Dirt Girl, Texas Girl
Given the close relationship I have had with Mother Earth all my life, it’s natural for me to have a love for Her most basic elements too — soil, microbes, insects. It makes perfect sense that I eat all the bounty She provides.
I enjoy tending plants, edible plants in particular, and there is nothing quite as satisfying as the pleasure of harvesting great-tasting healthy veggies from my own yard. It feels positively delightful to just dust the dirt off and toss an entire delicious morsel straight into my mouth, right in the garden.
Coming up in Texas as a child to an adult, hunting and guns were a way of life. My siblings, cousins and I all learned to fire rifles and shotguns early on, and when hunting season came around, we could expect that husbands, uncles and grandfathers would disappear from our lives every weekend for a few months each year, returning with their kills and smelling of camp smoke. It’s just what we did, was who we were.
I didn’t first use a gun to kill another animal until my late teens, but you could be sure the sweat equity of a kill — plucking, field-dressing, bringing an animal carcass to to the table — was a valuable skill learned and practiced at hunting camp until then. These tasks were important life skills, and my parents made sure there were no illusions about where our food came from.
For decades, meat remained as the main course on our dinner plates, whether it was hunted or bought. But as I eased into life as an adult, leaning more toward low price and convenience of the grocer, pretty packages of bloodless flesh helped me to forget the slaughter process. What I didn’t know also helped me to keep consuming. And as I grilled chicken or ribs or steak, shifting mindlessly between the kitchen and the back porch, assuring that charcoal stayed lit and that temperatures were kept for optimum for flavor, meat preparation was my chore, not my husband’s, even if I didn’t kill the animal myself. There was quite a bit of pleasure in it; it was a whole lot of who I was, not just a task to feed my family.
At some point, meat pleasure had fully taken over; I’d all but erased the knowledge of just where it was coming from.
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
More and more, I became became just like everyone else: removed from my place within nature. I settled into using others for my own pleasure, without giving it a second thought .
Lifting the Curtain Slowly
After meeting a friend who was conscious about her food choices, ‘eating her ethics,’ she’d say, curiosity got the better of me. So my husband and I carved out time one weekend to watch Food, Inc. and what we learned was both shocking and eye-opening.
How could we not know that this is how grocery store ‘cutlets’ are prepared? Why hadn’t I made the connection between environmental disasters and farmed animals that were now living on an industrial, factory-scale condition? And how was it that compassionate, caring people could do this to living, breathing, beautiful animals every single day, sometimes three times a day?
I learned that what I considered to be atrocities in the animals-for-food industry are really just standard operating procedure (SOP); that is, the worst instances of suffering — castrating, de-beaking, de-tailing, caging, impregnation, infanticide — are done for efficiency and to reduce costs. These animals come into this world for our stomachs alone and are completely at our mercy. Their ‘care givers’ (can we call them that?) are exempt from animal cruelty laws. PERIOD.
This is hardly the reciprocal relationship between our forebears and their domesticated stock. Domestication of animals for food in the 21st century is massive exploitation of an otherwise living ‘commodity,’ plain and simple. We’ve turned beings into widgets.
reciprocity (noun) – a situation or relationship in which two or groups agree to do something similar for each other, to allow each other to have the same rights, etc. : a reciprocal arrangement or relationship
Right then, we turned away from flesh, explicitly requiring the slaughter of another creature unnecessarily. We didn’t need it. We settled into something of egg-eating, milk-drinking vegetarians.
Our place within nature — in balance with nature — however was still left to question.
Vegetarian is the Journey, Not the Destination
A couple of years later, I learned that just being vegetarian wasn’t consistent with our moral obligation — saying no thank you to the animal torture and suffering and (ultimately) their violent deaths.
Eggs — and especially dairy — carried with them some of the most concentrated cruelty in animal agriculture; friendly labels like ‘happy hens’ and ‘happy cows’ meant absolutely nothing except to to shield me from the truth, to keep me comfortable with my conscience — to keep me consuming.
Marketing trickery is the way of the business and wants me to conclude that animal suffering wasn’t really happening. Just because an animal isn’t overtly killed for its flesh, these females still remain in bondage, forced into a kind of reproductive slavery so that we humans can enjoy their ‘outputs,’ outputs their bodies were never meant to naturally produce. Males of these industries carry with them their own labels — disposable babies. Infanticide (for bovines, you can call it veal, then infanticide) is the norm for at least half of all the animals born into the egg and dairy industries. Billions. Every year.
In order to align daily habits with my moral compass (which really never did change!), eliminating all suffering from my purchases, not just what was overtly so would have to happen. It was time to quit being a part of the process, the direct cause of the suffering.
Once the questions were asked, abuse and neglect could be found literally everywhere we looked, particularly in form of pleasure and entertainment that benefit only the human, things not even required for our survival. Animals used in clothing, cosmetics, some pharmaceuticals — certainly those used solely for our entertainment — would also be freed from our consumption choices.
American culture is fully vested into animal agriculture, but it’s neither difficult nor depriving for us to go against the grain — full-tilt vegan. (In meat-country USA that is Houston, Texas, no less.)
Our journey has been one of education, introspection, and revelation, but these days, it is entirely unnecessary to go it alone or do it by trial and error. There is a growing sentiment out there that says, We can do better by our neighbors! So let’s.
Switching four children to a vegan way of life was the easiest part; they hadn’t been subjected to the decades-long speciesism training I had, the desensitizing that is required of adults witness to slaughter. Giving up iced cream — the worst part of it, if you ask them — was made trivial with equally tantalizing alternatives. No deprivation required.
Not causing the oppression of others through food choice won’t change the world straight away, but it is a very good start. For years now, we have lived happy, healthy, and productive lives without relying on the flesh or sacrifice of others. As more and more people come on board with veganism, vegan choices dining out or in grocery stores will become the norm.
And our moral compass, at last, points straight and true. We do it for all the animals, our fellow earthlings. To stop eating them first is indeed the most honorable, most respectable thing we can do.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead