I have always considered myself an animal lover. We always had a cat or a dog. My parents tolerated my "parakeet phase" and I even had a hamster that lived in my dresser for a year. Hammy was hilarious until I found hamster bedding in my underwear. Hammy moved into a cage.
When I was in my teens and thought I knew everything, I would rail against my Dad's business of importing lumber and hardwoods from Malaysia and Indonesia. I did a lot of... "Oh, NICE Dad, you're like totally killing the rain forests! You're killing like 12 species every day!" He promptly "bought" one acre of rain forest in my name through a conservancy group as my entire Christmas present. Darn it! I really wanted a new Walkman.
When I was 15, someone broke into our home to steal some silver pieces that were brought from Russia by my grandparents. My dog wouldn't stop barking during the robbery so they killed him in my bedroom. That night, and for many nights after, I thought I would just die from grief. I missed and mourned my dog for years. By far, the most traumatic experience of my early life.
I have donated money to animal shelters, adopted at least two stray cats and three dogs over the course of my adulthood, and would absolutely stop on any road to help a lost or hurt animal. There is no way I would ever raise my hand in anger toward any animal. Unless, of course, my husband was being attacked by a bear or a mountain lion, etc. These things come up when you're hiking in the wilds of British Columbia!
But no matter how I slice it, I was an animal lover who ate animals.
A friend posted this question on Facebook: "Please tell me how you can say you are an animal lover and still eat animals." Zero responses. She deleted the post.
None of us want to think about it. Animal meat is packaged in such a way that we spend a lifetime disconnected from the product in the clear cellophane and the fact it's an animal. I was at the store last week when I overhead an American tourist freaking out about how disgusting it was that we have pig snouts and faces for sale in our meat section. I had to look in her cart. Yes, there it was - a ham and two packages of ground beef. Disconnect.
We've also developed words to refer to animal flesh that disconnect it from the animal*. We don't eat pigs, we eat pork. We don't say cows, we say beef. Veal = Baby Calf. It's amazing the difference an "s" can make when we say chicken wings v. chicken's wings. Yes, we're ordering the wings of birds. We need the disconnect because we're nice people. We build a wall in our consciousness. We love animals.
We worry about children who harm animals - like a gauge for whether or not they're predisposed to mental illness - but we feed them chicken nuggets and hamburgers. We just don't have the balls to kill the animals ourselves. What's the difference?
How many times did I cover my ears, close my eyes and say "I don't wanna know" whenever someone would talk about the treatment of animals in factory farming? Hundreds.
When asked why I went vegetarian, I started talking about compassion when the questioner stopped me and said "that's what I hate - when vegetarians use scare tactics to make me feel bad about eating meat". Scare tactics? I realize that the truth is ugly but if listening to the truth makes you upset, that certainly isn't any "tactic" on my part. Sorry I bumped into your wall ma'am!
So I guess this is my answer to Diane's post on Facebook: The wall is for the protection of our hearts - right or wrong. The traditions of our culture over hundreds of years have made it so. But there is light! The numbers of vegans and vegetarians is rising and I know from my own experience that no matter why you make the change, that rock hard wall slowly turns into an opaque veil. Then the veil turns translucent and eventually falls to the floor. Powerless to protect you. The pain of acknowledging what is happening all around you (i.e. every trip to the grocery store, chicken rotisserie, burger commercial, leather couch, etc.) becomes overwhelming for awhile but then you heal. You find your place in the mess and your voice to speak the truth. You pull yourself together with a mind, body and heart that are in accordance and you become the next light that leads by loving example.
Patience grasshoppers... one light at a time.
*Colleen Patrick-Godreau has a wonderful podcast called Food For Thought on iTunes. I learned a tremendous amount from the episode "The Language of Meat". The origins of the words we created to disconnect meat from animals and the way we denigrate animals with our speech - filthy pig, fat cow, snake, dirty rat, etc. Quite interesting and free! Check it out.