i’m an animal lover but…i eat animals.

jenbolucas

As a former “animal lover who eats animals”, I can say that it was not always as clearly hypocritical as it sounds. Most vegans, aside from those who have been plant-based since birth, once fell into this category, and likely without a second thought.

You see, the world tricks you. As small children, we are taught the values of compassion and kindness toward all living things. We are told, “Don’t pull the cat’s tail.” We hear, “Be gentle with the puppy!” And we build these values on what I believe is an innate, childlike connection with non-human animals. Think for a minute about how much kids freaking love animals. Because, what is not to love about tiny, adorable creatures to which tiny, adorable humans can relate? In fact, most examples of children’s literature, television, and film are based on the adventures of non-human animals.

And most of this media presents all animals – companion, farmed, captive, and wild – in the same idyllic light. We, as children, gain a sense of security around the belief that these furry or feathery friends are living out their lives happily and peacefully the world over.

But at some point, we reach the dark age of inquisitive reality. This is the mysterious age where families believe it is time to tell their children the (partial) truth about their food, often because curious minds begin to wonder. Until now, adults have been using sneaky words to mask the true source of their meals; “beef”, “pork”, “burger”, “hot dog” (this one is doubly confusing), or even just “meat”. With the exception of “turkey” and “chicken” (which I swear I thought were just homonyms, because we couldn’t possibly be eating those cute little chicks I know and love from Easter, right?), adults don’t often willingly reveal the secret ingredient at their family dinner, which happens to be quite literally: dead animal bodies.

There is no way around this fact. So, to combat inevitable meltdowns, much societal effort has been collectively put forth to protect little humans from this truth. It’s an agreed upon cultural norm. Surely, other adults would frown upon a person who dared to speak the truth by asking children, “Alright, who wants a dead cow sandwich?” or by exclaiming, “Come and get your chopped-up bird body!”

When I consider it now, I find the fact that adults can pull off this elaborate scheme to be just short of a miracle. Not only do they feed their children dead bodies and get away with it, but they eventually tell the children…and the children accept it, under the guise that, “Everyone does it, so it has to be normal,” or, “We need to do it to be healthy” (both 100% untrue).

Even more baffling, though, is the fact that adults also must explain why we eat some animals but not others. At this point, we are exposed to speciesism, or the idea that our own species and some other species (for example, in American culture: cats and dogs) are valued over others (cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc.), and that these “others” are nothing more than commodities. (There is a whole movie about this, if you’re interested.)

And so, the collective acceptance of the speciesist ideology carries young humans through adulthood, where they will repeat the cycle with tiny humans of their own, and everyone just goes on loving their companion animals while eating the flesh of “other” animals.

And of course, for many years, I was one of those people.  A self-proclaimed animal lover from the start, my relationship with non-human creatures was not unlike most children.  As a 9-year-old extremely shy only child, my Brittany Spaniel puppy was, without a doubt, my BFF.  He listened to my stories, and sat with me when I was upset.  When he was just a pup, I protected him from the evil noise of the lawn mower, and spent endless, patient hours one summer in the garage teaching him to be a “good boy”.  I would venture to guess that most animal lovers have a similar story.  I connected with my dog on a level that I can rarely achieve with most humans, and he never asked for anything but love in return.

Yet, I continued to eat the bodies of animals no different than him.

In college, I began to question my own choices.  If I loved animals so much, why was I eating them?  Out of habit, I continued to order the 6-inch Spicy Italian from Subway.  But halfway through the sandwich, I began to feel guilty and generally grossed out about the meat, so I would take it off and finish the sandwich without it.

This behavior continued until one day, a brochure with a photograph of a smiling rescued pig in it was placed into my hand on the quad.  The message was very clearly, “Stop eating animals!” But my brain and my heart weren’t ready to hear it.  Instead, I cut out the picture of the pig and hung it on my dorm wall.  It was likely among plenty of other animal pictures, because remember… I love animals.

I suppose if I had anything like an “a-ha” turning-point moment, it would be the time when I stared at the pig picture, smiling back at me, and thought, “OMG. I love pigs.”  And seriously, I do.  I think piglets are the absolutely most precious baby animals.  Their tiny snorts, and wrinkly pink snout, and quick little trots, and spirally tail, and sheer and utter smallness compared to the beast they will someday become – it’s all enough to make me melt into a puddle of overwhelming adoration.  Not to mention, they are smarter than most dogs, and can problem-solve as well as chimpanzees, and they live extremely socially and emotionally complex lives, and they have demonstrated the ability to empathize.  So when I imagined having a relationship with a pig, much like the incredibly meaningful connection I had with my dog, I thought, “That is absolutely possible.”

If I would love a pig just the same as a dog, why would I eat a pig and not a dog? More importantly, why is the thought of eating my dog so vomit-inducingly abhorrent, while I have been taught to believe that eating a pig is totally acceptable?

The logic made no sense, and my animal-loving heart felt broken and betrayed.  So, I began the process of cutting meat out of my diet.

Later in life, I was able to build a relationship with a real live pig.  During my internship at Farm Sanctuary, I met an adult pig named Lucas and I was drawn to him because he was the new guy on the farm and he was a little bit lonely.  He was black and white, with a completely adorable and melt-worthy face.  Because he hadn’t made very many friends yet, he spent most of his time hanging out alone near the duck pond.  The first day I met him, he approached me, sniffed me, and then promptly plopped to the ground, rolling to his side for a belly rub.  On the last day of my internship, when I went to say goodbye to him, he saw me and came barreling toward me so fast that he couldn’t stop his body when he reached me, and he knocked me right over.  And so it goes with love.

From the vegan lens:  So, can an “animal lover” eat animals?  The truth is that I see animals lovers eating animals every day.  All I can hope is that one day, they will choose to extend their compassion to all sentient beings, and not just the animals that our society has deemed worthy. Because I love, and respect, and recognize the value of non-human animals, I do not eat them.  And for that, my animal-loving heart is full.

veganniversary.

veganniversary

While I’ve never been one for overly ambitious resolutions at the start of a new year, I did find myself making one major life change on New Year’s Day seven years ago.  Having been vegetarian for a few years, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I kicked off our first official day as vegans.  Every January, as we begin to embark on the adventures a new year might have in store for us, we are reminded to celebrate our “Veganniversary” – the monumental day when we made one of the most rewarding and fulfilling decisions of our lives.

A few days ago, we were picking up Potbelly sandwiches for a quick on-the-go dinner (Mediterranean Veggie on regular bread with no cheese, ICYWW), and our sandwich artist, noticing our omission of cheese, posed a question. “Are you vegan?” she asked, to which we cheerfully replied, “Yes!” She kindly replied, “Good for you! I’m vegetarian.  I don’t know if I could do vegan.  Can I ask what made you do it?”

My husband and I exchanged a look as if to imply, Who wants to answer?  And the truth is, this sort of question usually catches me off guard because it’s kind of like…well, how much time do you have? Because I could actually talk for hours about the events and experiences that led me to this decision.

Instead I mumbled a very unprepared-sounding response.  “For a lot of reasons, I guess. All the reasons!” Which is true, but not altogether productive.  I went on to say we love animals, I did an internship at Farm Sanctuary that helped me connect more to the cause, and ended with something quick about how it’s ethically important to us.  While not an overall terrible response, the conversation left me thinking.  How can I be celebrating my 7-year Veganniversary and still not have a good, concise, automatic response to the question, “Why are you vegan?”

The tricky part is that I never really had that “a-ha moment” that some vegans credit for their ethical shift.  For me, it was more like a Jenga game, where each wooden block held a so-called truth or accepted reality that I believed growing up.  As I grew older, knowledge and investigation and exposure to new discoveries began to literally poke holes in my sturdy, comfortable foundation of beliefs.  It was gradually less and less stable. I questioned everything, until what I had accepted as an ethical reality in my head no longer agreed with the truth in my heart, and every wooden block came toppling down.  And when it fell, it fell hard.

So when I am forced to field the question about exactly why I am vegan, a million reasons come to mind and my brain becomes flustered and overwhelmed while I sort through that pile of blocks. I want to give a thoughtful response that people can relate to, and maybe even one that pulls out a few Jenga blocks from their own ethical foundation. Basically, I’ve found that my response boils down to two t-shirts I own.  The first one says: Vegan for Everything, and in the middle it lists these reasons with a small, corresponding icon:

the animals, 
our water, 
world hunger, 
the rainforest,
compassion, 
wildlife, 
our health,
peace, 
and our planet. 

This sums it up, but doesn’t exactly elaborate.  I could choose to rattle this list off, but will that alone impact change? I mean, each of these played a major role in dismantling my own Jenga set, but that took years.  So if I were to rank these reasons, the animals would be first.  And, conveniently, my other shirt simply says:

I love animals too much to eat them. 

I think this is more personal and has a better chance of resonating with someone, mainly because most people self-identify as “animal lovers”, yet still choose to eat animals.  However, this response doesn’t fully cover my choice to avoid eating animal secretions, like dairy, eggs, and honey.  And, it doesn’t account for the non-food related reasons that veganism makes so much sense to me, like opposing animal testing, protecting the environment, and participating in the general practice of non-violence.

All of these things considered, I’ve decided that my new, good, concise, automatic, but also malleable, ever-changing, situationally adaptable response to the harder-than-it-seems question, “Why are you vegan?” will be some variation of the following:

It all started because I love animals, and couldn’t stand the thought of eating them anymore.  Then I learned about how violent the dairy and egg industries are, and that didn’t sit well with me either.  Since then, I’ve realized that veganism has a bunch of bonus benefits – not just better for the animals, but better for my health and better for the planet.  Now I kind of live by the mantra “do the least harm” each day. And I’ve grown to believe veganism is an ethical responsibility.

 

Sidenote: The link defining rennet from the photo above is still live and well. Unfortunately, the baby calfs whose fourth stomach rennet is obtained from…are not.

If you are feeling inspired to make a change this January, I encourage you to check out a cool site called Veganuary for more resources (especially the WHY link, which expands upon the topics discussed throughout this post).  Because education is power.

on consuming corpses.

IMG_5685

The spirit of Halloween was very much alive in my home yesterday – the first trick-or-treating experience at our very own house, along with pumpkin carving, and the most perfectly eerie doom-and-gloom weather, plus an all day marathon of American Horror Story on the TV. In fact, the spirit has been alive all month, as we decorated our home for Fall, and baked some Halloween treats for a party last weekend. Yes, those are nearly Pinterest-fail-worthy vegan “Meatball Mummies” pictured above, made by combining Chloe Coscarelli’s Tempeh Meatball recipe (she is amazing, BTW, so check her out here) with long strips of Whole Foods prepared pizza dough. And despite their unfortunate appearance, they were quite tasty, and surely, the closest I’ll ever come to actually consuming a corpse ever again.

Of course, I know that Halloween – with all of its blood and gore and death and demons – is all in good fun. There is no harm, right, when we simply make-believe?

But Halloween season tends to stir up some vividly graphic images that I typically keep deeply buried in my mind. The blood and the gore and the death and the demons – they all bear a shocking resemblance to the real-life horrors I’ve seen with my very own eyes.

Or, I guess, more accurately – through the gaps between my trembling fingers as I covered my eyes in terror.

But let’s rewind.

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