Happy birthday, The Boyfriend. I love you, and find you incredibly good looking. Ya know, for your age.
While I was sick I picked up a book to read. I chose Diet for a New America. I picked it out on purpose. I'd fallen off the Eat No Meat wagon, and was hoping to remind myself why I cut out meat in the first place.
Diet for a New America is an exposé on factory farming. Written by John Robbins it is a horrifyingly frank book about the miserable lives of the millions of animals who suffer so they we can eat them. Or eat from them. Debeaking, tail docking, starvation, deprivation of light, cruel overcrowding practices and inhumane slaughters are just some of the atrocities chronicled within the text. Robbins spares no detail in reporting on the ravages of factory farming. I cried more than once while reading it.
Robbins' report cemented my resolution to forgo meat from in diet, which was my intention all along. But what I didn't expect was to learn how dairy cows and laying hens are treated. I'd venture to say it is worse than those killed for their meat. The cows are forced to stay pregnant their entire lives, giving birth to calves that are taken from them immediately. They are pumped full of hormones and left chained to stalls that prevent them from lying down or even turning around. They live in darkness, never permitted fresh air or sunlight, and most become deranged due to the harsh and unnatural conditions. The hens are starved to force moulting which increases their laying productivity. They are subjected to endless hours of artificial light and kept in battery cages that are stacked high to the ceiling. The bottoms of their feet often become fused to the metal grates that they must stand on so that their waste can fall through. They debeak (slice the ends of their beaks off with hot blades) the laying hens because they have them so over packed in the factories that the birds go insane trying to establish a pecking order, therefore injuring the hen. Which is bad for egg production.
You'd think that milk sold as "organic" or eggs sold as "cage free" (or "free range") would mean that at least those animals don't suffer, but no. That is what I always thought. I bought the pricey cage free eggs because I imagined a happy pecking hen having a dirt bath in the sunshine, but I was mislead. Cage free hens are allowed only a few minutes of outside access a day, if that. Some are merely provided a tiny door that they may go through at some times of the day, but the area is so overcrowded that many of the animals can not get out. Some die trying. Eggs labeled as cage-free or free-range or organic all still allow starvation for forced moulting and the debeaking of birds. The only reason to debeak a bird is because they are going crazy from the overcrowding. The eggs we pay three times as much for come from the same starved, mistreated birds as those in battery cages. The differences are minute.
But that is just the first half of the book. The second half is an exhaustive look at how a plant-based diet, devoid of meat, dairy or eggs is actually a pretty healthy way to eat. Robbins debunks the notion of too little protein and even shows how eating lots of protein can actually lessen the absorption of calcium. So yes, you'll get less calcium if you cut out dairy, but by eating less protein, you'll absorb more of what you do eat. Robbins discusses how to get the most out of one's animal-free diet by emphasizing whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. All very healthy items by any dietitian's standards. By following a plant-based diet, Robbins argues, one can reduce her chances of heart disease, stroke, cancer and even dementia.
The part about a vegan diet being a healthy one was secondary to me. The endless suffering of countless animals is the stuff that really stuck with me. Some of those passages I can't get out of my head. I will never, ever hear the word "veal" the same way again.
And so it is for that reason--the horrors of factory farming--that I have adopted a vegan diet. This happened the moment I closed the book. It wasn't a question of "if," it was a question of "how soon can I get started?"
I have been avoiding meat and dairy and eggs for about a week now, save for Thanksgiving Day. On Thursday I reverted to a vegetarian diet merely out of convenience's sake. I hadn't planned on being animal-free and so I didn't want to be rude (or hungry) when visiting family that had no clue that I'd changed my eating. I tried to chose items I knew weren't flavored with meat, but otherwise enjoyed cheese and butter. For the very last time.
It has been very easy for me to adopt a vegan diet. Sometimes I think of pizza or grilled cheese or chocolate milk, but only for a second. I am immediately flooded instead with images of the suffering. Then it is very easy to choose a black coffee, no cream.
It was very difficult not for me to ring up everyone I knew to share with them what I had learned in Diet for a New America. It crossed my mind that if others were aware of where their meat came from that they would also eat less of it, thereby reducing the suffering. But I don't want to be that kind of vegan.
You see, it was hard for me to write this post at all. The term "vegan" comes with so many negative connotations in American society, especially in the South, where everything is flavored with fat back. Some people dislike vegetarians, but man, they hate vegans. They see it as an affront of some sort. Perhaps because many of the vegans they see are outspoken activists who could benefit from a shower.
Anyway, I was really reluctant to share this with you, the internets, because it's one of those subjects that provokes people. I mentioned my interest in a meat and dairy-free diet in an online forum and was met with snobbery from what I can only guess was a strict vegan. So the derision comes from both sides. But I did want to talk about it here, because it has been on my mind a lot.
I started a place for my thoughts on this life change. It will be a place for me to write about grocery trips or the best place to find vegan cookies in town or what brand has the best vegan cheese. Or it might be about how my cholesterol finds its way to a healthy level again. That would be a good thing. My love for cheese took a toll on my arteries, and due to a rich history of heart disease in my family, that is not a road I want to travel down. Cutting out all meat, dairy and eggs will, I hope, reverse some of the damage my lifetime of French fries and macaroni and cheese has caused.
I feel good about my decision, even though it was less of a decision and more of a need. I can subsist on cruel-free food items and still maintain a balanced, healthy diet. That feels powerful to me, and it's about time I actually stuck to something I aimed for.
So, did this feel preachy and overwrought? Did you just want to slap me down and shove a cheeseburger down my throat?
UPDATE: Want to know why I was reluctant to post about this on the tubes? Check out the reaction of "The Professor" in this thread about this post.
I think that if this happened to me--that I just happened upon David Lynch and a cow and we talked about how cheese was made, that I could just walk on up and talk to him--that I would cease to be. My heart would simply stop, and I would die.
Watch this video. It makes me very happy:
The Nashville Scene broke their links when they redesigned their website, so I just spent 20 minutes or so finding the correct URLs for my little "writing elsewhere" section over there to your left. If you feel so inclined, all those links now go to the actual article instead of a 404 page.
When the boyfriend takes both dogs for a walk there is no problem. When I take the dogs for a walk there is no problem, except for a bit of pulling on the leash which is rectified by me kicking her in the head. No, not really. (See, you don't know, do you?) But when we each take a dog and take a walk there are problems.
Tootie starts crabbing. And by crabbing I mean getting all down close to the ground and sort of crawling like a Viet Cong in the bush, her breath all heaving. She's like a mad beast. The walk ends up taking forever because the boyfriend won't tolerate any pulling, much less crabbing. So, it's "sit" every time she gets all crabby. Last night I think she had to sit about 45 to 47 times on our walk. It was ridiculous. It shouldn't even be called a walk, it was a start and stop.
Cooper on the other hand is the best walker in the world. If he even thinks about pulling you just tighten you grip and he falls back into line at my heels. He's dumb, but submissive. I like that. The only time he ever takes off in his own direction is for peeing on the mailboxes. But that is not to be helped. I give him those without any grief. It's his one big thrill.
Anyway, last night we were trotting along, waiting for the wild animal behind us when Cooper dove head first into a ditch full of crisp fall leaves. One second he was walking, the next second he flung himself up to his eyeballs in leaves. Then he did it some more. It was about the cutest thing I'd ever witnessed. He seemed to love it. I had to drag him out of the pile.
Wish I'd had my camera.
I won't say that I failed, because that would inaccurate, but there is no way in hell I'm getting that sucker finished by the end of the month. No way, no how. However! I have constructed a three-month plan and outline, so there will be a book, by God. I'm just going to be less speedy about it.
But much respect to my writing buddy, Short & Fat, who would never, ever cheat to win. Go, guy, go.