When I initially decided to transition into becoming a vegan, I don’t think I was fully aware of the magnitude of it. Having only followed a vegan diet for a little over a week now, I’m still nowhere near the point of seeing the deep impact it will have on my life and all the changes that will occur in my body and mind alike. It isn’t simply cutting out meat and dairy, it’s a whole new way of thinking, it’s a lifestyle you follow.
I went through different stages of thinking about the change to veganism. The impending move to live with a very health conscience, wise, and convincing boyfriend whom happened to be an excellent cook helped tremendously. It seemed only logical and convenient that I would adopt veganism so we could eat the same meals, have similar groceries. Why not? All I had to do was cut out meat and dairy… it seemed easy enough. I feared it seemed easy enough because perhaps I was looking at it as another somewhat short-term diet, with which I had tried eating better in the past and had never lasted too long with my easily breakable will power. This change was going to be forever and I didn’t know if I could do it anymore. Maybe I could cheat a little here and there I thought.
Then came watching a few videos that illuminated the harsh realities of the cruelty to animals all in the process of getting meat and dairy onto our plates. I felt like everything I had thought and known was completely false. I was aware of the harsh conditions that baby cows endured before becoming veal. From the youngest time I could remember, walking the grocery store aisles with my mom, I can still hear her saying, “No, not that steak, that’s veal, a baby cow that they treat badly. We don’t eat veal.” And so it had been and I hadn’t ever eaten veal and assumed veal was the “bad meat” that only insensitive jerks ate and all other meat was okay. The rest of the animals lived long, happy lives with large fields to roam with farmers who loved them and when they were very old and it was there time, they would humanely be killed with a tear in the farmer’s eye.
That’s how I had pictured it all my life.
How could I possibly be so naïve? I felt like an awful human being for having any part in it. I wasn’t the one butchering, but I was the one consuming, which is ultimately the reason we all these innocent animals were being killed. Watching those helpless animals squeal and cry before getting slaughtered was indescribably heartbreaking and I couldn’t bare the thought of all these creatures dying solely for my selfish consumption. What a waste it all was. A living creature with sensitivities, feelings, some sort of thoughts, a life created, just to be destroyed a short time later. You could see the cruelty in the farmers’ eyes and how they kicked and harmed the animals, like inanimate objects, not living creatures. It was a nightmare. I didn’t want a single piece of meat to pass through my lips ever again.
The next night, my family had pork chops for dinner. I looked down at my plate and probably for the first time really thought about what I was eating. It had always just been a pork chop, perfectly normal thing to eat and tasty to most of society’s eyes, but I was about to be eating a dead pig. A creature who I had recently watched been helplessly crying and squealing while hanging by its legs before being sliced to death. There was no getting around that now. I looked at my dog who was eagerly at my side begging for table scraps, and thinking what a mind she has. She outsmarts me to get her way, has her own motives, gets jealous, feels empathy, is in tune with humans and other animals’ emotions, curious, has all these complex feeling and emotions and a different bark and sound to try to communicate everything.
The fact that my brothers’ had told me swirling in my head, that pigs are actually smarter than domestic dogs. Guilt flooded over me. How could I treat this creature, this dog of mine, not only as a pet, but like a child, while consuming the other. It didn’t seem right or fair in the least bit. I thought about trying to go back to the labels, “pork chop….. pork chop….” sweep it under the rug, but there was no unseeing or forgetting that cruelty. At least not tonight I thought. I only ate the potatoes and vegetables on my plate and made some excuse about not being hungry for the pork chop.
Then I had a thought some time after, after a few days of abstaining from meat, what if that was just a handful of factory farms, far away from my New Hampshire grocery stores. What if the picture in my head of happy, long-living farm animals was still accurate for the most part? I had seen the small, quaint farms of my town and surrounding towns with some farmers I even knew personally. They would never treat their animals like the farmers’ in the videos. They kissed their animals, they even made their facebook profile pictures be ones with their animals. They took pride and great care in their hard work and were kind natured people. Surely, this is how it was, for the most part, with a few horrid outliers. The country, society, could not just stand by and let this kind of cruelty happen.
Mentioning this prompted another discussion and I was again reminded of my complete ignorance. The little farms of New Hampshire were the ones who were the exception. The little farms cannot possibly produce the huge unrelenting quantities of meat and dairy demanded throughout our country. Factory farms are the easiest and fastest way, albeit the cruelest and most harmful, to meet that demand, and just like with any aspect of life, America has seemingly focused more about the fastest, cheapest way to an end product, rather than the care, effort, and process of getting to that end product.
Any means necessary kind of approach, even if it’s dirty, cruel, or harmful. And as Americans, we’ve seemed to have a hard time with change and awareness and sometimes are all too likely to tend to stay blissfully ignorant.
It was unsurprising in a way. In another moment however I was shocked, stunned. I couldn’t believe my ignorance. It was a mix of emotions. I thought of all the delicious foods I had eaten that had meat in it and I found myself trying to come up with excuses to cling to, but nothing really came to mind. Perhaps I wanted to believe that happy farm life picture in my head and should’ve known better. At the same time it’s difficult to shake that happy picture in your head that you’ve grown up with all these years and that no one has really questioned, let alone penetrated, the truth of it.
Maybe it was where I grew up, the hearty, meat and seafood loving New England.
Maybe it was my family, the mindset that you follow and obey your parents and eat what’s in front of you and the guilt that ensues if you waste food.
Maybe it was my innocent trust in humanity and how the world worked. The happy picture was not completely shattered, probably because I didn’t want to fully accept the truth. But I was definitely looking at things in a whole new way. There was a lot of guilt in enjoying meat and dairy. It was going to be difficult still to cut them out completely. I was perhaps just as bad as the cruel factory farmer.