Going up to my cousin’s farm was one of my favourite things as a child. I was in love with their German Shepard dog, Rex, and I liked helping bring the cows in to be milked at night. It was where I first learned about karma, although I didn’t hear the word for it until many years later. My sister Lynda wouldn’t let me have a turn holding a piglet, so when he peed on her it was like divine intervention. I loved talking to the animals, and I loved when a cat sometimes got a squirt of milk from an udder. Or getting to drink warm fresh (unpasteurized!) milk from the big vat. The earliest visit I remember I was maybe 4 or 5.
The time I’m writing about was the time I learned the hard truth about where chicken dinners came from. We were all in the front yard between the house and the barn. There wasn’t much yard in front, really, it was mostly a dirt parking lot separating house & barn where cars and tractors came and went.
That day a chicken was caught, and like Mary Queen of Scots she was carried to a block of wood. I didn’t understand what was happening, so when the axe came down on her neck in the blink of an eye I was profoundly shocked.
The head lay still on the chopping block, but the most horrific bit was the headless body running around the yard spraying a geyser of blood into the air. I remember laughter, but I don’t know whose. Then the drained animal fell down, spent. I think everyone was surprised that I didn’t find it funny, but I was a soft hearted city kid. I got angry at the dog I loved when he ran over to lick the blood from the chopping block.
I was very upset, and then horrified when the women sat down to pluck the dead bird. That was when I learned that we would be eating the dead bird for dinner. I vowed I would never, and I spent the afternoon pouting upstairs to my cousin’s room. And then the smell of roasting chicken wafted up the stairs. And eventually the smell helped my resolve shatter, and I ate the chicken dinner after all. I was unhappy about it, and mostly I was disappointed in myself. It occurs to me now that even though I spent a lot of time there throughout my childhood, I don’t ever remember this happening when I was there again.
After that I knew I was a meat eater, and probably always would be. We ended up moving out to an old farm house in the country when I was ten, so although I was really still a city kid I learned about country life. We had three quarters of an acre, with an orchard, and dad put in a mammoth garden, in spite of the fact that the only vegetables he would ever eat were peas carrots and corn. A large part of the garden was flowers, and there was always rhubarb and musk melons (aka cantaloupe) and a pumpkin patch. Every year he tried to grow watermelon, but the growing season just wasn’t long enough, although I suspect it is nowadays.
Our farmhouse was the original built for the pig farm next door. The farmer had separated our land, and with the proceeds he could build a big modern house with a granny suite for his mother upstairs, and a basement shower room so he wouldn’t track the barn smells into the house. The farmer was also a blacksmith who shod the horses of the local Old Order Mennonite population. I loved watching him shoe the horses, or visiting the neighbouring farm animals. That was the first time I saw chickens confines to cages for their entire lives. The best part of living there was the fact we could have a dog; the worst was that the dog would raid the manure pile and bring home the corpses of aborted piglets. This was hard for me as the kid who was always trying to save injured birds and the like. Of course I was a big fan of “Black Beauty” and “Charlotte’s Web”.
And I still love animals as “people.” And now a half century later, although I am still a meat eater, and I know it would be difficult to give it up, that I would have to relearn how to eat if I were to ever become vegetarian. Vegan will never even be a possibility. And yet one day a few years ago I suddenly couldn’t eat pork any more.
All the same, I’m still a meat eater. My vegetarian and vegan friends have not actually tried to convince me to switch. But I am learning from them. These days I have friends who are not only vegan, but working to change the world. And I’ve been learning about some of the trials faced by animal activists. Did you know, there are even refuges for farm animals?. Eating animals is bad enough, but making their whole lives a misery is inhumane. And as it turns out, unfettered animal based agriculture is damaging to the environment.
So while I am still a meat eater, and probably always will be, I can decrease the amount of meat that I do eat. And I have.
I thought it would be hard to manage one meatless day a week, and as it happens, I’ve been managing at least one (and sometimes more) meatless day each week for some time now.
And it isn’t that hard.
And now that my farming cousin is retired, his favourite pet is a rooster.
We can all change, and we can change the world.
On Saturday, July 16th, 2016, say “hi” to the PIGS vs RIBS folk in Victoria Park. The Kitchener Ontario Animal Liberation Alliance will be in the vicinity of the Clocktower from 4-7pm. They’ll be handing out FREE literature and FREE samples of plant meats to showcase the vegan lifestyle as more fun – and delicious – than most animal-eaters would expect. Vegan food needs to shed the rumours of being inferior – today is the day to do so!