"Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore" by Christian Friedrich Mali
“Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore” by Christian Friedrich Mali

The process of becoming a vegetarian acts like a spark to consciousness, and as you journey down this path, you become mindful of the connection between the living, breathing creature and the package of meat or fish neatly wrapped in the supermarket.
~ Jennifer Horsman & Jaime Flowers
(Please Don’t Eat the Animals: All the Reasons You Need to be a Vegetarian)

In the past, the idea of being a vegetarian has always appealed to me, but marriage is about compromises and I married a devout meat-and-potatoes guy. Our children had to put up with a few episodes of me trying to convert everyone to my way of thinking, but my lack of cooking talent and the lack of helpful information made for many unappealing meals. They all remember, without fondness, the TVP debacle – the cookbook didn’t mention that the textured vegetable protein needed to be soaked until soft before adding it to spaghetti sauce! No one appreciated the crunchy spaghetti and TVP sauce…

A little background of my journey from omnivore to herbivore…

My mom loved all things Native American. I remember her telling me that Indians worshiped nature and believed they should only take from her, with gratitude, what they needed to survive. With her words, she painted a picture for me that I still see to this day, of a hunter respectfully kneeling over the animal he had killed with his arrow, thanking its spirit for the sacrifice of its life for the benefit of his family or tribe.

One day I asked my father about hunting. He told me his story about a gun his father gave him as a gift so he could go hunting in the woods. Not wanting to disappoint his father, he set off to find some game. He found a squirrel and shot it on his first try. When he went over to retrieve it he found himself devastated and sick to his stomach that he had taken its life. He never hunted again.

But, Mom’s knowledge and Dad’s experience did not stop them from eating the all-American died of meat and dairy products! And while my paternal grandfather lived us, until he died when I was 8 years old, he regularly used his ax on a stump in the back yard to chop the heads off of chickens for dinner. It was very disturbing to me to see the decapitated chickens running around for what seemed like an eternity.

You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Over the years I got an inkling that animals were suffering terribly on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, so Tim & I agreed that we would only eat meat that was naturally raised, cage-free, and slaughtered humanely. A friend, knowing my sensitivity to violence, warned me not to watch the documentary, EARTHLINGS, but I did watch it, in August, while Tropical Storm Irene was raging outside. It did deeply disturb me, and removed all doubt from my mind about how bad things were in these torture chambers.

In one scene there was a pig who had spent its whole life squished in a cramped pen and had never seen a ray of sunshine or a blade of grass. Now it was time for it to be slaughtered. The worker opened the gate and started poking the terrified pig with a sharp prong. It fell down repeatedly and was pierced over and over to make it get up and move on. All the while the merciless worker kept shouting at it, over and over, “Come on, mother-f—-r, move.”

And a sharp contrast appeared in my mind between these two images: one, the cruel words coming out of the mouth of that heartless factory farm worker; and the other, much different picture: the sincere words of thanks coming out of the mouth of the respectful Native American hunter.


10 thoughts on “complicity”

  1. Hi,
    I found your post very hard to read. I don’t like watching or reading about cruelty to animals, I usually stay well away from it, as it always upsets me, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch “Free Willy”.

    Saying that though, I love my meat, and could not imagine eating a full meal without some sort of meat attached to it. We always had meat with our meals even when I was a child.

    1. It is upsetting, I know it, Mags… It’s hard for most of us to imagine a diet that doesn’t include meat, which is why Tim and I decided years ago that we would only eat meat that was naturally raised in a pasture, cage-free, and slaughtered humanely. It was a more expensive way to buy food, but we were willing to “vote” with our wallets toward ending the needless suffering of so many animals.

  2. Great post Barbara. I’m with you re humane treatment of farm animals. It’s about time we woke up to the fact that the meat we eat in these United States are being raised in factory farms which bear no resemblance to the lovely painting at the top of your post.

    For the past few years Mr F and I have tried to only eat meat that was naturally raised, cage-free, and slaughtered humanely, plus wild caught fish.

    I recently wrote a post about the raising of chickens/eggs in factory farms

    1. Thank you, Rosie. I wish more people could be encouraged to wake up to this fact. Maybe it will be a process of more and more humans slowly becoming more aware of the suffering of tortured factory farm animals. We just started making sure our fish was wild-caught this spring, after reading that Vitamin D is almost non-existent in the farm raised ones. I can only imagine they suffer, too.

      Your post was excellent, Rosie! Thanks for pointing me there! We can see the chickens who lay the eggs we have been buying. But that, too, is coming to an end for us for different reasons, as my next post will explain.

  3. I haven’t eaten meat, chicken, or fish in twenty-one years, Barbara. For a long time, people asked me why I became vegetarian and I had no answer, other than, “I just don’t want to eat animals.” As irrational as this must have sounded to some of those people, it was perfectly self-explanatory to me. I haven’t missed meat, not for a single minute, but I don’t preach to anyone. I made the change when it was the right time for me; I can’t make that decision for someone else.

    You’ve done a great job here of alluding to the unseen and unheard violence that’s behind most of our diet in North America.. I’m sure if more people read essays such as this one, many of them would decide the time is right for them.

    1. Thank you for your kind words – it’s so nice to “meet” a vegetarian, Charles! Twenty-one years is amazing – I suspect I would have become one years ago for the same reason you did – but lacked enough conviction to go against the herd of omnivores to which I belong. But now we’re on our way to becoming a vegetarian household for health reasons.

      I admire you for not preaching to others – there is nothing more counterproductive than the self-righteousness of the newly converted. I hope to avoid that when explaining why we’re making this change. If Bill Clinton can do it perhaps there are many others who will catch on…

  4. Barbara,

    It is a shame in a way that we have to be brought to this place to view films such as you put yourself through. That our consciousness needs to be awakened in such a violent way to get us to see the light.
    Yet that is what TV, Film, photographs, words are for as well as entertaining, to awaken us from our slumber…

    I wish you well on this journey!

    1. O thank you, Jeff! I only mentioned that one scene because I didn’t want to go on and on about something so negative, but the suffering of these poor animals never ends – until they die excruciating deaths. Like others have done for the victims of slavery and genocide we must give a voice to the voiceless, these, our fellow earthlings…

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