This weekend I was sitting with my friend, her mom and her mom’s friend, talking about animal related things, and Miss M, as I’ll call her, asked me when I made the connection and became a Vegetarian – what was it that flipped the switch? Unlike a lot of questions I get asked about my lifestyle choices, I didn’t have to think carefully before answering her, because I instantly knew the answer: it was the broken chicken leg.
In a sense, I would say I was becoming a Vegetarian for years, without even realizing it. As a new mom and owner of a childcare, I really want to ensure my kids were all getting the healthiest of foods, living as chemical free as possible and wearing clothes that didn’t come from animals skins. I began to do research on the foods we ate. Organic vs. Non-Organic. Natural vs. Organic. Pesticides. Antibiotics. Animal Rights. Factory farming. Free range. Animal testing and experimentation. Animals for entertainment. The fur industry. Chemicals in cleaners… Seriously, you name it, I wanted to learn about it. And this took me down a road that led to some painful discoveries about my diet and lifestyle.
I’ve always loved animals, you see. Grew up around dogs and cats and nature. I rescued a baby bird once. Caught lizards as a little kid just to check them out and get them to relax long enough to hold onto my finger. And frogs – I loved frogs. Every camping trip by water consisted of me on frog hunts. I was always fascinated and in awe of nature, like most children are. It’s really never mattered to me if an animal has hair, fur, scales, feathers, whiskers, blubber, fins, tails, horns or hoofs – I love them all. On my journey of self-discovery, I stumbled upon image after image, video after video, of humans doing the most horrendous things to animals. Pigs in gestation crates. Chickens in battery cages. Cows hanging alive by one foot getting their throats cut, male chicks being ground alive because they mean nothing to the industry, foxes being stripped of their flesh while still alive and dumped on top of one another left to slowly die, rats in labs with screws and holes in their heads, and oh my GOD, this list goes on forever. I knew, like all of us do, that an animal had to die to end up as a burger, a fillet, a steak, ribs, etc…but I never questioned my diet when I was younger because I’d been raised eating animals and loving animals. I saw those things as falling into two separate worlds. I could love my cat and dog, and eat a cow and pig – no problem. Because the two were different. But are they?
The research started. I watched the undercover videos, and one in particular; a video of an undercover investigation at a chicken factory farm provider for a major chicken supplier for food chains and grocery stores all over the world. I sat in my plush swivel office chair frozen in place as factory workers lifted chickens up into the air and slammed them into concrete walls, onto the floors and then stomped on their already frail and calcium depleted bones, breaking wings and legs and necks. I didn’t understand how something like that could (and does) happen. Legally. Real people, real animals, real torture. I was traumatized. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open for the whole video. You can watch it HERE.
Now, let us fast-forward a bit after I watched that video to the last time I cooked chicken for my family. As I dropped the raw pieces of legs and thighs into a large pot of boiling water, and watched the blood rise to the surface of the water and begin to turn brown, I realized that nearly every piece of meat in that pot had a broken bone cleanly snapped in half. I can still see myself standing in that kitchen watching the ‘meat’ float around, seeing the joint of the legs separating from the meat from whatever previous damage it had endured and it hit me. Seriously hit me – like a punch to the gut. I almost cried over that pot, wondering if those parts came from chickens who had been crammed in crates, thrown against walls and stomped on. And something happened. I saw the ‘food’ I was going to eat as what it was…an animal, a being just like me. Once living, breathing, thinking, feeling. And yes, I did eat that chicken, but with every bite, my mind thought of the outer skin as flesh, the meaty part as muscle and fat, the bone as skeleton. I never ate chicken again. Shortly after that, I became a true Vegetarian. One year later, after learning more about the egg industry side of chicken farming, I removed egg from my diet. And since then, I’ve been on the slow process of going Vegan.
I told Miss M that it took one broken bone for me to make the connection between animal and being. And that connection can’t be forced on others. My story might help another ‘see’ the industry for what it is, but I know that most will need to experience their own ‘moment’. And that means research. We were born to live, born to learn, and what we put into our bodies and on our bodies is one of the most important things we can learn about. You don’t have to sit and watch video after video of torture, but I suggest you watch a few. See what it’s really like for the animals that end up on our plates. Because we owe them that. Over 200 million turkeys give their lives for us each year. Over 8.5 billion chickens. The numbers are staggering. And I think their lives matter just as much as my dogs and cat.
I am the voice of the voiceless
Through me the dumb shall speak
Till the deaf world’s ear
Be made to hear
The wrongs of the wordless weak.
And I am my brother’s keeper
And I shall fight his fight
And speak the word
For beast and bird
Till the world shall set things right.
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)
Learn more about Birds on Factory Farms from the ASPCA.