This post contains graphic descriptions of raw meat. Just sayin’.
My mom always told me that she was sure I would become a vegetarian when I moved out on my own. Not because my parents force-fed me animals against my will or anything, but because any time I was asked to help with dinner, I would actually, physically wretch if I had to touch meat. Chicken, with its weird veins and floppy skin, was awful, but hamburger was the worst. Processed hamburger looks like skinny little worms oozing blood. (Sorry for that, but it’s true.) When I was told to put my hands in the hamburger, I thought that was going to be it for me. I’m squeamish at the best of times, but with the blood of another creature on my hands? Forget it. Did I love eating the final product? Of course. Cheeseburgers, tacos, meat sauce? Fantastic. But I could not force myself to keep my hands in that bowl of hamburger.
I’m maybe going to gag just thinking about it.
When I was little, I was crazy about animals. Anything fluffy, scaly, or hoofed was on my favorites list. Disney princesses weren’t even on my radar; all I cared about were The Aristocats, The Lion King, and Raja from Aladdin. The first chapter book I read was Charlotte’s Web. At some point my parents let us have a cat, who promptly had kittens, and my life was set. I had a theme, I guess is what I’m getting at. Dolls were okay (even though I went into detail about my love affair with one particular doll earlier, dolls were not my thing until my later years), but stuffed animals were the be-all, end-all of Bonnie, ages 0-8.
At some point–I’m assuming when we took the kittens to be fixed–I learned about the existence of veterinarians, and being one became my life goal. I found out that sometimes vets had to put animals down, and I quickly jumped ship to being a future zoologist. One who studies animals–that had to be good, right? I was pro-animal all the way.
Somewhere in this time frame I figured out the truth about the dinner I ate each night. What? Beef came from cows? Pork came from pigs? Chicken came from…oh. (Trust me, it would be totally typical of my childhood self to know what a zoologist was before I caught on that meat came from animals.) Needless to say, this was devastating.
I came to terms with eating meat for a little while, but then another tragedy of realization struck: my dad took my brother and I fishing. Now, my grandparents lived on a farm, so we had done plenty of fishing. I was just blissfully ignorant of the reality that went into making those yummy fried catfish nuggets that magically appeared after we had spent the afternoon catching catfish–but not for long. My dad had decided we were old enough to help he and my granddad clean the fish.
“Clean the fish.” It’s a relatively innocuous little phrase, but oh, the horror hidden behind it. I still remember watching them cut the head off the fishies (all of which I had probably named), the awful smell of raw fish in the air, and the cats circling menacingly. Seeing the insides was even worse–all those little bones, how could you make sure they were all gone? What if one was in the fish I ate? What if I swallowed one by accident and it stabbed my throat AND THEN I CHOKED UNTIL I DIED?
It would be a tragic death, and the cats, smelling my last meal, would again circle menacingly.
The next time we went fishing, I put my foot down. I told them that I would only fish if I got to throw my fish back, and I would not eat the fish they caught. I wasn’t eating meat anymore, no sir, no way.
My granddad, the cattle farmer, sat me on his knee and told me very kindly but very firmly that he would not be having my shenanigans. “If you catch the fish and throw them back, they’ll already be hurt from the hook. They’ll die in the water or get eaten by another fish, and then we won’t have any dinner.” He told me that animals were put on the earth for people to eat, and as long as we treated them well while they were alive, then it was okay.
Being the pushover I am, I nodded and returned to my carnivorous ways. Still, it was only recently that I’ve really been able to bring myself to eat fish again.
I’m still not sure exactly where I stand on eating animals. I do believe that, in the long run, a vegetarian diet is probably healthier, and that taking meat out of a diet makes it easier to shed pounds and keep energy up. I watched the documentary Food, Inc. pretty recently and that has made me think hard about the morality of how we get most of our food, and how we treat our animals in order to make them our food (because I am totally that person who would alter their lives based on a documentary, let’s just face it.) I can’t even really think about the live-animal-to-food process without holding in a wince.
But I made beef tacos for dinner, so I guess you can tell where I stand for now.