Yesterday, Renee from Rowdy Girl Sanctuary contacted me about using excerpts from an old blog post about the intense emotions I felt after going vegan. She wanted to share these excerpts on a radio show about the same topic, the wide range of emotions and phases people experience while they transition to being vegan. I was so pleasantly surprised that someone had read my post and had also identified with what I had to say. It’s things like this that make this blog worthwhile to me. I love hearing from people about their stories and experiences, connecting on shared feelings and learning about other viewpoints and circumstances.
Shortly, after Renee’s email, I received a comment on the same post from Phoenix Hocking of Tulare, California, expressing how my post had helped her. This really made my day! I loved her perspective, so I invited her to participate in the “My Vegan Story” series. Read on to find out what made her decide to go vegan.
Why I Became a Vegan
by Phoenix Hocking
St. John Episcopal Church, Tulare, CA
I have recently become a vegan. I’m sixty-six years old, and for pretty much my whole life I’ve turned a blind eye to the realities that produced the piece of meat, poultry, fish, or dairy on my plate or in my cup. I loved a good juicy hamburger, and my Ben and Jerry’s Phish Phood ice cream in front of the television at night. You bet I did.
But, I think I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that the conditions in which the animals were kept were bad. Quite frankly, though, I didn’t want to know. It took stumbling upon a video of a piglet being castrated without anesthesia, then being tossed, screaming, onto a pile of similar piglets that finally broke through the curtain of my denial. I still hear that scream in my dreams.
The packages that appear on your supermarket shelves look so neat and tidy, don’t they? So innocent. It’s just chicken, just steak, just pork chops. They rarely bear much, if any, resemblance to the living, breathing creature it came from, and even if it does, we don’t think much about the life it lived before it came to the store. We don’t want to know that it suffered before it died. But 99% of the time, it did. We don’t want to acknowledge that that innocent piece of flesh was once a living, breathing, conscious, sentient animal that had a face, a mother, a bowel movement.
Many of us have pets in our homes. We have dogs and cats, hamsters, birds maybe. We know they have feelings and emotions. We know they are capable of feeling pain and pleasure, have concern for others, and care for their young. Why is it such a stretch to understand that the animals we raise for food have the same capacity for feelings and emotions that our household pets do?
The realities are harsh. Virtually ninety-nine percent of the meat, poultry, fish and dairy products that Americans consume come from factory farms, where conditions are more reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno than Old MacDonald’s Farm.
Chickens are bred so they produce more white meat, but this means that many are so deformed they can’t even stand up. They are crowded with others in crates so small they can’t flap their wings or turn around. “Free range” birds are kept in huge warehouses with barely enough room move. They are denied the God-given natural behaviors of their species: perching, raising their young, social order, dust bathing.
Once hatched, male chicks, because they are useless to the egg industry, are put through a meat grinder, alive, or suffocated in plastic bags. Egg laying chickens are kept in tiny cages where they can’t move, and often become entangled in the wires. As babies, their beaks are burned off, with no anesthesia. This keeps them from pecking each other to death from sheer terror, or boredom.
To produce one single egg requires 3.25 pounds of grain and 51 gallons of water. To produce one pound of poultry requires 13 pounds of grain, and a whopping 520 gallons of water. When you extrapolate those figures out to the billions of chickens in the egg laying and meat industry, the numbers are staggering. In nature, a chicken can live to be eight years old. On a factory farm, she may last a year.
Bacon. Ah, we all just love bacon, don’t we? More! Give me more bacon! Really? Female pigs are kept in gestation crates that are so small they can’t turn around. At birth, their tails are cut off, and male pigs are castrated, all without anesthesia. When a female pig gives birth, she is put into what is called a farrowing crate which is no bigger than a gestation crate. Baby pigs are often crushed in their mother’s efforts to at least turn over to find a more comfortable position on a cold concrete floor. At slaughter, many pigs are not stunned first, or the stunning is incomplete, and go through the process of gutting still conscious and struggling.
Pigs are highly social and loving animals, more intelligent than dogs (but don’t tell my Beagle that), and the factory farming system denies them their natural behaviors of foraging for food, caring for their young, social structure and mud baths that cool their skin. In nature, a pig can live to be twelve years old; the lifespan of a pig on a factory farm is six months.
To produce one pound of pork requires 7 pounds of grain and 718 gallons of water. Approximately one hundred MILLION pigs are raised on factory farms and slaughtered every year in America.
Milk. Does it do a body good? Nope, sorry. Of all the atrocities in the industry, the dairy cow has one of the worst lives. A cow will only give milk if she is pregnant or after giving birth. Therefore, they are impregnated once a year. The calves are taken from the mother within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after birth, and the mothers will often cry for them for weeks.
If the calf is female she is fed a diet of milk replacer until she is old enough to endure the horror of what the industry itself calls the “rape rack,” in which the cow is bred, sometimes by use of a bull (or many bulls), and sometimes by artificial insemination.
If the calf is male, he will probably be sold for veal. A veal calf is locked into a tiny crate, not big enough for him to turn around. He is fed a substandard diet, which keeps the flesh milky and tender, and will be slaughtered at a few days to about a month old.
A friend once told me that the dairy processing center at which she works processes eight MILLION pounds of milk a day. How many cows does it take to make eight million pounds of milk daily, just at one small processing plant in California? How many, then, throughout the country? They’re not all living on Old MacDonald’s farm. How many calves, then, were stolen from their mothers so Americans can have milk on their breakfast cereal? Dairy cows are milked sometimes as much as four times a day, creating a painful condition known as mastitis. They are forced to stand on a cold, concrete floor for hours, hooked up to machines that suck them dry, so Americans can have extra cheese on their pizza.
It occurs to me that so many people are lactose intolerant because humans are not meant to drink the breast milk of another species. Cow’s milk is great, for calves, but not for humans.
You may have driven past many dairy farms in the Valley and seen the cows standing in an enclosure. Have you considered what they are standing on? Excrement and urine, their own and others’. They’re not out in a pasture, grazing peacefully, or caring for their calves, as God intended. In nature, a cow may live to be twenty years old. A beef cow on a factory farm is killed at eighteen months; a dairy cow is no longer profitable at four years and is sent to slaughter.
To produce one pound of beef requires 16 pounds of grain and 1848 gallons of water. To produce one gallon of milk requires 3 pounds of grain and 1078 gallons of water.
But, the factory farming industry is so big, so powerful, and I’m just one person. How can I possibly make any kind of difference?
For me, the shortest answer is to just stop consuming the flesh or dairy products that come from such inhumane and cruel conditions. And making a difference means I cannot, and will not, keep silent.
I became, literally overnight, a vegan. Or at least, as much of a vegan as I can be. I have shoes that I’ve worn for years that are leather, and a car I just bought (before I became a vegan) with leather seats. Not much I can do about that. But I no longer purchase or consume anything that used to be, or was produced by, a living creature.
So why here? Why now? Because silence kills. I understand. Really, I do. I didn’t want to know all these things about where my food came from. But once I knew, once I realized, I couldn’t just keep my mouth shut. The animals cannot speak, but I can hear their cries, so I speak for them. I hear their terror-filled voices on the way to slaughter. I see the fear on their faces as they are prodded and hit and punched when they are being herded into cattle cars and tractor trailers on their way to slaughter. And I still hear that piglet screaming in my dreams.
Speaking truth to power does not make one a popular person. But what else can I do? I cannot be quiet. I will continue to share what I know, because I can’t do anything else.
I read somewhere that for every year I remain a vegan, I will have saved the lives of one hundred animals. In the face of the billions of animals that are killed every year for food, one hundred may not sound like much, but to the animals I won’t be consuming, it means everything.
I encourage you to educate yourself to the realities of the food industry. Watch the videos, read the literature. Educate yourself. Then join me as I speak for those who have no voice. Join me as I add my drop to the bucket that says, “No more. Enough is enough.” That drop in the bucket matters. I can make a difference. You can make a difference. Together, we can make a difference.
What was your road to veganism like? Was there one thing in particular that changed your thinking or was there an evolution?
I have some friends who are vegan, and they used to tell me about the health benefits, but somehow that didn’t move me. It was learning about the horrendous conditions the animals were kept in that was the tipping point. That and stumbling across the video of the piglet being castrated without being anesthetized. I can still hear that poor baby piglet screaming in my nightmares.
Did you go vegan all at once or was there a series of changes that you made?
Overnight. Well, pretty much overnight. It was just before payday, and I live on a very limited budget. I gave away a lot of stuff.
When you made the decision to go vegan, what kind of reactions did you encounter from your friends and family? Did you already know anyone who was vegan or have any kind of support?
I get a lot of different reactions. Some are supportive, others not so much.
What has been the most difficult part of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle? What has been the most rewarding?
Difficult? Finding decent tasting cheese. I got some vegan mozzarella that ended up tasting more like parmesan, which is not one of my favorites. Mostly, it’s difficult finding stores and restaurants that carry vegan food.
What are some resources you would recommend to someone who would like to learn more about becoming vegan. Blogs, books, movies, podcasts, etc.
“Earthlings” A video
“Food Inc.” A video
“Vegucated” A video
Farm Animal Rights Movement – http://www.farmusa.org/
Compassion Over Killing – http://www.cok.net/
Carnism – Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows – http://www.carnism.org/
Farm Sanctuary – Rescuing animals every day – http://farmsanctuary.org/
The Gentle Barn – Rescuing animals every day – http://gentlebarn.org/
Forks Over Knives