Monday, December 01, 2008

Exploring my Options

I've been a vegetarian for 15 years. There were a few things that sparked my vegetarianism as a 12 year old. First, I loved animals and always had. As a young child I had a 'bug cemetery" by an old stump that looked like a church where I buried the poor hapless dead bugs I found outside.

I used to spend hours watching animals outside. Once, after a lot of patience, I got a chipmunk to take food from my hand on the front step. I also always loved dogs, cats, horses, you name it. I was always observant and interested in animals body language and sounds. There was never any doubt in my mind that animals can think, feel, and enjoy their lives much like humans.

I still feel that the line we draw between humans and animals is exaggerated. Yes, we have opposable thumbs. We can make tools and tame our land. But don't chimps make tools, though simple? Don't dogs noises mean something to other dogs? And don't animals protect and love their families and friends (pack)?

One of my friends suddenly became a vegetarian around 5th or 6th grade. I thought, wow, what an idea. Growing up in Maine, I hadn't been exposed to vegetarianism as a food choice at that time. Around the same time, I wrote a paper for school on slaughterhouses. That sealed the deal, and since I was 12, I have been a vegetarian.

At that point, I was quite the anomaly in my small town in Maine. My family didn't know what to feed me, and felt frustrated by my refusal to eat meat. Restaurants often didn't have vegetarian options, and relatives weren't sure what I WOULD eat. People often joked by offering me meat at the dinner table:

"Hey Lindsey, want some chicken?"
"Hey Lindsey, are you SURE you don't want a hamburger? They are so juicy."

People still do this. Others, like my dad, view me as an 'extremist', a sort of outside of normal American culture freak. A Food fundamentalist. I of course, see his intake of meat (often 1-2 times a day) in the opposite light.

When I was 12, people regarded it as a 'phase', something I would get over and move on. Something new and trendy. Something I would get bored and tire of, eventually picking up that chicken wing or grabbing a slice of pork sirloin. But, here I am, age 27, still strong in my convictions.

Because for me, it was never a phase, but a moral conviction. I never wanted to be responsible for the suffering, pain, and death of other living creatures. At 27 though, I have a greater ability to educate myself about the world and the what's going on in it. For a long time, I felt sure in my convictions as a vegetarian who still eats eggs and milk, who still buys leather.

But, recently, I came across an "eat vegetarian" site which opened up Pandora's box for me. Maybe it never occurred to me, or maybe I just didn't want to know, but most eggs and milk in this country are also produced in large commercial facilities. For a long time, I have been buying 'cage free' eggs, thinking that is solving my dilemma. Chickens get to run free on a farm if they are 'cage free', right? Right?

It looks as though my assumptions are wrong. Cage free doesn't necessarily mean farm life, especially if its a big commercial brand. Instead, it looks as though it just means that 1,000s of chickens are crowded into a small, sunless shed. Still unable to go outside, they are sent to slaughter once they stop laying well. Bleck.

Then, we have milk. I have been somewhat lactose intolerant for years, and usually drink soy milk, but lately I found some probiotics that enable me to eat more milk products I enjoy, like cottage cheese, yogurt, and, my Achilles heel, ice cream. Let's be honest. I have no idea where that milk comes from. I never really thought of it. I always thought "Oh! Those silly vegans! Cows aren't killed for their milk, what's the problem?"

Well, it turns out these huge commercial dairy farms aren't so appealing either. From what I gathered, many keep these cows pumped up with hormones, separate their young soon after the birth, causing severely emotional reactions from both mother and calf, send the male calves to be raised for veal, shackled and unable to turn around, and due to lack of proper care, exercise, etc many of the dairy cows end up lame and sick, and are then sent off to slaughter. Double beck.

So, finally Lindsey needs to face the facts. Being a vegetarian is pretty good, but, umm, I have had my blinders on. My cage free eggs are not so farm life happy. My milk is feeding an industry of death, sickness, and torture.

So, now I am on a journey. I want to re-find that old fashioned, let's go milk the cows and send them out in the pasture to munch on grass while chickens are running around the barnyard, pecking up grains and vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

So I looked for a local organic farm that sells fresh farm eggs and milk. I found Brookford Farm not so farm from my house. Tomorrow I think I will give them a call and go get a tour of the farm, and see what they have for sale.

Now I just need to figure out what to do about leather.

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