It happened while I was sitting at a “Famous” BBQ place the other day, stuffed full of delicious, slow roasted, smoked, pulled pork.
On the table advertisement was a drawing of a pig, with the different body parts all marked out into hunks of meat. Ham, bacon, spare ribs, baby back ribs, etc. The pig was actually quite a realistic pig, and I started to think about a real pig, like the cute ones I see at the State Fair in the “Miracle of Birth” barn, nursing a dozen piglets.
I have developed an intense connection to animals as I have gotten older. Part of it is probably the fact that I live somewhere that presents me with wildlife every day. I get to know all the animal families and so I root for them and their survival, and I cry when bad things happen. The crying when bad things happen extends well beyond the ones in my yard, though. When I passed a dead possum on the road recently I welled up with tears- that possum probably had a family! It’s like I couldn’t even help it, the loss and sadness was almost overwhelming to me. Yet, at the same time I felt sad, a little voice in my head was going- ‘What the hell has gotten in to you? A dead possum on the road?’
This empathy I have developed also extends to quite a few bugs. Moths, for example, are now a protected species. When we painted the house I painted around them, and I saved one from the cat not that long ago. A few nights ago, with my encouragement, J released one of those giant mosquito-ey looking bugs from a spider web in the garage, where it was frantically trying to break free. I couldn’t take it. J’s planned course of action was to kill the spider and the bug, but I begged him to let the bug go, so that being stuck in a spider web wasn’t the last thing it experienced before the end of its life. He was nice enough to oblige but I am pretty sure he was rolling his eyes on the inside.
And fish, also, have started falling under the umbrella. When I catch a fish, I feel bad for it, even though it’s fun to catch them and I love, love, love a fish fry. But now, when J pulls the fish cage out of the water and the fish start flopping around, gasping for air, I immediately want to let them all go. To hell with the fish fry! We let a lot of them go, way more often than we keep them. Typically, we catch them, put them in the live well or “fish cage” in the lake by the dock until we have enough for a fish fry. Then most people would clean them but instead we let them go in their new home in the bay. We call it the “Crappie Relocation Program”.
I remember once when my grandpa was cleaning fish and I was a little kid who had happily caught some of them, he showed me a small fish inside of another one he had sliced open. Do you know that for years I lived with the guilt that I had killed a pregnant fish? I put two and two together years later and figured out that fish lay eggs and that fish grandpa was cleaning must have EATEN a little fish, which is why it was inside of it. I stopped feeling AS badly about it after that.
My daughter Bunny is a vegetarian. I swear she was born that way. From the time she was a toddler, if there was the teeniest, tiniest piece of chicken she would spit out the whole bite, exclaiming in disgust, “I hate chicken!” Should would not eat a pork chop, or a delicious roast beef dinner or anything that constituted “real” (non-processed) meat. As a result, she ate a lot of “yolks and toast”, as she called them, for dinner. Everyday. For like a year. And then regularly after that. I used to ask other moms at work if I should be worried. They assured me it was a phase. (They were wrong. Still, when she’s sick or feeling bad she comes over and asks if her mom will make her some “yolks and toast”)
Her main sources of protein were eggs and peanut butter. As she got a little older she would eat processed meat- chicken nuggets, fish sticks, lunch meat, bacon, hotdogs- but at age seven she announced for good that she would no longer eat anything “that used to have a face”.
She encountered a lot of guff for this from a lot of people who should have known better. It would upset her so much when her daycare teachers would tease her and ask her if she wanted the meat course at lunch. They thought it was “cute” that a seven-year-old announced she was a vegetarian, but they clearly did not understand the conviction behind her decision.
It ticked me off when she was in middle school that if you were a certain religion, you could elect the non-meat option for lunch, but if you were simply a sixth grader with a conscience who did not want to eat meat, you were not entitled to the same offering. As a result, Bunny brought her lunch to school often and I made sure she drank a high protein supplement every day.
She did, from time to time, try to tell me all the reasons why people (Including myself) should not eat meat. She is not completely vegan (Usually, she tries different things from time to time), she still eats eggs and butter and cottage cheese and milk, but she has done her research and can present a very impressive argument.
I was not be swayed. If a meal doesn’t have meat in it, it feels like a snack, not a meal.
While I was staring at the pig on the advertisement, I was suddenly struck with the horror of what eating pig means for the pig. How when I eat bacon I am eating the soft underside of the pig where all the piglets used to hang out. For the first time ever, I considered that if I am going to save a bug from a spider web, how can I justify eating a pig for dinner?
I read an article a long time ago where a celebrity said she was no long eating pork because she heard pigs have the intelligence of a three-year-old human. I don’t know if that’s true (And I’m not googling it!) but either way I chose, ever since, to ignore it.
For a time, my youngest sister happened to live in the same part of a small downtown as local businesses including the butcher, and one Tuesday night she saw/heard pigs being herded in through the back door of the butcher’s place. They were squealing. She said,
“Those pigs knew what was going to happen.”
And she made it a point to never be home on Tuesday nights ever again.
I chose to ignore that, too. And don’t even get me started on “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” the pig.
Not long after we left the restaurant that day I said to J, “I think I might have to become a vegetarian.”
He did not seem surprised in the least.