Column - Done eating dead animals?Trying to become a vegetarian is harder than quitting smoking. For many years, I toyed off and on with the notion of not eating any dead animals.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
Trying to become a vegetarian is harder than quitting smoking.
For many years, I toyed off and on with the notion of not eating any dead animals.
When I was 13 years old, I saw a cow butchered in my sister-in-law’s father’s meat processing plant in Chickasha, Oklahoma. It was horrifying. I vowed then and there never to eat beef anymore, but that very Sunday Tina (sister-in-law) was cooking a beef roast with carrots and potatoes. Oh, it smelled so good. Quickly forgetting my vegetarian vow, I sat down to dinner and pigged out.
Years later, I worked for a summer at the “Poultry House” on St. Cloud’s east side. For eight hours a day, I would stand there and slice dead chickens in half – plucked chickens hung upside down on assembly-line hooks. The dead-chicken smell of that place gagged me. For more than a year after working there, I would not – could not! – eat chicken at all. Then one day, I must have been really hungry because I can still remember eating this delicious whole roasted chicken at a neighbor’s house.
I still toy with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, especially lately, after reading a long review by Elizabeth Kolbert in the November 9 New Yorker magazine. The article is a long book review of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. What I learned from that article is very disturbing. This year, Americans alone will eat 27 billion pounds of beef from 35 million cows; 23 billion pounds of pork and 38 billion pounds of poultry. That’s a lot of dead animals. What they endure before they become dead is enough to make even a cold-hearted person want to swear off eating meat.
Most of those animals are raised in the most crowded, hideous and cruel conditions imaginable – something that can only be described as sadistic. Broiler chickens, for instance, typically spend their lives in windowless sheds, with up to 30,000 other birds and such an accumulation of excretory waste that the ammonia-type fumes cause breast blisters, leg sores and respiratory disease.
Yes, I guess I do have a “Bambi complex.” Years ago, in Europe, I used to love eating lamb gyros and kebabs. After seeing lambs in a petting zoo at a county fair, I quit eating lamb. Never again.
For the same reason, I will not eat veal, which comes from slaughtered, cute little calves.
When I see those truckloads of jam-packed chickens or turkeys on their way to market, I always have an urge to “liberate” them from their miserable, painful, bloody fates.
“Oh, don’t be so sentimental,” so many people tell me. “They’re only animals.”
That’s always makes me mad. Just because they’re “only” animals does not mean we shouldn’t go to extra lengths to ensure they don’t suffer more than they need to before and while they are killed. They have feelings, too. Did you ever hear an injured cat or dog shriek with pain after being hit by a car? I saw and heard it once (a cat), and I hope never to hear that sound again.
There are other reasons – environmental reasons – why I’ve pondered becoming a vegetarian. Those antibiotics fed to many animals are not good for people. The massive amounts of manure generated at pig production lots threatens and destroys waterways. According to Foer, “Pigs processed by a single company, Smithfield Foods, generate as much excrement as all of the human residents of the states of California and Texas combined.” Raising animals to kill and to eat, I’m told, is an inefficient way to create protein for the human diet.
Yet another reason to go vegetarian is that, according to nutritionists, we Americans eat too much meat in huge portions; way more than we need.
Ironically, as I was reading the New Yorker article, which also mentions turkeys, I happened to be brining a turkey, getting it ready for a Tuesday afternoon dinner.
I don’t want to slide into a guilt trip over these issues, and yet – still – I kind of wish I could stop eating dead animals. But I know what will happen, hard as I try. Every time, as soon as I make my umpteenth vegetarian vow, I’ll do just fine – until I drive by a hamburger joint and smell sizzling burgers and onions.
Oh well, at least I don’t eat lamb or veal. That fact soothes my conscience a little bit, anyway.