Oftentimes when I reveal to people that I’m a vegan, their first response is usually, “Oh. Okay. I could never do that. I like meat too much.”And of course, as soon as I hear that comment, a series of alarms go off in my head that usually consists of statistics, factoids, vegan-diet health benefits, and wanting to call people out by saying, “Actually, everyone could. People just don’t want to change their eating habits.” I try to refrain from slamming them with this information though because I haven’t been vegan so long that I have forgotten what it’s like to think that way. I feel that if you forget what it’s like to be an omnivore, you lose touch with the majority of people and what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Furthermore, I want to remember how to see both sides of the story for the purpose of making a stronger defense for my side.
As a result of these conversations I began wondering, “At what point do people stop connecting their food with the animals that the food came from?”As children, we lovvve animals! We want to pet them, hold them, kiss them, get close to them, watch them on tv, go see them in zoos, etc. Children worry when animals “lost their mommy” or “look sad” or even cry when animals are hurt in movies. I mean, isn’t that why there was some consideration in changing the movie rating when “Bambi” debuted? But somewhere between childhood and trusting what our parents are feeding us and keeping up with the status quo, we lose that concern and disconnect from the living animal. We eat chickens, fishes, cows, deer, eggs, butter, etc., and never think about what it means to have those things on our plates.
So I started tracing my earliest childhood memories of animals to see if there was a natural empathy I myself had for animals that I lost somewhere along the line (and thankfully, have found again). What I could remember were these moments in time:
1. Seeing lobsters in the grocery store water tanks and thinking it seemed scary that they were crowded on top of each other and smothering one another. And to make matters worse, their poor “hands” were tied.
2. Watching my babysitter bring home a bushel of live crabs. I remember seeing their claws dangling through the bucket crevices and watching small air bubbles pop out of their mouths. They looked like they were trying to breathe despite being out of water. Then, when one got out of the bucket, it went running wildly on the floor. I thought it was trying to run away from the pot of boiling water on the stove where other crabs had been dropped in. Most eerie, I remember seeing their claws reaching to get out of the water underneath the pot lid. The whole scenario seemed wrong to me, but what did I know—I was just a kid.
3. On trips up to my grandparent’s house, I knew when we came around the bend and reached this one cow field with a babbling brook running thru it and a red barn (just like a picture on a postcard) that it meant we were really close to their house. On one particular trip my dad was explaining cows are where we get hamburgers from. I remember thinking, “But…huh? How does a big cow turn into such a small little circle?…”I wondered if my dad was confused. Where did the rest of it go? How did this happen? How does something so big disappear?
4. I was a huge lover of those “Benji” movies back in the eighties. I have no idea which movie it was, but I went to see one of the movies in the theatre at that time. Benji ended up in the wilderness and was separated from his owner(s). Similarly, he came upon some baby lion cubs or other “wild cat” cubs that had become separated from their mother. I cried and cried in the theatre thinking, “What if none of them ever find their momma again?” Eventually, Benji helped unite the cubs with their mother but I was so worried Benji wouldn’t have the same good fortune. In the end, it was a happy ending but it was an emotional roller coaster to watch these animals lose their family, even if it was only for 90 minutes of screen time.
5. I went to countless school field trips at zoos, visits to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and even a trip to Sea World and loved every second in the company of the varied species I encountered. I would read the signs near the exhibits so I knew the names of the animals, where they came from, what the sound of their call was, etc. I don’t ever remember seeing a sign that said, “Additionally, their eggs are a good substitute where chicken eggs are called for” or “Their furs/tusks/horns fetch a really good price” or “Their muscles are particularly tender when roasted.”
By now I am sure you are seeing my point. As children, we have an innate love towards animals. In fact, as a child, if you grow up drawing pictures of hurting animals or are caught torturing animals, it is generally thought of that something is “wrong” with you. But out and about in society, where we eat them, eat their secretions, support the supply-and-demand of factory farming and fishing, wear their fur, and use our animal-tested toiletries, no one baulks. Where is the logic? At what point did we stop connecting the dots? Maybe this is another reason The Bible tells that Jesus commanded people to “be like the children.” I don’t know. But I do know I am relieved that I have come full circle and have found my compassion again. My only regret is that I am sorry it took me so long to get back to this point. Now my only interaction with animals is taking care of one in my household and petting other ones, such as the cuties seen below in these pictures from Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, MD.
What do you think? Do you have childhood memories of compassion towards animals that you are just now remembering? What do you think makes us forget our natural tenderness toward animals?