Monday, November 5, 2012

Hail Seitan: The Journey Begins (Part 3)

The third film Hubby and I watched on October 27, 2012, was the true eye-opener. Certain images I thought I could handle because of my background are forever burned into my mind.

Vegucated follows three New Yorkers as they switch--cold-turkey--from a diet of meat, cheese, and processed foods to a wholly vegan diet for six weeks. Again, I watched with interested skepticism. I'd heard the pro-vegan arguments in the past and frankly, discounted most of them. As I said in my previous posts, I grew up on a farm. I had no illusions as to where and how meat was harvested. (I'd like to take a moment here to state that I never personally took the life of any animal during my time on the farm. Yes, I witnessed it and helped with the process after the fact. For some this may be splitting hairs. At the time, it was simply a part of my life, but no longer.)

Hubby and I watched, and even laughed a bit, as the three new vegans struggled. When it came time to show some footage of how mass-market meat is gathered on big industrial farms to meet consumer demands, Hubby left the room. (He didn't grow up the way I did and is overly sensitive to graphic images.) I continued to watch. I was okay with the cows. The pigs were a little harder to watch. Then came the chickens. I started to squirm and feel a bit sick. Finally the film showed egg production...

I'll spare my readers the most graphic images. However, I can't continue sharing my journey without revealing some details of what I saw.

On my family's farm, we raised chickens. I mentioned this in my initial posting. We raised them for meat as well as eggs. However, they were free-range in the truest sense of the word. We didn't keep them cooped up, even at night. They roosted in cedar trees near our home. They roamed the yard and fields during the day. We kept no restrictions on them other than tracking where they laid their eggs so we could gather them. We fed them organic corn "chops" and made certain they had plenty of clean water. In fact, we did this for all of our animals--pets as well as livestock. We knew that if the animals were healthy, then the products they provided were healthy. It was a simple philosophy and it worked.

This is not Toughie. Unfortunately, no pictures survive of
my buddy. However, he looked very much like this little guy.
When I was about ten-years-old, one of our hens hatched a small brood when we failed to notice she'd taken to nesting. Unfortunately, most of then chicks were lost to predators along with the mother. Only one chick survived. Being a young child who'd grown up with animals, I adopted the little guy--a baby rooster I named "Toughie" because he was going to have to be tough to survive. I cared for Toughie. I fed him. Protected him. Worried about him when I climbed on the bus each morning for school. Every afternoon, I would run from the bus, calling for Toughie, and he'd come running--little feet kicking up tiny plumes of dust, chirping, and flapping his wings. I would hold my hand down for him. He'd hope into my palm and close his eyes, snuggling against the shelter of my cupped hands. Toughie and I were almost inseparable.

I still remember the day Toughie didn't meet me when I came home from school. I called for him. Searched the yard and the bushes along the fence row separating the yard from the fields. Then I found him...or what was left anyway. A predator had gotten him. It may sound stupid to cry over a chicken but Toughie was more than a farm animal destined for a table. He was a pet, a buddy. I still miss him even twenty-plus years later.

It was Toughie I thought of while watching the images of birds stuffed into small crates at industrial chicken farms. I thought of him as the film explained that male chicks are separated from the egg-laying females. Since the males are of no use to egg farmers, they are discarded--dumped into bins and left to die, or thrown  alive onto conveyor belts and "processed" for use in other products. It was this image--an image of a lost pet being callously discarded hundreds and even thousands of times a day that forced open the windows and doors of my mind. The hypocritical lunch I'd eaten no longer set well. The recently bought groceries in my kitchen screamed at me with the voices of the damned.

Hubby returned to the couch and we finished watching the film in silence. When it was over, I cried. I cried for Toughie, my long-lost pet rooster. I cried for the animals forced to live in horrible conditions to satisfy human desires. I cried for myself because I'd been blind to modern farming. It's no longer the small family operation like I knew. There is no respect for the animals. They're not living creatures. They're commodities...numbers...items to be tagged, bagged, and sold.

I knew at that point I couldn't continue as a closet carnivore. Hubby listened to me as I told him I needed to transition to vegan, not only for my health but for my sanity. I couldn't ignore the effect the film had on me. I'd been "Vegucated." Since watching these films, I've started transitioning to a plant-based diet. I'm reading labels in the store, something I didn't do much other than to scan for allergens. I'm passed the egg section with averted eyes. I avoid the meat department altogether. I spend more time in fresh produce. I scour the internet for vegan recipes.

Because I live in the South, vegan foods are hard to find and restaurants may accommodate vegetarians, to a degree, and vegans are labeled "crazy hippies." But, I'm determined to make the change. It's hard. I knew it would be from the start. That's why I started this blog. To document my efforts. To prove that if I can turn vegan in the South, then anyone can.

And thus, my journey begins and continues...

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