Monday, July 27, 2009

Not a Vegetarian - Yet

My daughter Erin has long encouraged me to become a vegetarian. She doesn’t push her wishes on me which I appreciate, but she does offer her opinion in subtle ways – like wanting me to watch or read media reports of the conditions and manner in which animals meant for slaughter live in. Just like I cannot go to animal shelters I won’t watch such images; they would break me for life and I’m afraid I’d never recover.

I was raised on hearty meals that my grandmother cooked. Those childhood memories of great homemade meals bring me comfort and I recreate those memories every time I whip up a batch of chicken soup, spareribs and sauerkraut, or pork chops with rice and gravy (that is Aunt Rita’s recipe).

I have often considered a meat-free life but honestly don’t have the motivation to do so. The animal lover that I am finds it such a contradiction that I would support the continued practice of killing animals for food. The evolutionist that I am understands the connection between humankind’s evolutionary progress and the relationship to their ability to secure life sustaining protein in the form of animal meat. To counter this contradiction, I have tried to compromise by raising my own animals in humane conditions and giving thanks (a Native American practice) to them for their sacrifice in providing sustenance for me and my family. It is much easier in theory than in practice, however.

Before I moved to Las Vegas we lived on a huge piece of property in Moorpark, California. As always I had a vegetable garden and lots of animals that included chickens. My hens were for providing eggs, but since we were moving I decided that we would butcher the chickens and have a nice going-away dinner. So as not to be a hypocrite I said that I would be the one to chop off the heads, believing that method to be the most humane. Perhaps so for the chicken but after my first guillotine chop, I turned the job over to someone else. I cleaned and cooked after the fact and served up a beautiful table that would have made my grandmother proud. Except it turned into a disaster! The meat was so tough and chewy not one of us could get in a good swallow. My husband and I laugh about that memorable meal to this day.

I didn’t expect killing animals to feed my family to be so difficult. I should have remembered, however, the trouble I had back when I was a student in the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. This Moorpark (California) College program is designed to teach students every aspect of animal care and management. That includes understanding the process that some animals eat other animals in order to survive. It also means that it is our job as animal caretakers to provide for the needs of every animal under our care. We fed carnivores, reptiles, and birds of prey freshly killed chicks, rodents, and other mammals. No student could escape the task, unless of course they could use their wiles to convince a classmate to do the job for them. I won’t go into details on how I did this, suffice it to say that during my tenure as a student I never killed anything and, more importantly, I never got caught.

When, as a zookeeper, it was my job to use a pillowcase to stun or kill a rat to feed the eagles, I would always wait until my husband came to pick me up and leave the job to him. I just could not bring myself to do it.

Still, I believed that over time and with maturity I would be able to raise animals to feed my family; I could, like my brothers, hunt deer and stock my freezer with healthy and tasty venison. I’ve yet to do either of those things. But I keep talking a good argument.

Someday I envision living on a huge piece of property where I have acres of vegetables and herbs growing, where I plant and harvest the hay and grains necessary to feed the cow who provides milk and offspring for our dinner table. I raise chickens and even turkeys that at the right age and tenderness will be roasted to perfection and provide memories for my own grandchildren on what real homegrown cooking is all about. I see smoked hams and jerked meat stockpiled for company and any emergency. Basically, I am a true believer in sustainable living, but I am not so sure this vision of mine will ever become a reality. I just don’t know if I can feed and care for animals the way I do and then eat them.

Although I am not at all ready to become a vegetarian I am learning a lot about my convictions and limits. I continue to care for and love animals, as evidenced by my rescue and release operations, but I also understand the role animals play in the cycle of life.

Just like so many other things in my life, I am one big contradiction. That is what makes my life so interesting. So do all the things I continue to learn about myself; no matter how old I am I still find things out that surprise me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pot of soup on the stove that needs attending to.


Brigitte Dionne said...

I admire what you do for those animals - and of course, your children also!If I had to take care of them the way you do, I would have the same trouble having to kill other small animals to feed them. I think I would take advantage of my aboriginal roots and thank it a million times and apologize because I had to do bad for a greater good. I, personally, hate that expression. But what's a rat compared to the small portion of what's left of the animal it'll be food for?
I was wondering, does your job working with them include rehabilitation? They've been doing that recently to more endangered species. Tigers, Macaques, Ourangoutangs, etc. Keep up the good work!

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

Hi Brigitte, thank you for the comments. As for rehabilitation for animals, mainly it is just the retrieve and release operation now - which is taxing enough. I have long harbored a desire to use that huge piece of property I will someday own to operate a sanctuary. Because of my background I know just how much it costs to run such a place and how quickly it can become a black hole. I have always envisioned my place to be of high quality but know the reality is that it costs so much. One thing I wanted to provide was sanctuary for research primates, giving them dignity and comfort for the remainder of their lives. Perhaps someday this will all be a reality for me.

Suzanne said...

Nice new layout!

Lazy Writer said...

This post caught my attention because my friend's daughter is a vegetarian. She's always pestering her to join in her cause. She just can't do it. I couldn't either. I love meat!

Anonymous said...

Like your daughter, I am also a vegetarian, albeit a new one.

Like you, I have always been involved in some way or other with the rescue and care of animals that cross my path. It has always been this way since I was a small child.

It was no surprise that I became a vegetarian when I was 16 years old. Back in the early 70's, the "hippie" culture fostered a love for all things natural and vegetarianism was part of that for me. I will confess that I did eat fish, though. I just could not give it up.

Now, I have given up meat entirely. Why now? Well, I forced myself to see the truth of what happens on factory farms, to see the lives animals meant for slaughter endure.

It changed me forever. I will never eat meat again. I envision bringing their pain and suffering into my own body. I can't.

While I respect your view, I have to agree with your daughter on this one issue.