Monday, March 31, 2008

Out like a lamb

**Please note, this is not me saying I AM A VEGETARIAN RIGHT NOW, as I am in no place to throw out food that was purchased for me ..... this is just me realizing something that I should have realized when I pretended to realize it. And me trying to live a more conscious lifestyle, is all. **

When I was 18, I became a vegetarian "for good" because I had gone to the Peace Abbey in Sherborne, MA, learned about Gandhi, and learned that chickens are cute and that pigs can play video games. "Oh boy," I thought, as a dug into my cling peaches and dry cinnamon toast at breakfast that morning. "This is going to be easy, fun, and fashionable. Plus, it'll save tons of animals to boot!"

Five years later, I was eating beef in an Ethiopian restaurant and paying off a much-anticipated "lamb date" on my credit card bill. Sure, that happens to most people, you might say. A loss of idealism or just giving into convience and a good, solidly textured meal. I had stopped being a vegetarian because one day I realized that I had literally zero emotional or political connection with it. Sure, chickens were cute and pigs could play video games, but what good was I doing, exactly? I was not interested in prosthelitizing or chaining myself to slaugherhouse machinery, and as far as I knew, the factory farming industry was as strong as ever, whether or not I ate that chicken strip. Disconnect. So there it went.

On Saturday it was cold, and I was glad to hear of my co-worker's plans to go to the Super 88 Asian Market on Commonwealth to buy a whole duck. Rock on, thought I. A ride home. We headed towards Allston/Brighton in her car along with our other co-worker, singing along to 90s music, talking about the evening's plans, and just generally letting off steam. We were having so much fun that I decided that, instead of getting dropped off at the top of Brighton Ave., a short 2 minute walk to my door, I would go with them to the Super 88, even though I was broke. I had never been there, after all.

As we walked into the store, customers with bags zoomed past us on their way to cook on Saturday night, and little kids ran around in the dank and carpeted foyer which joined the market with a noodle and bubble tea fast food court. Most folks were of the Asian persuasion; actually only about every 8th or 9th person was not. My duck-searching co-worker being in a hurry to begin preparations for her annual Turducken, we sped toward the back of the store, bypassing the items that, if I had come to the 88 on my own, would have interested me the most: noodles, sauce, nuts, Pocky, popsicles and pears.

As we reached the back of the store, the colorful posters, prices and advertisements gave way to the natural gray, cement walls of a Back Room open to the public. Lit like the art direction of Twin Peaks, the room had a totally different feel to it than the front of the store. It meant business. This was where you went to get your meat. No fucking frills.

Because we were having a little trouble locating a duck despite our rooting through the bin of whole chickens next to calf's liver, my co-worker went to ask for assistance, leaving me and co-worker 2, both lapsed vegetarians, alone. It wasn't really a question of whether we could help it ..... just by standing in the middle of the room our eyes fell on about 4 or 5 different cuts at the same time. The one that I think might stay with me forever is the cow stomach lining, white, light and porous like a coral reef, packaged up with saran wrap and sold for four dollars. Something I truly felt disprectful even looking at. Then there was the unrealistically large cow tongue, the size of a table leg, the sour-cream-like container of cow blood, the rough goat meat cut into circles for convenience. Kiddie pool sized bins of lobster, plastic containers that look like grandma's recycle bin filled with whole, dead fish.

Then, we made the mistake of following our co-worker toward the very back of the back of the store. There, we found a butcher counter, full of short ribs basically still attached to the cow's body, murky-colored liver and brain, tongues, and gray pig ears. Packaged cloven hooves that, although if sucked on probably contain nutrition, can't taste like much more than bone and dirt. I don't say this to sound dramatic, I say it for clarity: it smelled like death. I know what blood smells like, and it smells like that.

Because there were no people around to offend, my other co-worker and I basically wretched and made our way out of the way back. Finding refuge in the dairy aisle, we busied ourselves with inspecting the packaged salads, only to find that they, too, were filled with orange pickled duck feet, roe, and giblets.

I thought I might have to leave, but it looked like our friend was almost done with her duck hunt, and so we cooled our heels by the turkey and chicken legs, packaged like the ones in my freezer, which we deemed, "safe". But then, as I looked toward the back of the store to check on my friend's progress, I realized that none of it was "safe". It was all the same. And the fact that we, as Americans, are able to go to Shaw's and purchase meat that looks prettier and brighter and more nicely-packaged than that is incredibly dangerous. We are able to and we LIKE to disassociate and disconnect the food on our plate from the undeniable act of violence that put it there, and that breeds aggression and desensitization from violence. I'm talking you and me -- relatively Priveleged intelligent Americans with no reason or need to perpetuate a cycle of violence that mostly prays on the poorer Americans who do the killing anyway.

Violence without consequence. This is an incredibly dangerous trait to breed in a society where domestic violence rates are high, handguns kill in an instant, and technological innovations make it harder and harder every day to govern our lives with any kind of moral compass.

So, I finally got it. It's not about the fact that a chicken is a cute and a pig can play video games. It's about consciousness. It's about connecting yourself and your deeds to the violence that you cause. It is being a consciensous objector to an industry that makes it very easy for people to disconnect entirely from acts of violence that are being commited for their own gain. Growth hormones, downed cows, McDonalds, veal calves, sexual abuse of animals on the kill floor. This is about objecting to an industry that, despite the jobs it has created, provides terrible working conditions for humans and way too many instances of egregious animal abuse, aside from the part where they, you know, kill them. I guess it makes me an idealist once again when I say that I'd rather unemploy Americans temporarily than let them continue working in an industry where killing for others is their only means to survival. And it makes me even more of an idealist to say that we can get there someday, if we want to and we work hard enough.

It's not even about compassion for animals, entirely. It's about compassion for ourselves and for the planet and a belief that, as evolved humans, we can use our more fully developed faculties to let our existence make a positive difference.

So, that all happened rather suddenly.

Last night, the playwright/performer of Pieces was asked by a Palestianian woman, in tears, if she would give up the idea of a Jewish-only state in the name of peace. I expected her to jump up and say, "Yes! Peace is what I want most of all!" But, she didn't. I have to say her hesitancy surprised me after knowing how strongly she craves peace. But of course she said it was the hardest question she'd been asked, she said, and it would be an incredible sacrifice. She said she would sit with the question. She was honest with the woman; she was honest with herself.

I don't have a homeland that is being torn apart by apartheid. I have a freezer full of chicken legs from 2 weeks ago. So I sat with my question for a little while. And then I stood up and said, "It's not going to be easy and it's not going to be fun and it's not going to be fasionable. Lots of people are going to make assumptions about me and lots of people aren't even oing to care. But I need to make as much change in this as I can make. I don't think I can give this thing my money any more, and I know I can't put it in my body."

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