Animal Rights and Human Rights and Life and Vegetarianism11 Sep 2009 06:26 pm

Today is 9/11/2009, and we all remember what happened eight years ago. My heart goes out to all of those who lost friends and family on that day. It was an event that shook us to our core, and I hope we never forget that more than 3,000 people lost their lives.

Not surprisingly, this day brings much somber reflection. As it winds down it occurs to me that that a couple of other things are also weighing on my mind, and I think deserve mention.

The first is that today — like every other day of the year — about 25,000 people will die worldwide from causes related to hunger. The reasons for this are multiple, including hard-to-solve political and societal causes, but in part because the wealthy of the world (you and I) are feeding much of the world’s grain to non-human animals (raising them for meat) and to our cars (ethanol). The events of 9/11 were a horrible tragedy, but we should not forget that hunger is causing many horrible tragedies every day of the year.

The second is that today — like every other day of the year — we in the US will kill over 2,500,000 animals (most of them to eat). That’s nearly 20,000 animals per second. The numbers are so huge that they are hard to fathom. The amount of suffering involved is numbing.

Let us not forget the events of 9/11 or the people we lost. But let us also not lose sight of the fact that there are even larger horrors going on every day, and ones that we can personally do something to help solve tomorrow.

Animal Rights and Life and Vegetarianism11 Nov 2007 09:25 pm

I’ve been vegetarian since I was a kid. People are often interested in where a lifestyle like this comes from. In my case, it was not directly related to my parents or my friends or others around me, but seemingly out of the blue (although there were probably other factors at play). I literally went veg in a minute.

It was one of those things that sticks with you forever. It was the summer I turned 12. I was sitting alone in our kitchen eating a burger, when I bit into something unexpected. On examination it was hard and white. “Ugh, what’s this?”

After a moment of thought, it dawned on me. “Holy cow, this is part of a … cow!” The thought of gnawing on a bit of carcass was suddenly disgusting. The follow-on thought of someone having killed a cow so I could eat its carcass was so revolting, and so wrong, that I decided right then that I wouldn’t be eating any more animals. I announced this to my mother when she got back from work a few hours later.

It proved to be an interesting next several days. Keep in mind that this was back in the ’70s, when vegetarianism wasn’t nearly so accepted or commonplace as it is today. My mother thought for a while that I might be setting myself up for a slow death. “What am I going to feed you? How are you going to get protein??” My father (who didn’t live with us at the time) was a bit more accepting, but also fairly clueless as to what I’d be eating.

Over the course of the next few weeks I tried to find out as much as I could about vegetarianism, if only to convince my mother (and maybe myself, too) that I would in fact be able to survive without meat. Back in those (pre-Internet) days, this sort of research happened at a thing called a library (a place dedicated to housing and loaning out physical books), and took a bit more effort than it does now.

In retrospect this seems pretty silly, but you’d be amazed how different things were back then. At the time, we ignorant Americans had no idea that much of the world’s population has thrived on a vegetarian diet for thousands of years. Fortunately, things have changed. Nowadays I can go to any restaurant and, if they don’t already have a veg section on the menu, will surely have something I can easily adapt. Nowadays I can go into the grocery store (not only upscale ones, but just about any store) and find all sorts of veg-friendly dishes, meat “substitutes”, etc. And everyone is familiar with the terminology.

Over the next several months I learned more about different foods I could eat, and at the end of the process found that my diet was more varied and a good bit better for me than when I started. This seems paradoxical to some people — “I removed something from my diet, but now it is more varied and healthy than before…” — but I found the same thing happened when I went vegan (18 years later).

I daresay that being vegan nowadays is easier (both culturally and from a food availability point of view) than being veg back in the ’70s.

And now my wife and I have four kids, and they’ve all been vegetarian (and pretty close to vegan) their whole, healthy lives. I can’t imagine it any other way :-)

Vegetarianism29 Sep 2007 02:14 pm

Got Milk? No thanks!

I’m not sure who this chick is, but if she drinks it then we have one more, umm, large data point telling us to STAY AWAY FROM THE COW BREAST MILK.

Life and Vegetarianism29 Sep 2007 08:18 am

One of my early childhood friends had a major influence on my life, in a way he surely doesn’t know. It happened in a single moment on the last day I saw him, well over 30 years ago.

David and I met in the first grade, I think, and after a day or two of wary circling, we quickly became friends. He was always more edgy and brash than I was, willing to stick his tongue out (or flip his finger) at authority. He was also something of a country boy. I was the more thoughtful and intellectual of the two, and we complimented each other nicely. After a while we were spending a lot of time together, both at school and at each others’ houses afterwards.

David’s home life was different from mine. His father was a Vietnam vet, a good guy but whose moods I somehow would never understand. I don’t remember him being around very often. IIRC, David’s mother worked during the day (like mine); he and I were often left to our own devices. If there was anyone around at his house, it was his (much) older sister — she must have been sixteen or seventeen at the time.1 She seemed to be the major figure in the household, at least when I was there.

A few years after David and I met, his family moved away (from northern Virginia) to North Carolina. I was seriously upset about losing him. A while after he left, our moms arranged for me to visit him over a long weekend.

After traveling for hours by bus,2 I was picked up from the station by David and his mother. It was a rather unsettling experience for me. His family had moved onto a house distinctly not in the suburbs. They had a good bit of land, with no other houses nearby. His new friends spoke with a funny accent. They were very nice to me, but also seemed like they were from a totally different culture.3

Since moving to the new place, David had also been given his own gun. He showed it to me — a .410 gauge (shotgun). Cool! I was not a stranger to guns, having been around them in my grandfather’s house on several summer visits.

The last day of my visit, David and I spent a few hours playing around with his shotgun.4 I think it was the first time I’d actually fired one, and the kick was startling and a bit painful. But I didn’t show any sign of pain and was a quick learner, in no time blasting away the cans he laid out for me.

At some point that day, he motioned up to a branch in a tree. A juvenile bird — a sparrow, I think — was perched there. David said something encouraging to me, I don’t remember exactly what… “Hey, I’ll bet you can get ‘im.”

Ohhh, but I could…

I took aim at that little bird and fired. I guess I didn’t hit her too cleanly, because I remember her still moving on the ground as we ran up. She was flapping her wings in little spastic motions, as if trying to fly. After a while she stopped.

David was excited: You did it!

But all I remember was a horrible sad and sinking feeling. What did I do??

The memory of that bird’s last minute of life replayed through my head repeatedly that night. What did I do? And why?

I remember nothing more of my visit that weekend with David, or of the trip home. I haven’t seen him or heard from him since that day, many decades ago.

Nothing obvious about my life changed the day I returned home. Or the week or the month following. But thinking about it in retrospect, something in me clearly changed direction. And a year or so later, at the seeming drop of a hat, I went vegetarian. We can chat about that some other time…


1 I’m quite sure that David’s older sister was a real hottie, but at the time I was too young to appreciate it ;-)
2 The actual journey is a story for another day. I can’t even imagine sending my 9 or 10 year old kid hundreds of miles on a bus ride — alone! — but hey, times are different now.
3 One of my nights there we played Spin the Bottle with a bunch of David’s new friends. I think that was the first time I really kissed a girl. Woo hoo! She was a couple of years older than me, and I still have a striking recollection of my near-adolescent — but already very hormonal — attraction to her. It is amazing how some early experiences are seared into your mind.
4 As a parent in the 21st century, this is another OMG! moment. The thought of one of my elementary school kids hanging out with a friend, unsupervised, shooting a firearm, sends shivers up my spine.