky in my mouth at four in the morning, wondering just where the hell i stand on all of this and when the hell i’m going to make up my mind… i’m living all by myself for the first time (and loving it, people, loving it), and this means, basically, i no longer have roommates who pity me for my inability to cook for myself or grocery shop in some sort of sensical fashion and thus provide for me dietarily. no, i have to learn how to cook for myself, outside all of the baking… so i suppose now’s the time to decide.
so, what’s the deal? why is anyone vegan in the first place? or vegetarian, for that matter? gina sent me an email containing a link to a book review of jonathan safran foer’s eating animals…
am i going too far with this? then quit complaining and read the damn blog.
i think this sums up one perspective pretty nicely – a lot of people are vegan/vegetarian because they think it’s wrong to kill and eat animals, period, the end:
From the outset, Foer’s perspective seems as one-sided as PETA’s; readers have little doubt that he has not only decided on vegetarianism, but wants to proselytize about it. That can make the book a tough read for someone like me, and I’m probably Foer’s target audience: an animal lover who also happens to find carnivory deeply satisfying, perhaps even on a primal level. Reading it on my couch while eating pork tacos as my 90-pound Doberman rested his head in my lap, I wanted to drop the book when I got to Foer’s Swiftian argument that what I really should’ve been eating was my dog. His point is to set up dogs as no more intelligent — and therefore no more deserving of affection and protection — than livestock. “Can the familiarity of the animals we have come to know as companions be a guide to us as we think about the animals we eat?” he writes.
(just so everyone knows… i hate PETA. they support breed-specific legislation, and they use sexist advertising, and they SUCK. you should write them and tell them you hate them and will not support anything they do ever. here’s a link, so you can go on and do that. do it.)
this way of thinking about ‘carnivory’ certainly sounds familiar to me… but it’s not necessarily how i feel about it anymore. there’s still a big part of me that is turned off by the violence behind killing an animal, no matter how well it’s treated before and during the act. that’s not to say that killing plants to eat them isn’t just as violent – i think it is. but plants don’t look like us the way animals do. they don’t bleed like us, they don’t have vocal chords or eyeballs or muscles… so there’s a certain sort of emotional, knee-jerk reaction i have to the killing of an animal that is completely different to the reaction i have to the killing of a plant. right? i mean, you rip a plant out of the ground, and it doesn’t scream or twitch or shit itself. so, yeah, i get what foer’s talking about. but at the same time, i don’t believe in proselytizing about it. it’s a personal choice, whether or not you eat meat, and if you’re doing it with compassion (because, believe it or not, the way you treat other beings totally effects your life, even if you aren’t directly responsible for their suffering), i’m good with that. animals eat other animals, and we’re animals. it’s not moral or immoral. it’s just the way the world is.
i can thus comfortably say i’m not morally opposed to the act of eating meat in theory… but that i am perhaps slightly opposed to doing it myself because it feels like an act of violence to me. check. but there’s another side to this, too. would i feel as though the act of killing and eating an animal were as violent as i do if i weren’t aware of what happens in slaughterhouses, weren’t aware of how we treat our livestock, weren’t aware of how we treat the people who work in slaughterhouses? that’s another perspective – i think there are plenty of people in the world who chose to be either vegan or vegetarian because the industry itself sucks a big one, and i am DEFINITELY in that camp. even if i decided to stop calling myself a vegetarian and embrace omnivory, i would definitely be very careful about what i ate. none of this eating shit from taco bell, you know… definitely only humanely-raised cows and chickens and such for me, thank you.
but wait a second… in our country, consumers aren’t really provided a lot of information, are they? take the term ‘cage-free’ – what does that mean, exactly? what am i buying when i buy cage-free eggs?
in doing a google search of the term ‘cage-free,’ this image popped up… this isn’t necessarily the image i personally have in my head of what it means for hens to be kept cage-free. i mean, this seems like it could potentially be better, but there’s no natural light, they’re probably still pooping all over each other and fighting all the time… i have a pretty strong concept of personal space. what i mean by this is that i value, highly, my personal space, and i am relatively conscious of allowing people into my personal space. i want to maintain the ability to control my surroundings. i want to have a spot where i feel comfortable sitting around in my underwear and being a total slob if i want to be. maintaining my personal space, the bubble i keep up between myself and others, though it may vary depending on who i’m interacting with, and what the interaction looks like, allows me to feel safe, it allows me to feel comfortable, and it allows me to recharge, to replenish myself. i don’t know a lot about what personal space means to a chicken, but i have a hard time imagining any living thing being happy in a situation such as the one pictured above. plants won’t grow if they’re packed in too tightly, right? there’s no where to go. there’s no where to get away. the boundaries between yourself and the things, or people, around you start to blur and you can’t thrive because you’re lost. maybe i’m getting too deep into all of this. i understand that people have a tendency to project a lot of their psychological stuff onto animals, and i understand that i do this. so maybe i’m putting too much onto these little chickens, and they’re totally happy living like this. but i have a really hard time believing that this is the case…
according to the humane society of the united states:
… Because of public opposition to battery cage confinement, many egg producers are switching to cage-free systems. While these systems generally offer hens a higher level of animal welfare than do battery cage systems, the mere absence of cages doesn’t necessarily ensure a high level of welfare.
… Cage-free hens are spared several cruelties that are inherent to battery cage systems. But it would nevertheless be a mistake to consider cage-free facilities to necessarily be “cruelty-free.” Here are some of the more typical sources of animal suffering associated with cage-free egg production:
- Cage-free farms typically buy their hens from the same hatcheries that supply battery-cage farms. These hatcheries kill the male chicks upon hatching—more than 200 million each year in the United States alone.
- Most cage-free hens have part of their beaks burned off, a painful mutilation.
- Hens are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, far less than half their normal lifespan. They are often transported long distances to slaughter plants with no food or water.
- While the vast majority of the battery and cage-free egg industry no longer uses starvation to force molt the birds, there are battery and cage-free producers alike who still use this practice.
so… phrases like ‘cage-free’ and ‘humanely-raised…’ they’re kind of bullshit, right? i think they’re designed to make us think we’re actually purchasing animal products that are produced in this way that lines up with the lofty ideals in our heads around how they should be produced, or to make us feel better when we aren’t actually really doing a damn thing. ‘look at me! i purchase cage-free eggs! i’m a good person and i care about things other than myself!’ but really, they’re not that much better. they’re a step up, these practices, for sure. but they still suck a lot. (i sound a lot like i’m judging all of this pretty harshly. and i am judging it harshly. still… i’m stating, for the record, that i do not judge people who eat meat or don’t buy cage-free eggs harshly… unless you’re an ignorant asshole. then i’m judging you harshly. if you’re a decent person who puts a modicum of thought behind the actions you take, then i have a lot of respect for you, and i might sometimes tell you i think you should buy cage-free eggs instead of those awful regular ones, but i won’t get up on my soap-box too often, and i’ll love you just as much as i would if you were the most compassionate person on earth. i mean, the fact of the matter is… our ability to be compassionate in making purchases is regulated by our economic status, and we aren’t all bill gates, right? our ability to make compassionate choices is also determined by the information our government deigns worthy of us, as the robotic masses that we are… so, hey, i get it – it’s not all always within our reach, and sometimes we have to work hard at getting by instead of working hard at finding ways to live compassionately on the cheap and pressuring our government to be vaguely moral. i’m poor and uneducated, too.)
so, as i was saying… the conclusion i inevitably come to in all of this, no matter how much time i take to deliberate back and forth and run myself in circles, is this:
1. it’s not cool not to care about the welfare of the world around you. you can totally dislike animals all you want, but they are living things, and they should be treated with as much respect and care as we can give them, even if we’re going to kill and eat them;
2. i don’t put a lot of faith in these labels that seem to indicate that something is more compassionate than it is… and i think maybe i just don’t feel comfortable buying shit from the grocery store that comes from an animal because i don’t actually really know what went into getting it to my shopping cart. WHAT AM I EATING!?!?! if i could afford to sign up for the CSA and buy eggs that were produced by a local farmer… i would. maybe now, though, since i can’t do that, i should stick to eat non-processed foods as much as humanly possible. fruits and veggies and beans and the like. and i think, despite the fact that i have these insane cravings and i go berserk all over a steak and whatever on occasion, i can get myself to stick to that;
3. i don’t really, deep down, feel good about contributing in anyway to any business that hurts living things. even though this means i have to keep my cheese cravings in check, and even though it means i might just have to wait until i have my own little herds of alpaca and goats and sheep to knit again with wool… i’m willing to make that sacrifice, because… well, if we can’t treat the things we use with care, how is it that we can treat each other with care? maybe this sounds like new age bullshit to a lot of people, but i just don’t want that energy in my life. i want the energy in my life to be as positive as it possibly can be.
yup, that’s right. starting yesterday – i’m totally vegan, bitches.