Thea Tribute – elroy Goes Veg

9 Comments

Hey folks… long time no talk, eh? I fully plan on being more active here again and have a handful of posts I’ve been meaning to finish, and I will. Eventually. Now, though, I wanted to share a guest post by a friend of mine that I’ve known since elementary school. We reconnected a couple of years ago on Facebook and I was surprised and happy to find out that he and his sister are vegan. Jason (aka elroy) recently celebrated his five year veganversary and I wanted to let him share his vegan story, where he discusses how his beloved dog and a glimpse of a documentary trailer changed his life. It’s pretty amazing.

image06

(A couple of playlists to accompany you as you read…)

So, the first bit of this is something I wrote in a conversation a with close friend making the transition a few weeks ago. She asked what my story was, what flipped my switch, how many years was I vegetarian prior and all the year one stuff. I was going to edit it, break it up, make it more reader friendly after another close friend who is also making the transition and who’s a brilliant writer said after reading it, “paragraphs are your friend”… but I decided I liked the raw flow so I just fixed the grammar and added a bunch of other stuff after the original message. Thank you for reading.

My Peaceable Journey Begins

… 5 years vegan in January, probably the first week. I didn’t write down the day and I didn’t want to call myself one because I was so uncertain I could do it, and stick with it. I guess I didn’t want to cheapen it too, for the current veg activists, sanctuary peeps, undercover filmers, rescuers, law changers, grass root leaf letters, volunteers, proud loudmouths and quiet lead-by-example types… mad respect, I wouldn’t know a thing without their devotion, and there was no way would I put myself on their level till I felt I deserved to even touch the first rung. Not to mention I was seeing all the unavoidable stuff and was so overwhelmed, you know, the stuff veg haters think they’re busting us on, with their “yeah buts.” …Thanks but no shit dude, this ain’t a fad diet for us, it IS us. We’re the ones who make it our business to know EVERY SINGLE UNAVOIDABLE ANIMAL BYPRODUCT AND IT BOTHERS US DEEPLY. At the same time, I was compelled to try, and I really didn’t have a choice once I opened up to all the info. I was learning so much at such a fast rate, the good and the bad. Like a roller coaster, the slow climb was the awful imagery and the rapid drops and rush of happy being the people saving and rescuing and caring. The loops and wicked turns being the unavoidables, strained and gained relationships.

So around now, just after Thanksgiving 2007 I saw that Ingrid Newkirk doc, I Am Animal, randomly on HBO. It was late, I shoulda been sleeping, normally would’ve been. Flipped to HBO and it was just starting. Like I hit the play button. It rocked my world. A week or two earlier I saw Fast Food Nation (again, HBO) and I was put off to say it best. I had totally avoided it since it came out, heard a ton about it, didn’t care or think it had any validity. Mostly because immediately after watching Super Size Me a few years earlier I went to McDonalds. I was a total lifer, 0-31 yrs of Big Macs daily n breakfast when I was lucky. Cheesesteaks, pizza, gastropub burgers and meats… I was soda Oreos PBnJ meat and cheese all day, fool. I was once told I had the palate of a garbage disposal by a chef at a restaurant I worked at when I was 17. So I saw Fast Food Nation and was initially informed, or nudged. I always new fast food was garbage, but the ugliness I never saw. They didn’t get into the animal stuff that much and it was all Hollywoody. But the Newkirk doc was loud and clear (yea, i’m not a huge PETA person, but I appreciate them and people may say they are crazy and I will agree… like a fox who gnawed off its own leg in a trap and their family is now a coat.)

Anyway, first images of all the ugliness… all of the animals, it shook me and I dug in. I looked up so much online and I bombarded myself. I was livid, almost uncontrollably. How could this be happening, how is it legal, and how we just accept it and how the hell did I not know and why didn’t someone tell me! I say uncontrollably because I wanted to tell people and was filling up with all this info and had no choice to let it out. Everywhere I was, I’d be erupting with animal horrors. truths I had just seen before I was wherever I was, at friends house or online. I was a real peach. looking back tho, I loved that time and going through it is a good memory. It’s something I wouldn’t change. The new passion and awareness and fire. It was rough, but awesome nonetheless. I was a bit much, no doubt, but I think its not only a given that people will react in similar loud ways that I did, but it’s also needed, for them and certainly for the animals. All I could think was billions every year in the most brutal ways? Billions?! And more billions. I gave a fuck about feelings, ’cause really, on one hand someone is offended and the other someone is in a gestation crate for years. Boohoo, I told someone and they are annoyed. Bummer. I was mad that I was so ignorant, that someone who knew this nightmare I was participating in didn’t tell me, and this person I’m telling is mad cause I told them? Wack.

I’ve since refined that, but I still don’t pull any punches. Maybe I won’t get all aggro like then, but adding the ethical before vegan, for them to think about what that means. To be clear that my vegan lifestyle is only a healthy diet by default I think is very important. How loosely people call themselves vegan makes me not want to use the word. I’d eat poorly if the other way was healthier (how everyone eats now, unhealthy.)

So I watched the Newkirk doc around Thanksgiving 2007, went bonkers absorbing all the info I could, quit factory farmed food early December and found a farm in central Jersey to buy meat from. Talked to the owner over e-mail, an ex-factory farmer, felt like a good thing. I’d get all choked up going there and seeing the animals in the fields. Thought it was happy feeling but didn’t feel completely right, was off a bit. I kept bombarding myself with info… Then early January 2008 I remember sitting on my couch with my laptop and Thea.

Since watching, reading and learning so much about animal sentience I had began looking at the eyes of all the animals in all the videos and pictures and seeing something I had never seen or noticed before, something familiar.

I always saw it in people and in Thea and other dogs, now I was seeing it in every animal I looked at.

Emotions and knowing and wanting and everything. I was thinking a lot about how the farmer who I was going to buy meat from talked about caring for and loving his animals, and respected them and the articles that spoke about how wonderful what he was doing was. It didn’t add up when I’d think about how he kills them. I couldn’t translate that into love I knew. I struggled with this a lot leading up to this night and was on their site trying to find some kind of clarity to how he could love them and put them on a truck and then kill them and sell and eat a loved one. The eyes were all there in the pics of the animals he was selling as food. I was so upset, frustrated and confused.

Then moments later, same time more or less, I started watching a preview for a documentary that may be the most important video I will ever see (Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home). It was then, it is now and I can’t imagine seeing anything that will change my life for the better more that it has. About halfway through, tears flowing, I found my answer. An eye appeared on my screen. It belonged to a nameless factory pig. Eye raised slowly through a hole in the metal wall of a transport truck pulling into a slaughterhouse. That single pigs eye was filled with such raw emotion of fear and pain and sadness and a hopeless knowing that things were only going to get much much worse for him or her. That eye screamed to me with perfect clarity- PLEASE HELP! I then looked at the eyes next to me, rewound, back at screen and then back to Thea. I did this a few times… then with buckets coming out of my eyes, I said into hers… what’s the difference? ….and that was that.


Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home
The point in my life where one moment I was the person I was for thirty years.. then 1 minute 17 seconds later I was me… (This is just the preview as I saw it. At the end of tribute will be links to the full documentary with many others).

I always had a five year marker in my mind. I never told anyone of my doubts, but I always strived for it and thought thats the day. Five years, I’ll fully believe in myself then. It’s next month (January 2013). I’m dumbfounded. Crying and laughing as I type cause I’m like “Yea, I’m so vegan for life now, I’ma get a neck tattoo that says “Vegan, Fuck Yea!”” But in reality, that tattoo is already inside me. It’s all the images, stories, new friends, and heroes. It’s those three eyes that are forever connected and forever inked into my soul that January night… and I LOVE that. In the true definition of that word, not in the way it’s so carelessly used, but the way it’s carefully placed where it belongs. People see me and they think animal rights. If they’ve known me for a while they know what a massive change I made, what a garbage disposal of a gullet I had and whether they want to admit it or not they see how much I enjoy it, how I’m thriving on this lifestyle and how easy it is to change. They often crack mindless unoriginal jokes that I hear and I actually enjoy that too (anytime someone says vegan it means they’re thinking about animals and if others hear it too… yes please, double win!) If they just met me they see he cares and models his actions to match his principles. Principles they undoubtedly have, and it makes them think or say something. I’m grateful for all of that and everyone who played even the smallest part, knowingly or unknowingly, in my five-year journey. I may have lost some people. Whatever, it happens. My door and mind is always open for repair, but as you can see I have gained so much that missing out is a funny thing I hear from people who are obviously projecting their own inner struggles with change and making the connection, doing away with the disconnect we’ve all been conditioned with since children. I hear it thrown at me and other vegans often and I always smile cause I know now how special it feels to look into all the eyes of life and hear my eyes, my soul speaking to them saying – I will never harm you or pay someone to, I will always speak for you and I will do my very best to protect your valuable life.

“…and I saw the life go out of that individual a little bit at a time… And I never again in my life
wanted to be involved in something that took the life out of anything. ” -Howard Lyman

Your Beautiful Eyes

As cliché as it may sound, it really is simple as saying it was all in the eyes for me. They were the translators of the soul for me and the connection was made by just forgetting everything, or not thinking, and staying open to love and looking in for a moment. The emotions and awareness and life behind them changed my life and added or uncovered, so many new layers of emotions. When I think of how I was before, how I thought about animals and what I saw when I looked ‘at’ them it’s like thinking about something unknown. A language I never knew, or an invention never invented. It doesn’t go very well, the thoughts are blank and confusing. Maybe that’s a defense mechanism protecting this new way of thought and feeling, maybe it’s just me? I’ve had many talks the last five years about this, and most recently this Christmas with a person I admire, and who has been saving animals and meeting and making vegans for a long time. It seems as if there is no good answer and it vexes everyone once they become aware. It makes me think maybe it’s not important even though we all want to know so badly how to better reach people. People who we are certain would thank the person who showed them the light. Maybe the only thing that’s important is continuing with what works, keeping the eye openers out in the open and it will happen eventually, and maybe it already is. I’ve only been at this for a short time and I think a lot about how much change has occurred during it. One word can sum it up best: Daiya.

Then I hear Terry talk about to celebrating her 20-year veganniversary and what it was like in ‘93 and how much change has occurred since then, and how much faster it’s occurring every year and I drive home with thoughts of hope and inspiration and a desire for more more more, and I can’t wait to share with people on the fence and all the pics I took and stay up all night making a video slideshow and reflect, and see Roy and man I miss my Homegirl, and the people who might not be on the fence but they rescue dogs and how I can get into their heart cause man, that person as a vegan, watch out world! The phone rings and she’s off to Ohio to do a transport with a quick stop in upstate NY on the way back to bring a few more to South Jersey. And that other friend, she’s the biggest anti dog-fighting girl I have ever met. All I see is from her is endless hope and doesn’t shy from the brutality and everyone loves her and has the power to change minds the moment her mouth opens, not mention when she walks in a room, how do we get her! And my tough guy buddy on Facebook who just rescued his first pit, he can’t seem to get enough info in and out of him lately and never passes up an opportunity to be the voice for them and he’s fresh and has that new fire that we all felt right before and while we were year one’rs. Its so powerful, and if he just takes it a touch further. I mean, I can see these people want this because of what they do, and how in the blink of an eye what they clean their toilet with or what they eat at a bbq or what the wear in the winter will matter so little and so much that when they think of using an animal they will get angry, sad and confused like a reflex… and I drive and I think and there’s usually no music till Delaware and it goes so quickly. /happyrant

People at Poplar often ask me “You drove from Jersey?!” I get such a good feeling from that. I wish I could answer like above and tell them that they themselves are a big reason, but I usually just smile and give the short answer, “It goes quick- Delaware, Baltimore, Poplar, easy.” “This place is awesome” is said a lot, too.

Poplar Spring’s Driveway

Poplar Spring’s driveway. It’s such a special part of all of this for me. I’m convinced there’s some sort of time warp / wormhole thing going on. It always takes ten times as long driving down it when I get there, and then when leaving, I’m on the street in the blink of an eye regardless of how many times stopping to take pics and the slow crawl I drive at.

image04

So many wonderful emotions have occurred on it. A true testament to how the simple things in life can be so special, and how you can never predict them, they just happen and they tell you… this is special, and is automatically taken from the always-remembered-and-thought-of often file, and moved into the never-forgotten-and-thought-of daily vault.

The first time I went to Poplar I was so giddy, and nervous. I had been looking forward to going there for a couple of years and to any sanctuary for almost five. I had never seen a farm animal up close besides a farm fair when very young, and I always thought I would get emotional when I saw my first rescued factory pig since that was a huge part of what led me to who I am, and to Poplar. What happened when I pulled up that driveway was nothing I had ever imagined, not once. If you’ve seen my pics, videos or have been to Poplar you know how beautifully long and winding it is. That’s not it, though. As I start getting closer, driving through the towns, I started noticing the main road was becoming a back road and when going over a hill or a bend I would get a glimpse at the road ahead and see what looked like a caravan. We were all going to the same place! It started, the excited emotions kicked up a notch, but still didn’t think I would see and feel what I was about to…. So I turn into poplar, “Oh my this is so pretty” camera on the ready, sprawling fields, century old trees, cars ahead of me driving as fast as we could without being dangerous, showing the first sign of calm eagerness to just get there… Then, the final bend approaching, camera in hand, slow to a crawl and I see it. Oh my goodness. I drop my camera and nearly ran over the volunteer directing cars. Not really, but I lost it. ALL THE CARS ALL THE PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE THE PEOPLE MY PEOPLE. I’M FINALLY HERE! It was beautiful. I couldn’t believe it!

I parked, the event had started already and the people getting there when I did were all parking and hustling with the happiest calm purpose I have ever seen. If I said I got out of my car within ten minutes of parking I’d be lying. No way I was in any condition to meet people. I sat and composed myself, got my sappy ass together and started walking up the final stretch of driveway. Now I’m seeing all the people again, and oh boy! The people! The calm hustle, the glow. I had to stop, and get myself together again. “Ok, Jason… walk.” So I start up again and take some pics, and approach the first check in table/tent, aaannnd now would be a good time to pretend to use my phone for a minute… This continued until I was knee deep in the event (still on the driveway) and just as I am about to lose it again, Ryan, my homeboy from 1st grade rings my phone with much needed distraction “Where ya at?!” We locate each other and check me in at the volunteer table. We walk up and as soon as I say my name the girl responds, “Hi, Jason! You made it! Do you want a green or red travel coffee cup, all the volunteers get one,” like she knew me, like I was part of the family. Yep, here it comes again! I did a pretty good job keeping my composure (on the outside) and eventually some form of the word green came out.

The rest of the day I was completely awestruck. The people, the animals, the happy bustling calm. You could tell just by looking at everyone and seeing how they carried themselves that they were at their favorite place and a new face with wide eyes made them even happier. Not in any weird over friendly or pompous way, but in the most welcoming, laid back, confident, cool way I could dream up. I think it was rainy but only from remembering not being able to use sunglasses as a security blanket and looking at the pics after. Everything was glowing like it was July but it was early October.

Proper first day at Poplar, no doubt.

Thank you Terry and Dave for surrounding yourselves with rescued animals, so I can be part of something so good and right and to be welcomed into the group of awesome people who flock there because WE love it so much!

Perfect Day

I never imagined I would be spreading Thea’s ashes. When she passed I gave it brief thought, and couldn’t think of a better place than close to me. I considered all the places we lived and made memories. Nothing came to me. So keeping them close by my side was clearly the only option for me. I was happy to keep them and didn’t think twice about it till Thanksgiving when it came to me. I wanted my Thea’s memory to forever be a part of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. It entered my head and just like that, it was what I wanted. It made perfect sense and not once did I second guess the choice leading up to the 20th of January, and thereafter.

Thea may have never set paw on Poplar’s ground, but she lead me there, and she’s been right there with me ever since the first visit – the day everything Poplar entered my heart and she was there, waiting with a welcoming wiggle of her nub.

After Thanksgiving I waited till Christmas to ask in person. A personal request such as this isn’t something you do without a personal touch. A heartfelt yes was returned with a comforting smile accompanying it. Perfect. Then, on my my fourth visit, celebrating my five year veganniversary and Thea’s birthday I took her remains, her memory, to Poplar.

The day was a special one for many reasons. Some can’t be put into words and some are for me… so I will keep those and share three that were special that I won’t soon forget.

The first special thing to happen was the compliment / thank you that I read a moment or two after I woke up that morning. It was in regards to a rough draft of this tribute. It warmed my heart, put a smile on my face and the first tear of the day ran down my cheek. I’m not sure if I needed it yet because I was still waking up, but if any sadness, anxiety or ill feelings were about to come in- this message was there standing guard. Waiting to turn them away and to welcome me to the safe haven for animals she and her husband created. A place that My Thea’s ashes would be spread later that day. It kicked off a perfect day in a fittingly perfect way.

The second was just a few moments before spreading Thea’s ashes. We were all hanging at the big chicken barn, finishing up chores and again, before I could even think “It’s going to happen in a few minutes,” a beautiful blind goat named Josie decided to make sure I was filled with love just in case I needed it. I first saw Josie in a video just about a year ago and she was jumping and doing twirls and I don’t remember why or what was going on with me that day, but my comment when seeing the video posted last January was “Oh man. That jump… I needed that” Same comment applies now, and the jump this day wasn’t a twirl, it was into my heart.

The third was my buddy Ryan, who introduced me to Terry and Dave and everything Poplar a few months before and twisted my arm for much longer to come for a visit. Saying that now sounds like crazy talk, twisting my arm!? He came up big with his persistence then, and this perfect day, being there up until I was alone with Thea’s ashes… and had I chosen to not be alone – he was there for that too.

Thea’s memory is now forever at Poplar Spring. Greeting all with a hello and a see ya soon.

image00

image09 image03 image01

The driveway thing happened again on Thanksgiving and most likely on Christmas had I not done 360’s on I-95 in front of a stupid bacon truck. :) I smile now because if you had the same steady stream of bizarre occurrences and coincidences I’ve been having the last month you would, too. Its not possible not to recognize, think about, and enjoy. Not doing so would be a total boring snooze fest.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” -Kerouac

Hardwired

I talk a lot about how I truly believe we are all hard wired with empathy and compassion being a guiding force and from the time we are born, and from the time our parents and their parents were born, we’ve all been told to break the connection. Greed, something else I think we are hardwired with, is the cause, but only because it took a wrong turn a very long time ago. Greed for truth and love I think is the way to reattach the connection and to spread it, and to right the wrong.

I know that might sound hokey, but think about it. You fall in love; you hear about something that you never knew about, a truth that rocks you. Your interest is piqued, you can’t get enough, you want more, you want to share it, you want more people to know and so on. I mean, I helped two people recently go vegan. I want to help 50 tomorrow and 50 the next day if I can. Greedy, yep. Selfish, WHY NOT? It makes me feel great. I want lots of love everyday, thats why I rescued a dog on death row. My love saves a life. Call me a selfish greedy SOB all you want, I’ll be over here loving someone that wants to play the “Who can love more game,” and reinforcing my already ironclad connection to all life.

I’m also going to seek as much truth as possible and tell as many people as possible. It makes me feel good to make myself smarter and more tuned in and the people around me more tuned in. The animals told me they want me to keep telling the truth and keep finding out more, they need it and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Basically you can call it whatever, wanting more good is good when it doesn’t exploit or harm anything. Greed for life, love, awareness, emotions. Keep the moderation, that’s a nonsense vice people hang onto so they don’t cause too much harm at once. I don’t want to moderate knowledge and awareness and happiness and emotions. Ok, time and place. Fine. I can’t laugh too much or cry or show anger when working. But that doesn’t mean I’m not wanting it and getting and releasing it as soon as possible and wanting more. So long as it doesn’t take the wrong turn and head down the road where something is exploited – Do it.

I know once I made the initial connection I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know it all and I dove in headfirst, and that’s been a constant. And there is nothing in me that I don’t see in pretty much everyone I know – in one way or another. Sure I was raised to get a glass and take the spider outside instead of a tissue and flush, and the six-year-old badass me was getting in the face of babysitter’s boyfriend not allowing salt to be put on that slug. But I think that was hardwired into my mom and then continued into me. Most people wouldn’t kill a damn thing unless it was going to kill them. Thats why I say we are all the same, we all have it in us to be kind first. Sure, some have a bigger wall up, or their wiring is a bit more jacked up, but simple beauty and heartbreaking ugliness and the greed for truth and love placed correctly can sort that out like a master electrician and a wrecking ball.

Simple beauty by witnessing individual unique personalities. It can be sharing peaceful moments in a barn snuggling into the clouds that line heaven with an 800 pound gentle giant or standing with hundreds of people and witnessing the meticulous annihilation of a dump truck load of pumpkins. Or relaxing on a couch with your biggirl or playing fetch in the backyard or watching the scarfing down of special birthday banana peanut butter dish or napping in the rays coming through the barn window or bay window and watching them wake up only to move back into the rays that moved or watching a group of friends being silly romping and running in a field without seats made from other animals on their sleek backs.

Experiencing that beauty, and really taking it in, and having seen the flip side, and what we do to them. The intense horrific moments that happen every second. It’s so important to me to not look away from the dark. To kick down the door of complacency and see the wrong and see the right and to let it all soak in, and looking again and again cause it hasn’t stopped yet. Accepting and refusing, and keeping it fresh. That doesn’t mean I’m afraid I’ll cheat and eat something or use something if I don’t watch the latest undercover video that pops up in my feed. No chance in hell. I have plenty inside to keep me and vegan for 100 lifetimes. Edit. A bagillion lifetimes. I keep it fresh to keep fresh what I project, how I carry myself, how I represent a cause that I feel is so important and have so much respect for. How I respond, react and what I act on, and when it’s needed. How I’m seen by every non-vegan and veg curious person in the world who crosses my path and needs the inspiration like I did, like we all did. Like we all do. Or how Terry, Dave, Jenny, James, Ryan, Leah, Gary, Jo, Jnet, Nat, Deb, Kristin, Lea, Mom or any of the people on the admire and inspired list see me. I think of all the used animals I’ve met, or seen in videos or pictures and I hear them ask me why am I going stale? I see the nameless factory pig whose eye partnered up with my Thea’s to turn my love light on blast. I hear him asking why I looked away, why I haven’t been to Poplar recently and reminding me that it took me almost five years to meet his brethren. I stay fresh to never let a vapid reason keep me from speaking for the voiceless and standing up for the used. I don’t look away from the horror and I celebrate the shine for all of those reasons individually and as one and for the most important of them all… how I see myself with the eyes in my heart. Not staying true to myself, not shining in my Thea’s eyes makes my stomach turn more than anything I could possibly see.

So I stay fresh by driving six hours to spend four hours at a sanctuary on Christmas. I eagerly pick up poop with a mixed group of like minded “greedy for love” people ranging from young kids staying connected to adults refreshing and celebrating their awareness and reconnection to life. Getting chased by a bunch of happy pigs with Deb cause we ran out of apples. It’s all a fun way to stay aware, tuned it and to balance out the constant reminders of what side of the fence we are on, and why. Reminders of how greed can go wrong and what side of the fence those who bred them to be so painfully gigantic are on, and maybe next time throwing the apples over the fence might be a better idea then walking deep into their turf, hand feeding them and inevitably running out because they always want more apples! Reminders that we aren’t alone, we aren’t a specific type and new people like me pop up in Maryland on Christmas and its both no big deal and very special at the same time.

I know people who do both, they spend very little time with animals and they always look away from the nasty. I’m not judging, it’s difficult, but I know they would rather be stronger and their conviction in refusing all exploitation is far less than the people I know who spend time with, who watch without looking away, who bare witness, who stay true, who are obviously happy. All I am saying to those who say it’s too hard is this: we know how hard it is, we are not stronger than you, our schedules aren’t easier. If you stay true to your principles, you will be happy, maybe even happier, but you will NEVER regret any of it. I promise.

No matter how painful it is to see and mother not be able to move while her infant child is castrated and thrown on the metal ground beside her; or how sad it seeing a child yanked out of a mother’s womb and drug away by its “whatever is handy” screaming and dripping with afterbirth and watching the mother’s eyes and hear her cries, or to see one defenseless life not be able to do anything about the other who won’t stop hurting her because she too has gone crazy and stabbing her open sore is what life is now. I loathe every second of it and I will never look away and I will never accept any of it with willful ignorance or some ridiculous rationalization. Thats not me. I’m too greedy. Not looking away and burning all those images and experiences into my mind IS me, and they are all so important to me.

“It’s like you innately know that this is not right
Otherwise I wouldn’t feel so bad about it
I wouldn’t feel so sad” – Harold Brown

Just as important as following up all that horror with its antidote, it’s “David.” Be it a short video starring a blind goat named Josie doing twirls in the air playing with her caretakers and trying to figure out who is enjoying it more- them, Josie or me? A random girl’s slideshow documenting her internship at Farm Sanctuary and finally sending in that application. A few minutes of Peaceable Kingdom and my hope meter is back to explode. Making that final turn at Poplar Spring and feeling the happy ripping through my veins.

Theres nothing dark that can go toe to toe with that power. NOTHING.


“A Thing Called Poplar Love” – Picture Slideshow with music after first to Poplar for the Fifteenth Annual Fundraiser Open House 10.7.2012

April 23, 2010

The night Thea died was a Friday. The whole thing lasted under an hour and she died next to my bed. These minutes that make up the worst hour of my life were packed with fear, uncertainty, panic and a heavy, hopeless feeling. The regrets I have are not acting sooner and acting at all and letting someone that’s dying, to die in peace. Although for the most part I kept my cool, there were a couple scattered minutes that I didn’t. Wasting any of those panicking instead of comforting or giving privacy and in turn scaring her even more than her dying body was already. That makes me angry. I know it was a normal reaction at the start, the “What the hell is going on,” and at the end when I knew she was already gone but I didn’t want to hear it, I was giving her CPR and wasn’t going to just do nothing! How could I? Still, I beat myself up for trying and those last three gasps I brought out of her haunt me.

The whole desperate scene didn’t need to happen and be such a stain on the beautiful memory that was us. The chest compressions and mouth to snout. Easily the most desperate and tragic moments I have lived. She didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve me making taking her outside because I thought she was going to be sick when I first heard her heavy rapid incessant pants from the other room. She deserved to be left alone and not have me scaring her more.

After the three gasps, I picked up the heaviest thing I have ever picked up, all 95 pounds of her body like it was a bag of feathers. In the car, on the way to hospital there was no more doubt when it filled with the worst smell I have ever smelled. I thought it was a mess, but it was only the gas. Get to the hospital, they come out with stretcher, ask about doing a procedure and the cost, yes if it’s doable, if she can live hell yes! But I knew.

In the waiting room, tech comes in a minute later with the obvious info…

My Thea was gone.

I knew it at the beginning of the end when I looked into her eyes. Her beautiful brown sparkling
eyes that guided me into happiness every time she looked into mine.
I knew it when we were outside and they returned the darkest look of fear I’ll ever see.
I knew it when she was trying to get behind the dresser. To be alone. To die.
I knew it when I was trying to start her heart and breath for her and shouted her name THEA!.
I knew it when I saw those last three gasps.
I knew it when I carried her lifeless body to the car for one last ride.
I knew My Thea died at home that night, and the 23rd of April would always stand out on the calendar for the worst reason.

A few somber minutes pass, then he brings her in so I can say goodbye. She was gone but I still kissed her where kisses go (between the eyes, bridge of the nose, that little dip… that’s where kisses go.) I whispered to her that she was always such a good girl I loved her so much and and even though sometimes I was mad or she thought she was bad that she still was such a good girl and daddy loved her so much and I’m sorry if she ever doubted any of that and thanked her for making me a better man and how she was such a good girl. I gave her a few scratches behind the ear and under where her collar normally is, the collar that was jingling in my hand. I buried my nose in her and took a few final deep smells and ran my fingers through her coat and gave them one last time to feel the thing they loved touching more than anything ever.

I hoped she heard me, I hoped for the first time in my life for an afterlife, and that she was watching and is now waiting for me. I shook the vet tech’s hand, with the only tears I have shown to anyone outside my house about her and left.

Eight yrs and three months. One fourth of my life, yet I think back to any day before her and it’s like she’s there… but she’s not. Just like now. Just like that ride home.

I leave and get to the parking lot and kept saying over and over “Now what am I supposed to do?” and I meant it. I had no clue how to live without her. She was my compass. She was there for everything, good and bad, to pick me up or to celebrate. She taught me so much and I learned even more through her. I felt like I was just borrowing the knowledge, or that the knowledge wouldn’t work without the two of us activating it.

Going for the car door, the back door, was the first in what was a seemingly never ending series of reminders of the void she left. She went everywhere with me and even before this moment, I would always go to grab that handle first and laugh, because the times she wasn’t with me were far outweighed by the times she was. I didn’t laugh this time, I opened it and slammed it shut. I wouldn’t be saying up, or good girl or fastening her custom homemade big girl no tangle comfy safe seat belt (two harness fashioned in a way I could never duplicate if I tried, a couple short leads, heavy duty lead, rock climbing carabiners, MacGyver tv show as a kid and a strong paranoia of protecting the only thing that mattered from flying out the window.) That worry was no more and that scared the shit out of me.

Back at the house, no Thea to get out of her backseat. No Thea inside waiting to dance at my feet. No TV on. No asking her what shes watching. No Thea couchface looking over the couch as I walk through the door. None of it. I call my friend(s) and leave her a voicemail to call me. I never leave her voicemails and if I didn’t she would have waited till the next day. She calls back pretty quickly as a result, knows something is up and now came the job of hurting her, badly. I had to tell her… Thea died tonight. She instantly exploded. I still hear her voice in my head. The desperate questioning of what, how, oh my god, are you OK, why?! Hysterical, and worried about me and feeling everything she’s ever felt. All her losses surfaced at once. Hard. All the deaths… the tragic ones, the slow, arduous ones. I heard her husband in the background, he knows. That kind of reaction is easy to identify. I told her the basic details and we cried, I did my best to calm her down and that I was OK (“OK” meaning “not going to headbutt the wall till I was unconscious”) and that I would see them tomorrow and we hang up.

Spent, in a daze and feeling sad I sit down, turn the TV up and just stared. The question in my head since the hospital parking lot was the only thing left… “Now what am I supposed to do?” It was a broken record skipping to a beat perfectly out of time by my freshly broken heart.

The next morning I woke up early with purpose and got the hell out of that house. I had to help my buddy move and easily could have bailed but staying home sounded like straight torture. I met up with him and we got started, then an hour or so into it, sitting at a red light in the moving truck I told him. Thea died last night. He was shocked. He was shocked because I was still standing, still breathing, there helping him move and not a steady flow of tears. He was great about it, too. Showed solid concern and quickly recognized I needed to help him move that morning and didn’t dwell asking a ton of questions.

Everyone knew how close we were, and the looks and feelings I saw when telling people in those the weeks after I’ll never forget. Shock, sympathy, pain. For me and some for themselves. I saw how everyone, like a reflex thinks about their own “Thea” and they get a rush of “Now what I am I supposed to do” or some form of it. Many already had experienced such loss and their pain jumps out from the darkness and kicks them right in the gut.

For the longest time going home was awful, and even being out the natural alarm would go off in my head and I would think I didn’t have to be home now. That sucked so hard, it all sucked. That night after she died I went out and stayed out all night till the sun was coming up. On the ride home I was a mess, thinking about walking through that door and her not being there. This would be the third time since. The the song “So Lonely” by The Police came on and I lost it. I walked in and immediately downloaded the song and just put all the pics together with the song. Didn’t really edit it, I could barely figure out how to work the program, just put a bunch of pics in at once and the song file and play. It was painful but it helped. I deleted it off Facebook a while ago and didn’t save the file. Few weeks ago I was making the Poplar Love High video and thought how I never hear “So Lonely,” not since making that pic vid. It never comes on the radio or is suggested in my Youtube, and I listen to that kind of music and radio stations that would play it plenty. Kind of odd, but what isn’t these days!

image08

Make It Rain, James

I thrive on the belief that some things are meant to be shared openly since they make us so much of who we are, and others are meant to be kept very close and private. Whether it’s an object or a random few seconds of time that got stuck, or placed in the front for whatever reason. They are memories that are not to be let out cause if they are they might lose their luster, their Shine. I can’t imagine bringing them up in a casual conversation, taking nothing away from whomever I’m talking to. Be it a love, a kind stranger, a family member or a good friend, old or new. They are mine to hold on to, and without them I’m the person I was before Thea, before my life changed. So I guard them with my life… because they are my life.

Other than the choice few memories or the objects and pictures that will only be seen by a handful of eyes, Thea’s life and passing is something I talk about openly. I even find myself wanting to more when I see a person in pain from a loss. I offer myself for listening and sharing with them, being aware and sensitive to their feelings and feeling out their desire for privacy. I have yet to have someone respond with anything but appreciation and understanding of why I would reach out to them in their time of loss. They might keep it short or be long winded like me, but they are always thankful it’s noticed, and while my specific feelings of love and loss may be unique to me and my close ones, just as to your and yours. Make no mistake about it, they are something we share with ALL life. Happiness, love, pain, loss, are the strongest and most basic emotions that know no species. They are always noticed in others, always felt… it is the connection. Acknowledging them is a mere choice.

We all have our own ways of dealing and paying tribute to love lost. I am sure I’m not the only person who when they hear James Taylor or “Pictures of You” it goes directly to their “Thea” and it affects them deeply. They might only want to listen in private or welcome them at anytime. They might sit and reflect or dance on the bar! It’s all special and their way of celebrating the unique bond. For me, when those songs or any off a short list of “Thea Songs” come on in the company of others. No.. Thats private time on purpose. I stand and walk till the sound is out of my ears. If it’s not possible, I try to change it or I do my best, but even when completely unavoidable I still haven’t really cried about her in front of or to anyone. My sister walked in on me listening last 17th and saw it. I saw the pain it instantly caused her, it reminded her of her own and she saw her brother’s deepest hurt in all it’s gut wrenching splendor. Besides that, the hard uncontrollable feelings don’t hit me the same when I’m not alone. Maybe thats me controlling them? I don’t really understand it. Maybe it’s because I do cry about her often, but always alone; that I don’t hide from it when the subject comes up and I bring her up on the regular. I’ll entertain any conversation someone wants to have about their loss and I talk about Thea and mine. On her special days I embrace the feelings in private. I celebrate my love, our love, our time, My Thea. I crank up the stereo and remember dancing with her. I let her love shine. I make it rain. Maybe all that helps? The controlled release. Maybe I keep the tears as a private thing on purpose? Maybe I’m guarding them so they stay special? I don’t know the answers and Thea was my first love who passed so all these feelings are new to me. Two years and nine months new.

One thing’s for sure, I don’t like to think about feeling this again, a new loss. Like the worry of being able to love again before I met Roy, our capacity. When applying that to loss I think of Roy and the others in my life that would set off similar intense lasting feelings of loss. It’s so hard to think about this rationally while writing this. Focusing on the heartache, and then saying that the pain is needed to love, or that you can’t have the one without the other and that it’s all worth it… but it’s true, and it really is all worth it.

Writing this part of her tribute, her death and my personal feelings of her loss absolutely wrecked me for a couple days and I unconsciously left it to be done last. It wasn’t till I was finished and thinking what I may have missed and needed to add that the pain raised its hand and gave a snarky smile. So I dove in headfirst, and it didn’t stop. I’ve tried to write about her death before and dipped my toe in to test the waters. But I knew what the water felt like, I didn’t need to test it. I did it because I was afraid and it worked, I backed off. That same fear presented itself in the week before her birthday. I was afraid of not being able to write a worthy tribute, to stare at a blank screen unable to truly convey what Thea meant to my life. How she presents herself in everything I do. What saying “My Thea” represents. The doubt and fear ruled me for days. I tried, would write a few sentences for hours, and the panic got worse by the minute. I couldn’t even paint an empty bathroom. Something that always takes my mind to a robot-like place. Then, the night before her birthday came. I walked in the door and looked at Roy… and it was Party Time!. Music, toys, noms, wrestling, spirits, ball in the house, backyard stick action, we did it up for Thea… and then I sat down. It was around 1am, her birthday, and I typed and read and listened and more ball in the house and looked at her pics and talked to Roy… and I wrote about the things that My Thea made till the sun was shining. Then at 10:01am I sent a text message I’ll never forget to “Miss Paragraphs-Are-Your-Friend”: “I got something special I want you to read.”

Then I put my phone away, and looked up and there was my buddy waiting patiently, like he always does, for me to take the stick out of his mouth and throw it… and we played in the same backyard that me and Thea played in so many times… and it was her birthday.

I was so worried about finishing this tribute and getting to Poplar and spreading her ashes on her birthday. Then the afternoon before her birthday, talking with a friend who said he had a similar stress last year and to not worry about the date so much, it’s what you write that’s important. It will come. He was right, it came and thinking about how I celebrated her, writing through the night till morning on her birthday, with Roy, and then the final minutes of 1/17 being woken up on the couch by Thea’s memory and the memory of that eye through the hole in the transport truck five years ago so I could read an email before days end that still has my head shaking when thinking about it… then the perfect day at Poplar spreading her ashes. Yes, I do believe in magic… and you should, too!


Poplar Love High

Handsome Boy Roy

If Thea lead me to my first connections and taught me my first lessons about about the depth of love that can be shared with an animal, and the loss. It was Roy and adopting him that taught me about the endless capacity we have inside for both love and loss. I had so many doubts and worries about forgetting or replacing that love and having room for any new love. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to love him enough or I would end up resenting him if I did and Thea’s got pushed out a bit. No thanks, that was her place inside me and it was there for a reason. I even worried when I noticed the pain was fading, I wanted it back. The thought of going numb, no pain with no love scared me tremendously. I missed her so much and at first, the pain was so harsh everyday. Then as the days and months dragged on and the house stayed quiet and dark, the fear of the pain fading and not having any life or love to share got heavier and heavier. I finally told myself that there are millions getting killed and you need to do something. I couldn’t let myself go numb, I have seen it happen and its like quicksand. I needed the unconditional love again, no matter my fear of replacing hers, I had to do it. I told myself it will make me feel better saving a life. And hell yea it did! What I was surprised to find was not only her love wasn’t fading, it was only settling down so her memory could shine brighter, and my new love for Roy had no I’ll effect on my first love… It enhanced it!

I would see things in Roy and remember Thea. I’d admire things about him that she frustrated me with at an early age, and I would joke with him about how she would do something better or put him in his goofy puppy place. I would notice things that Roy did because he was dumped at a shelter that Thea didn’t. Things like never sleeping a wink without having most of his head on my foot or arm or leg for at least a month. The fear of rejection and doubt, the endless desire and hope to be loved in his eyes. A look I still see and makes me think of Thea’s and how she looked and loved and knew only me being there, and how he shows me that more and more everyday. The training techniques, the playing, the ‘Go potty’ said by a grown ass man to a 100+ pound American Bulldog, the basic how to deal with a new unique personality, the baby talk. It was all stuff I did with Thea and kept her memory and love present throughout my early time with Roy and to this day. Celebrating them both as if they were together.

Oooh ooh That Smell

I never thought after Thea passed that the crossing of the memories would bring me so much joy. Sometimes they are a hard cross, a complete night and day opposite. Others would be nearly identical. Either way, they were so special for their own reasons, and I learned very quickly after bringing Roy home that not recognizing it would mean missing out on celebrating her memory and not feeling that rush of love again. That rush that comes over us like a flashback, a deja vu. They hit like a ton of bricks and always out of nowhere. It’s like being away from the house for longer than usual and coming home and smelling that familiar smell. That smell all of us animal people struggle trying to remove on the regular, especially when guests are coming over. The stank. But not being near it for a touch longer than your nose is used to… you walk through the door, or get in the car or unfurl a blanket, and woosh! That smell that sparks the remembrance of love. And you pause. Maybe a smile, a tear, a laugh, or gaze into the sky.

Those moments mean so very much to me and going to Poplar the second time I had one that was very unexpected because it was so soon. “How could this be a familiar smell already, this was only my second time here?” I thought as I walked up the driveway on Thanksgiving. I had just arrived and my first whiff of the day hit my memory, and the feelings from the first time were back!

The remembering of a touching moment. Yea, dog stank is dog stank and farm stank is, well, yea. But have a touching moment with a strong smell and that smell, whether its perfume or poo, is burned into your memory over on the awesome side… and I got no problem with that.

A Love Statement, No Matter

When people bring a new friend that just needs a home and someone to adore into their lives and share a incredibly brief piece of time with them they are making a statement. They are saying I understand the inevitable and I am choosing love, no matter what.

No matter the obvious fact that their time is always a nasty little fraction of our lives, and at times it seems like eternity when thinking of how fast it all went, and and how long it feels since they were looking up at us as we walked through the door, or how sometimes we walk through that door and it feels like yesterday.

No matter that the gut wrenching moments seem to come mostly when happy or least expecting or whenever they want.

No matter, this love shared with a companion includes never hearing the words I love you, yet the love can be so unrivaled.

No matter the final moments, or days, or weeks, will be spent wondering and wishing for just an idea of what’s going on, how they feel, can we do anything, “YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU RIGHT??!”

No matter all the evil soul taxing regrets will always find a way to sneak in- “Did I, should I have, I wish, what if, maybe this, maybe that’…. NO. you did, I did, we did and he or she loved loving with you and you were awesome, and they relished every second spent with you like it was Christmas morning… and when they were waiting for us to come home it was Christmas Eve for a child, and when we got there… man oh man, when we got there…

Coming home to a dog, I know nothing better in this world. It’s the best part of any day I have had, good or bad. Its always the same magic “OH MY GOD YOU’RE HERE OH MY GOD YOU’RE HERE I LOVE YOU HOLY MOLY DADDY YOU’RE HERE I LOVE YOU YOU’RE HERE YAY YOU’RE HERE TOUCH ME TOUCH ME YOU’RE THE BEST!” x100

image02 image10 image07 image05

The statement we make is all the pain that comes with it is no secret and signing on means absolutely, no fucking doubt – IT’S ALL WORTH IT and how could anyone not want something that loves to love you so much. Seriously, How!?

FOR

It’s not till recently I could say with such conviction that I will be a vegan for life… That’s not a problem anymore… I am a vegan FOR life. It’s who I am as much as my fingers typing these words are. As much as my eyes and my heart that guide me are… as much as Mr. Handsome is and certainly as much as my Thea who started it all is. She would be 11 today, and it feels like yesterday she was wiping her breakfast slobberface on my leg thanking me. Yea, thanking me for putting food in a bowl when she put all this in my heart, the place where she now greets all new love with her big girl boxer peanut dance.

Happy Birthday,
Thea

Thank You for everything above, for the unwritten… and for what’s to come.

Miss you every moment of every day.

-Daddy

image11

Guest post: “Equal Time” Outreach/Inreach with Missionaries

1 Comment

This is a guest post from Gary Loewenthal, co-creator of the advocacy group Compassion for Animals.

A couple of weeks ago, Gary mentioned on his Facebook page the intriguing idea of “equal time advocacy.” That is, allowing others, like missionaries, to speak to you about their message in exchange to listening to you about your animal rights message. Gary has always amazed me with his ability to reach out to people I wouldn’t even give a second thought about discussing animal rights with, and this particular example was especially interesting to me. So, I asked him to write a little bit about the concept as well as his experiences putting it into action.

The other day, two Mormon missionaries on their rounds stopped by my house. As usual, they agreed to my “equal time” advocacy proposal, in which I get to advocate to them as much they get to advocate to me, for as long as they like.

I started doing this several years ago, shortly after I got involved with vegan outreach. Since I’ve worked at home for most of those years, I encounter my fair share of door-to-door evangelists and charity solicitors. At least it seems that way.

The “equal time” technique has worked consistently well. As far as I can tell, “the other side” has the same positive impression. Here are some possible reasons for its success:

  • The people with whom I’m talking are generally experienced at one-on-one outreach. Like me, they’ve had to put up with rudeness, non-sequitur diversions, and so forth. So they’re inclined to listen respectfully to my pitch. As I do to theirs.
  • I imagine that after a high percentage of rejections, the missionaries welcome a chance to say their piece, even with the caveats.
  • Our overall goals and motivations for doing outreach overlap. They are working toward peace, harmony, and justice. So am I. In fact, I think most people want these things; the commonality between the missionaries and me is that we both regularly take time to engage in personal outreach in an effort to bring these goals to fruition. The biggest difference between their goals and mine is that the needs of animals, and our obligations toward them, play a central role in my worldview. Also, their ideas of morality may not always jive with mine – although we tend to agree on basic concepts such as the Golden Rule and the obligation to refrain from inflicting avoidable harm on others.
  • I hold up my end of the bargain. I listen to what they have to say, and my questions and counterpoint are earnest and polite.

During my allotted time for outreach during these sessions, I try to meet my worthy counterparts where they are, and proceed from there. I start by asking them their views of our obligations toward animals, and about their diets. I might ask if they have any companion animals and how they feel about them.

I try to explain how vegan concepts and behaviors are compatible with their religion, and how striving to be as compassionate as possible is a sincere and glorious way to practice one’s faith and to respect and honor both Creator and Creation. (I use upper case here strictly to reflect how my audience at the time refers to the two upper-cased entities.) If those concepts are not met with any serious objections, I generally move into practical tips and personalized suggestions, and finish up by a) emphasizing how important I think it is to transition away from animal exploitation and toward a vegan lifestyle, b) the degree of suffering and hurt done on our behalf that each of us can – and thus should – reduce by choosing veganism, and c) the peace of mind that comes with knowing that one is not inflicting avoidable harm on others.

I listen to what they have to say also. I’m honest and state that it’s unlikely that I’ll convert to Mormonism or become a Jehova’s Witness, but I am keenly interested in knowing what they feel is compelling about those choices.

As it turns out, Mormonism has some fairly progressive views on animals. According to the missionaries, we’re to eat meat sparingly, and mostly in times of famine or when there are insufficient non-animal food sources. I usually ask, in return: “Since most of us in the developed world now have access to an abundance of non-animal food all year round, are we thus obligated to forgo animal products? Would abstaining from animal products reflect an earnest, good-faith adherence to the idea of refraining from killing animals for food except when there is no other practical alternative?” This line of questioning is generally productive. Somewhere in there, I point out the considerable suffering and killing – if not the inherent cruelty – in commercial dairy and egg operations.

Before leaving, the missionaries usually want to leave some literature. So do I. So I propose my “equal amount of literature” policy, to which they, so far, always agree. I highly recommend having some copies of the Christian Vegetarian Association’s “Are We Good Stewards of God’s Creation?” pamphlets on hand.

So far, all these sessions have gone well, and we part amicably. One of my hopes is that if anything I say or hand out to the missionaries resonates strongly with them, they will employ their outreach skills to spread the word to their peers and associates.

I use some similar approaches with people who come by the house to solicit funds for Greenpeace, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and progressive lobbying organizations.

One variation with people asking for donations – assuming I like the goals of the organization – is “if you pledge to be vegan for X days within the next Y weeks, I’ll write a check for Z amount.” This equation is dependent on many factors, such as how much money you can spare, but you can usually arrive at a deal that everyone thinks is fair and meaningful. If the person represents a progressive group, there’s a good chance that they’ve already partly divested from the standard American meat- and dairy-centered diet. He or she may already be vegan, in which case you can just give the secret handshake. More seriously, when I have encountered vegetarians or vegans soliciting for a non-veg group, I ask if they’re in a position to influence the group. They may already be doing that. That response may increase the chance of me giving the group a donation,

I try to be mindful of the solicitors’ time schedule; I figure they want to cover as many homes – and get as many donations and email signups – as possible. But sometimes the discussions are apparently mutually enjoyable and they insist that no, they’d rather stay for a few more minutes and talk. Maybe they get tired of getting curtly turned away or knocking on doors of empty houses, and a polite discussion about topics in which they’re interested is a nice change of pace.

Granted, “equal time” advocacy is not something you can do every day, but it’s fairly easy, since your audience comes to you, and the individuals in that audience tend to be good listeners who know and appreciate the hard work of outreach and are thus likely to give you the respect that all advocates want. You may gain some interesting insight into their worldviews also, and that in turn could help your own advocacy.

A Kindergarten Thanksgiving

3 Comments

(This is a guest post by my good friend Katherine. Her post shows that we still have a long way to go in changing how the world thinks about animals.)

Our oldest child, Emma Kate, is in kindergarten this year. Today we were invited to the “Kindergarten Pow-Wow.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew they had been practicing songs and parents had been asked to provide food for the children to eat. The children filed into the cafeteria, took their seats on the floor, and began to sing a variety of Thanksgiving-related songs. The first offering was a sweet melody about being thankful for stars and trees, but it wasn’t long before the subject matter turned to turkeys. Even though Emma Kate attended preschool for several years, these turkey songs had not made it onto my radar. I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over two and a half years, and as the songs progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. Here are the words to one of the songs they sang:

(to the tune of Frere Jacque)

Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey
Run away, run away
If you are not careful
You will be a mouthful
Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day

All of a sudden I was struck by how utterly one-sided the Thanksgiving curriculum must have been, and on a larger scale, how our children are indoctrinated to eat meat and dissociate from it by making fun of the animals. As if poor Mr. Turkey has a choice! In fact, the lyrics to this song go beyond teasing the turkey to blaming him for his own plight.

Proof of this indoctrination came when the singing portion of the program ended. As the children ate their pow-wow meal (which was interestingly vegan except for the Rice Krispie treats), a slide show played with slides containing “recipes” for a Thanksgiving dish provided verbatim by the children. This was a cute idea, but many of the children chose turkey for their recipe, and more than I would have expected mentioned killing the turkey as the first step. I was surprised to see that at 5 years old, quite a few of these kids had no qualms about taking a life for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Emma Kate considers herself a vegetarian, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she loves bacon (and I don’t mean tempeh bacon). Since I stopped eating meat, I have been honest with her about the origins of her food, but have told her that what she eats is up to her (her 18 month old brother, however, is being raised vegetarian – and dad is a carnivore – we’re a bit of a mixed up family). At the beginning of tonight’s dinner, after hearing Emma Kate belt out the Mr. Turkey song once more, I asked her what she thought about the song. She answered that it was about a turkey, and I probed a little further. Once she could see what I was thinking, she jumped pretty quickly into agreeing with whatever I said. She tends to do this whenever vegetarianism is discussed, so it’s hard to figure out her truest thoughts. However, at the end of our discussion, I was saying that I thought the turkey wanted to stay alive, and that it sometimes hurts to die, and she said, “Yeah, the turkey has to suffer.” Who knows what will come of this? Part of me is rooting for her to go to school tomorrow and inform the teacher or a classmate that she feels sorry for the turkeys. Part of me hopes she mulls it over, makes some connections and eventually decides to forgo bacon. I hope at the very least, she will be able to think a bit more critically of similar songs in the future.

Unfortuately, based on what I saw today, I doubt there were similar conversations around the dinner tables of Emma Kate’s schoolmates tonight. I now understand that if I want my children to be exposed to different points of view, I need to make these conversations a priority. I’m glad to have this awareness for my own family, and the greater awareness of how many opportunities for change remain for our culture, but at the same time, the task seems larger and more difficult than I previously believed. If you think of this scenario going on in thousands of elementary schools across the country this week, that’s a lot of reinforcement of meat-eating as the norm.

Guest Post: The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale

1 Comment

(This is a guest post by the always charming Gary Loewenthal of Animal Writings and Compassion for Animals. He’s heading up the first Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, which you’ve hopefully heard about by now. I asked Gary to write a guest post to talk a little bit about the bake sale, which has gathered an awful lot of steam since he first told me about the project a few months ago. It’s a great example of what one person with one good idea can do.)

It’s my honor and privilege to be taking up valuable bandwidth on the premier animal rights and vegan blog of the Internet. Many thanks to Ryan. (ed. note: No neet to butter me up, Gary, you’ve already got the guest post spot. :) )

My life lately has been gradually consumed by the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (WVBS), culminating next week, so hopefully I’ve learned a few lessons and have some impressions that may be of interest to a few readers or more.

In a nutshell… The WVBS concept is simple: Groups (or individuals) around the world hold vegan bake sales around the same time – June 20-28, to be exact. It’s not a strict requirement that participants have to have a bake sale during that time period, but having a bunch of vegan bake sales across the globe in the same week makes it feel more like a festive, impactful event.

The idea is very unoriginal. It’s based on similar projects such as the Great American Bake Sale. The main difference – besides being vegan – is that participants can do whatever they want with the proceeds. That’s turned out to be a great feature, but the original reason for that decentralization was to make the project easier to organize. Speaking of which, the coordinator of the event as a whole is Compassion for Animals, a small DC-area grassroots animal group that a few of us started last fall. (The website will be finished as soon as I get a break from the WVBS!)

I randomly hoped for 30 bake sales the first year. Right now we have 75. Participants include an LA City Councilmember’s office, a preschool, a radical left sci-fi convention, vegan businesses, vegan food bloggers, local veg*an groups, internationally known animal protection organizations such as Farm Sanctuary and Compassion Over Killing, and ad hoc collaborations of friends. Proceeds are going to a river cleanup effort, an anti-discrimination program, a children’s shelter, a free mobile spay/neuter service, humane societies, farmed animal sanctuaries, Food not Bombs, Food For Life, and animal-related groups ranging from the Sea shepherd Conservation Society to Vegan Outreach – and many more places. One bake sale is a fundraiser for a sanctuary employee who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Lessons I’ve learned (or am learning) – which may be old hat to anyone who’s organized anything, or may just be common sense, but I’ll put them out there in case they’re useful to others who are thinking of embarking on an activism project:

“You can do it.” I’m not a great baker and I have almost no experience at bake sales or putting together events, yet I’m heading up a global vegan bake sale. I forget who said that the secret to writing a book is to start writing, but I think it’s the same thing with big projects: Just start doing the first steps, then the second steps, and so forth. Don’t worry that you’re not an expert or that you make mistakes along the way – we’ve made a ton. You learn from your mistakes and gather knowledge along the way.

If the project seems too big, scale it back. As mentioned before, we made the WVBS participation rules short and simple partly to save time on our end. You also might also be able to enlist help. I feel like I cashed in all my chips on this endeavor, but hopefully that’s ok – if we all help each other, it should come out even in the long run.

Prepare for success. The WVBS isn’t a household name, and it’s nowhere near the scale of, say, Meatout (shout-out to FARM, BTW, for their promotions of the WVBS), but compared to my low expectations, it’s a huge success – and the workload has expanded accordingly. In hindsight, I should have asked myself, “What kind of infrastructure and time commitment will we need if we get a lot more respondents than we’re expecting?”

Cupcake activism is powerful! I was slow to realize the power of introducing skeptics to the deliciousness and variety of vegan food. I may have been too vested for too long in trying to craft the perfect pro-vegan arguments to see that vegan chocolate chip cookies have their own persuasiveness which may go beyond words. I’m finding out that the positive, friendly atmosphere of vegan feed-ins and bake sales are somewhat disarming and conducive to productive conversations; non-vegans attending these events seem more open, more honest, less defensive, less inclined to play “stump the vegan.” Food is an amazing activism tool. And it tastes great!

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the WVBS is witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of all the participants. They’re the ones doing the heavy lifting and are the reason that the project is a success; I can’t give them enough props or gratitude. Not only will the bake sales feature an assortment of cookies, cupcakes, pies, brownies, breads, and muffins; they’ll also include danishes, cinnamon rolls, scones, donuts, cheesecakes – you name it Some bake sales will be combined with jewelry and crafts, or music shows by national acts or local groups. And check out these amazing posters for Atlanta, Ithaca, and Auckland bake sales! The hard work and amazing output from the organizers and bakers for all the local bake sales has been nothing short of inspiring. If you get a chance over the next couple weeks, stop by one or more of these bake sales if they’re in your area. Take home some wonderful goodies and help out worthy causes in the process. And know that the offerings on the bake sale tables all over the world are not only produced with flour, sugar, nondairy milk, and other cruelty-free ingredients; they’re also made with love – which can be quite an effective outreach tool.

Guest post: Natala’s Story

18 Comments

Today I bring you a first on the Veg Blog: a guest post.

I first met Natala Constantine when she came to my family’s house and took pictures of us after being recommended to us by her sister-in-law, a friend of my wife’s. I was surprised when veganism came up in the conversation and was even more amazed when I heard the details of Natala’s story. Sometimes, I don’t give as much credit to those who come to veganism for health reasons, but Natala’s story reminds me that it is indeed possible for people to become vegan for purely health reasons but then open up to the ethical reasons as they dig deeper. I’m going to shut up now and let Natala tell you her story…

I stood in the kitchen, tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing against the floor as I talked to my Granny on the phone. I was 15 years old, she was 57, and she called me to tell me that she was giving up, that she could no longer go through diabetes, that she could no longer have dialysis treatments, that she could not face the possibility of getting her lower leg amputated, that she had no more fight in her. I wanted so badly to tell her that it would be okay, that something would change, that she could hold on just a little bit longer. But I was witness to the life my Granny had lead up till that moment, the countless doctors, the insulin injections, the pills, the complications she suffered from diabetes. For her, death was the better alternative, better than having to go through another day with diabetes. She opted to stop dialysis, and not more than a day later, I sat beside her as she drew her last breaths of life.

It was ten years later that I would find out that I was also a diabetic. I sat in a doctors office, head spinning, as words were flying all around me. I watched as they pumped insulin into my veins, sitting still, numb, and wanting it to all go away.

For five years I was insulin dependent, a severe diabetic. I went to doctor after doctor and have been put on medicine after medicine. I was told that I would always have to take insulin, that insulin and medication were the only answers to controlling my diabetes. Paired with medication, I was given numerous handouts and book suggestions on how to eat as a diabetic. Every single doctor and nutritionist that I encountered, every single hand out, every book that was suggested had the same exact advice: eat lots of meat (it was suggested on several occasions that I try South Beach or Atkins). I was told over and over again to stay away from ANY carbohydrates, that I should never eat fruit, and that I should fill up on meat. Sure, every so often they would throw in “eat salads,” but really, it was a side note to eating a diet that included a large portion of meat protein every day. The standard percentage was to eat less than 20% of my diet in carbohydrates and the rest in meats and low carb vegetables.

When I say that I tried every thing to help my diabetes, it would be an understatement. I was willing to do anything to change the course of the disease that took my Granny. But my biggest mistake was relying on a medical industry who was making money off of me staying on medications, not to mention relying on a medical industry who was having no success after the millions of dollars in “research” that it had been doing for the past 50 years or so on curing diabetes. I was trusting an industry whose record is devastating. In the past 50 years the rates of diabetes have gone up in numbers that are atrocious. And decades later, diabetes is treated the same way, with the same nutrition advice: take more insulin, eat a meat protein diet. There is a great saying “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” And every day in this country, thousands of people sit in their doctors office, terrified about a diagnosis they have just been given. They are handed a prescription for insulin and other diabetes drugs, and they get a piece of paper with a guide to eating healthy as a diabetic, sponsored by a major pharmaceutical company.

This past August, my life changed when I decided to take my health into my own hands. A very good friend of mine started me on a quest of searching for natural healing books. It was on this search that I came across a book called The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle. I will be the first to admit that I nearly put it back on the shelf after seeing the title. I am not one for fad diets, or anything that claims to be a “miracle.” But I started to thumb through the book and quickly realized that the book was describing the very problems that I was having regarding my blood sugar numbers. The book went on to say that for diabetics, the best diet was one that was completely plant based. It referenced several studies, including ones that they had done on their own (they are part of a large clinic), and the results were astonishing. People were going off of insulin in just days after switching to a completely plant-based diet. I started to research more about a plant-based diet, and decided that at this point, it could not hurt. My blood sugar numbers were already bad, and this was one of the only things I had not tried.

With in a few short weeks I was off of insulin. For five years, I took insulin every day. I was told that I would never go off of insulin. And in a few weeks of going on a plant-based diet, where I completely eliminated animal fats and proteins, I was off of insulin. My blood sugar numbers were the best they had been in 5 years.

The more I looked, the more I found other stories like mine. People who had been on insulin for far longer than me, were going off of insulin and reversing their diabetes in a matter of weeks.

When I called my Dr. at the time to schedule an appointment, and told him what I had done, he simply stated that I should stay on all my medication, because chances are I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the “strict” diet. So, basically, stay on medication so that I can eat poorly and not reverse my diabetes, all because a plant-based diet might be difficult.

I, of course ignored this advice. And I am still insulin free, continuing to learn as much as I can about this disease and the cure that already exists for it.

The why and the ethics of it all

A lot of people ask me a lot of questions about why I’ve done what I’ve done, likewise a lot of people tell me that they could “never” do what I’ve done, some going as far as saying that they would “die” rather than stop eating animal products.

This sentiment is echoed so much, not only by people I’ve talked to, but in society at large. It is completely devastating to me. I’ve lived with diabetes for five years, and I can not think of many things that are worse, and I did not suffer some of the complications that a lot of diabetics face. I do not understand how things like blindness, amputation, stroke, nerve disorders can be better and more easily adapted to than eliminating a few foods. The addiction to animal food products in our society is something that I’ve only been able to see after adapting this new lifestyle. We are inundated with commercial after commercial that sensuously display animal based foods. They appeal to addiction in ways that are no different (if not worse) than what the tobacco industry has done. The public at large collectively covers their ears when the overwhelming ethical side to all of this is stated. They yell and scream when the undeniable health benefits are presented clearly before them. The right to eat foods that are killing them is ingrained deeply in their psyche, as I know it was in mine a for very long time. I am ashamed of how long it took, and what condition I had to get to, to take my life and health into my own hands. I also can look back and see exactly why it is that I ate the way I did, and why I never wanted to consider a different way.

Doctors

We’re told to trust doctors. And we’ve also all seen the effects of doctors who are nothing more than snake oil salesmen. Doctors in the United States are in a horrible position. Can you imagine if a doctor were to tell a severe diabetic to not take insulin, but to instead go on a plant-based diet? If that patient did not hold up their end of the bargain, the lawsuits would begin, claiming that the doctor did not adequately care for their patient. Doctors, in many cases have become experts in prescribing medicine. Every doctor I went to spent a maximum of 5% of the visit talking about nutrition, and when they did it was essentially “eat lots of animal protein.” The rest of the visit was explaining the new medication they were going to be giving me and explaining why I needed to increase my insulin dosage each day. It wasn’t until I decided to take my health into my own hands that I realized that my doctors were not concerned with reversing my diabetes, they were interested in controlling it with the aid of medication. As I read through books and talked to people that were on the side of natural health, I started to understand the negative effects of the medication I was on. I found out that insulin is a growth hormone. The medication that I injected into my abdomen every day was indeed a growth hormone and it slowed weight loss. So, losing weight, which would greatly improve my chances of reversing diabetes, was that much harder because of a medication that I was taking every day, a medication that my doctors all prescribed and promoted.

I remember sitting in a doctor’s waiting room looking through a diabetes magazine and being alarmed by how many advertisements there were for various diabetes drugs. Every other page had something insulin related, paired with advertisements for things like Splenda, Subway, and Kraft. So, some of the very things that cause diabetes to progress were there, advertised right along with the things that help people continue to eat poorly, that being medication. I wonder what would happen if doctor office magazines promoted legumes and broccoli? What if instead of drug companies pushing their brand new diabetes drug, a local farmer walked in to promote their lovely new spinach? What if the pens we fill out our co-pay checks with did not have a giant pharmaceutical company’s name plastered on them, but instead an apple?

We have the cure for type 2 diabetes, and yet it is completely ignored by most doctors. We sink billions into diabetes research, yet the cure is there, and has been there for a very long time. How is it morally right for this continue? How can we continue to ignore this, and put the health of ourselves and future generations at risk, simply because we want to continue to eat foods that hurt us?

I do not want to lay the blame completely in the hands of doctors. I think they have a huge responsibility. However, ultimately, we are the ones who need to be the doctors. We know our bodies better than anyone else and we have time to do research on the truth of what will heal us. If we simply rely on a 20-minute check-up every six months, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. It is astonishing that people will spend upwards of four hours per day watching television, but will not crack open one book that could potentially save their life. There are plenty of people that will call me up to talk about the latest political or entertainment news, but at the mere mention of health, the conversation quickly ends. As a society, we have done a marvelous job in ignoring every solid piece of evidence presented to us regarding our health and we continually turn our heads away at the mention of changing the lifestyles we’ve become addicted to. Doctors play a very small roll in our health and it wasn’t until I made this realization that I was able to really take control of my life and health.

Animals, meat processing, and the truth I knew, but ignored.

A few years ago my husband and I watched Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation. Since then, we have not stepped one foot into a fast food place. It wasn’t just the horror of what was done to the food itself, or the animals. It was the ethics of what these giant corporations were doing. They are committing mass murder (on several levels) and we could not justify supporting them any longer.

During the process of going vegan I would come across articles and books talking about the food industry and exactly how animal products were made. The truth is, when I was eating animal products, I knew some of the horrors of what was done to the animal I was consuming and I knew all of the poisons that were pumped into that animal that I was consuming. I knew that pigs were pumped full of sugar to fatten them up (often giving them diabetes) and I knew that most animal farms were using more drugs than we would ever legally give a human being, and yet, I would sit and eat my chicken sandwich anyway. Going vegan meant reading more and more about the food industry and what was really going on before I grilled up my Perdue chicken. Looking at it from the vantage point I have now, I still completely understand why people have continued to eat the way they do. No matter what the overwhelming evidence says, it is easily ignored.

My Grandfather used to smoke. He told me that back in the forties “everyone smoked, including the doctors.” He would tell me that despite logically knowing that putting a cigarette to your mouth was a bad idea, it was easily ignored because there were ads for cigarettes everywhere and there were even doctors who promoted smoking them. He told me that the people who were early advocates in the anti-tobacco movement were considered to be “quacks” and were largely ignored. After all, how could television and newspapers allow something to be advertised that would kill you?

This is exactly how I see what is going on with our food industry. Our society puts their trust in advertisers and large corporations. People at large can be given very clear evidence of why eliminating animal meats and proteins from their diets is not only healthy, but ethical, and they go home, turn on their TV, and right in front of them is a barrage of commercials negating every thing they started to consider about a plant-based diet. They go to their doctor, who knows close to nothing about being on a plant-based diet and are told that eating that way is not healthy. They’re given large amounts of wrong information by a person that they trust with their life. The contradictory information is overwhelming for so many people, I know it was for me, which is why I had to do a few things before being able to completely adapt to this new way of life.

  1. Taking health into my own hands. I spent all of my free time reading and studying. My life all of a sudden became my most important priority and I no longer wanted to put my life in the hands of other people. I wanted to do the research all on my own and come up with my own conclusion.
  2. Just a few weeks… I decided that going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks was not going to hurt me and that I could do anything for a few weeks. For me it was easy to see what a difference going plant-based was doing. My blood sugar numbers were dropping and I was able to go off of insulin. I wish that all people could have something so visible and obvious to see when making the switch. Aside from that, I started to feel a lot better. I was having far fewer days that I felt depressed, I was feeling well rested more often, and I was starting to lose weight. Paying attention to how my body was feeling was really key for me. I could not deny that I was starting to feel physically better.
  3. Research. I picked up several books, and was given a few as well, that became my course on going on a plant-based diet. I took on my health like I would a college course (well, one that I really cared about, at least). I realized that my body was one thing I had very little expertise on. Being that I spend a lot of time with my body, I decided that needed to end.
  4. Talking to people who were already doing this. It always takes me by surprise, the number of people who have been doing this for years and who very casually talk about going on a plant-based diet. The more people I meet who have done the same thing, the easier and easier it gets for me. There have been days where I feel overwhelmed by it all or I feel that I can’t possibly keep it all up, and I am then reminded of the millions who have been doing this for a while.
  5. Not letting negative people get to me. I am always discouraged by how many people will put down my new lifestyle. The lifestyle that is saving my life and preventing things like amputation seems to be a joke to a lot of people. I understand for many it is very threatening, what I’m doing and how I’m changing my life, but in order to really take control of my health, I had to work to eliminate some of that negativity from my life.
  6. Getting rid of TV. We made the decision a while ago to get rid of our cable. It was the best decision we ever made. No longer do I watch commercials which tell me to eat bad food or watch television shows that use product placement to enforce negative behaviors.
  7. Caring enough about myself. Part of my eating poorly was my own depression and this underlying feeling of not caring about myself. I had to work a lot from the inside out, getting in order some of the emotional hang ups that I had, and reasons that I did not want to be as healthy as I possibly could. I had to care enough about myself to want to change.

For vegans: Why to not lose hope on society

I never thought I’d go vegan. And yet, here I am, planning out my three bean chili for dinner and finishing my hummus sandwich with micro greens, bean sprouts, and cucumber. It took a devastating disease to wake me up, but I do not think that it has to be that way for most people. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep eating the way you do, keep supporting stores that are doing their part. Keep writing about your life and your health. You are more powerful than you realize. Even as people dismiss you, make fun of you, question you, know that you have planted a seed, somewhere, and that you could help someone unlock the door to their health. Be encouraging to those who are seeking to live a more healthy life, don’t give up on people, once they realize just how strong they are, there is no telling what can happen in our society.

For the non-vegans

You can ignore every thing I said, you can put it in the category as another health nut hippie who is telling you to give up your favorite foods. You can do all of that and it won’t effect me one bit. It makes no difference in my life. I urge you, however, to attempt going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks. Yes, you will crave things. Yes, you might even feel like crap for a few days. But what you will discover is that you have the choice to live a much more healthy life, one where you don’t have to constantly worry about what you are eating, how much you are eating, and how it might one day effect you. You will soon realize that eating a plant-based diet is plenty tasty and fulfilling and that a lot of your food addictions will start slipping away. You might even start to see the ethical side of going on a plant-based diet and all that happens in our food industry.

Become your own doctor. Start doing your own research. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word for that matter. Take your life into your hands.

Some books/resources to help you get started

  • The China Study – T. Colin Campbell
  • Becoming Vegan
  • The Free Vegetarian starter kit (you can find it at the pcrm.org web site)
  • veganhealth.org

Other favorite books/cookbooks

  • Eat, Drink and be Vegan (I am currently attempting to cook every thing in the book!), Vegan with a Vengeance, Veganomicon, La Dolce Vegan!
  • The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle (if you are a diabetic, or if diabetes runs in your family)
  • Fast Food Nation (also watch the movie)
  • The Food Revolution
  • Vegan Freak
  • Vegan: The New ethics of Eating
  • Skinny Bitch (for a quick, in your face kind of approach to it all)

Ok… really quick, I wanted to get into my husband’s health. My husband is not vegan, but very much wants to be. I am hoping that someone reading this might know someone, or might themselves know some of good resources for us. In short, my husband is allergic to plants. He has a reaction (oral, mainly) to any raw fruit or vegetable and has reactions to some cooked plants as well (tomatoes and spinach, for starters). He has a severe nut allergy and has adverse reactions to some beans and grains, as well. We have been looking for a doctor that might be able to help, but have had little luck. We’ve tried to find anyone online who has gone through the same thing and also have not had much luck. So, if you are reading this and you know of someone that might be able to offer any insight, we would love to hear from you. We can travel pretty much anywhere and are willing to try just about anything. He certainly has a rare condition, but I am convinced that we can find answers, just like I found answers to diabetes.

Thanks so much for reading about my journey. Really, that is all I have to offer, just my personal experience with all of this. I wish I could help to open up the eyes (and minds) of people that are in the same situations that I have been in, or are on their way there. There is no food worth having this disease. There is no food that tastes as good as being healthy feels. And for me, there is not a food that is worth compromising my own ethical and moral standards. The fact is that we have the cure for type 2 diabetes, for obesity and probably many other diseases. It just doesn’t fit into the lifestyles that our society has become addicted to, and that is one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime.