Okay, that’s a cop out. I could have had corn on the cob and funnel cakes repeatedly but the intoxicating aroma of Bubba’s BBQ and my ultimate weakness – the pulled pork sandwich – overcame me and, well … I walked away, day after day, with brick red BBQ sauce under my finger nails and not near enough guilt to overcome my sensual pleasure. What can I say? I have the willpower of a spoiled house cat.
When discussing my attempts at this leafy green lifestyle, I tried to be respectful around those who make their living raising cattle. I stated that my attempt at v-ism was for “health reasons” which is only 50% true. (Check out “Fast Food Nation” – scariest fucking book you’ll ever read.) Truth is, I love animals and would like to be a better friend to them.
I truly admire full-time vegetarians and vegans but try to avoid the type that passes judgment while eating their salads with an air of supremacy. If you are going to give up eating meat because you are humbled by animals then, for god’s sake, stay humble all the way through the meal, is how I feel about it. Zealotry – no matter what your mission – is not an ideal conversion tool.
Of course, I have my V-heroes like Susan Voisin (a vegan in the Deep South!), Dr. Trillwing, my pal, Jamie Lee, who does great work for PAWS and finally, a semi-famous actor I’ve never met. His name is Peter Dinklage (“Station Agent”, “Nip/Tuck”, “Death at a Funeral”, etc.), a dwarf who happens to be super talented and very sexy. When someone asked him why he was a vegetarian, he responded simply: “I like animals, all animals. I wouldn't hurt a cat or a dog - or a chicken or a cow. And I wouldn't ask someone else to hurt them for me.”
The simplicity of Peter’s personal philosophy was the catalyst that pushed me into this inner-debate. Especially that last part about having other people do it for you - seems kind of cowardly and shady from that angle.
It was similar to the epiphany I had on the death penalty. I’d been carrying along my pro capital punishment-stance for so many years, I hadn’t bothered to update it until one day I asked myself a hard question:
“Holy shit. So, I agree with George W. Bush on this issue and disagree with Johnny Cash???? Is that who I am? Really?”
It caused me to investigate the issue (shocker: it actually costs more to keep an inmate on death row than it does to keep them for life due to repeated appeals) and I officially reversed my stance, I’m against the Death Penalty. I’d rather save tax money and let some sorry sicko rot than give them the peace of death.
Then, three incidents at NWSS gave me further pause:
A young man handed out leaflets entitled: “From a Philosophical Perspective: Common Questions About Animal Cruelty.” No organization was named on this sheet but it didn’t feel like PETA – too calm and ponderous – but perhaps Friends of Animals. The flyer posed questions such as, “Can animals truly feel pain?”, “So, am I morally obligated to prevent all other beings from feeling pain?” and “As a Christian, I believe that God put me in charge of all other animals. Doesn’t that give me the right to do with them what I please?”
The first question was a no-brainer to me – why wouldn’t an animal feel pain? All living organisms feel pain; it is a natural part of self-preservation. The second one is a bit tougher but I personally feel that one should try to avoid inflicting pain on other beings – be they animal or human, hence my struggle here. The last question doesn’t even work for me as I am not a Christian and do not believe God put us in charge of anything. If so, than it was a bad managerial decision ‘cause we’re fucking the place up like The Who at the Hyatt.
The flyer closed by inferring that since equestrian sports, the circus, rodeos and, yes, the NWSS aren’t really necessary for our well being, we should give them up seeing how God would not support them and Nature does not benefit from them. To be honest, I was pretty grateful for the flyer (I still have it) as it is helping me keep this inner dialogue alive.
Then came the January 26 Denver Post headline “NWSS: Prod prompts complaint” about a behind-the-scenes video that showed cowboys using shock tasers to jolt the horses just prior to bronc riding. I watched it and felt sickened; the men’s shady body language and shifty eyes said it all – they were doing something they were not supposed to. Also, at the time the video was being shot, I was working just a few feet away, behind the chutes. Was I okay being a part of all this? The debate was getting louder in my head.
Finally, a third incident: I loved hanging out in the livestock area – cows, chickens, goats, sheep – everybody from your favorite childhood story books was there. I was visiting the sheep and, as sheep do, they kept to their tight flock, shrinking away from unnecessary human contact. Sheep are not especially bright or known for their affection so no surprise there.
But there was an exception. One big sheep hung out near her gate, away from her flock; we made eye contact. I approached, expecting her to cower in the corner with the others but she stayed. I scratched her head, stroked her soft face and if she could have purred, she would have. Her eyelids drooped just like mine do when I’m getting my hair washed at the salon. I was entranced and soon realized nearly 30 minutes had passed. People walked by and commented how odd it was that a sheep – especially in such a raucous environment – seemed so calm.
Finally, I had to use the restroom so I left her, reluctantly. I felt a little tingly from the experience and once finished with my biz, headed straight back to her only to find another woman in my place, doing the exact same thing. The woman turned to me, smiled and said, “Isn’t this amazing?” We immediately began discussing the animal issue and she said a bunch of stuff but the only thing I remember is, “Well, I’m a vegetarian and this is why.” Ack! The pain of guilt! Why couldn’t I be better at this? To make matters worse, lamb is my favorite meat though the last time it was available to me, I managed to refuse.
Finally, the woman moved on and I took my spot back and spent another 20-30 minutes there, rubbing Sheepy McLovey’s face and head. Before I left, I snuck in a kiss on her forehead and looked into her eyes. She looked back and I mean looked; her eyes were not empty pools of blackness but eyes that conveyed emotion, specifically, gratitude and a weird sense of understanding. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that animals have emotions as we do but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to emotionally bond with a sheep when I got up that morning.
Honestly, I can still see her face and it made me think about reincarnation which I don’t fully believe in BUT I do believe in recycling. She clearly had a next step lined up for her – perhaps a happy and loved dog, a free roaming lizard, a wise old tree or a super cool human type, like one of those Doctors Without Borders people. The experience affected me deeply and I will never look at sheep the same way again.
So, I’m an imperfect human with selfish eating habits, I get it. Still, I am a more mindful eater. I buy free range eggs and rarely include meat (with the exception of fish) in my groceries. However, the other day, I bought 100% natural bison burgers that are ‘range raised’ with no antibiotics or hormones. (Also, the USDA does not even permit the use of hormones in the raising of bison.) Best of all the company is based in Golden, CO.
Bottom line: I still haven’t sorted through all this – still digesting, so to speak. I read what I can and highly recommend the book, “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy and the recent National Geographic cover story, “Inside Animal Minds” where you’ll meet an African Grey Parrot named Alex that will blow your mind, with his mind.
I welcome all suggestions, guidance, hate mail and personal stories on this issue. I do have a dog-eared (ha!) cookbook, “The Clueless Vegetarian” that is helpful for aspiring types like myself. I’m reading up on tofu, something I have never purchased in a grocery store, and generally trying to match my primitive appetite with my modern-day philosophies.
Well, I guess every day is another chance to try again.