Thursday, November 29, 2007

How I Became a Vegetarian

Death is all around here on the eastern New Mexico prairie. At least that’s how I feel today.

Yesterday, when driving home from volunteering at the community college, I saw a herd of cattle running along inside the fence line of a large pasture. I’m used to seeing placid groups of cattle grazing peacefully and this was something unusual, so I stopped my car by the side of the road to see what was going on. There was a huge cattle truck parked off by the fence with its gates open and ramps down. Because I didn’t remember seeing any cattle in this particular field, I assumed that they had just been unloaded there.

There was a cowboy mounted on his modern day steed, a four-wheeler, attempting to herd the smaller groups into one big herd--at least it looked like that to me. I wondered why he would stir up what I was starting to realize were already panicked animals, but I eventually decided that he must be trying to move the cattle to the far corner of the pasture so that the big truck could make its way out of the gate.

As I watched, the cowboy drove back over to the truck, perhaps to talk things over with his co-workers (co-cowboys?). And then the cattle headed down the fence line toward where I was parked. As they passed me, some of them stumbling and obviously worn out, I was able to look closely at each animal. Their eyes were rolling, their tongues hanging out, and some of them had foam coming out of their mouths. They were wet all over with what looked and smelled like liquefied cow manure. It ran down their sides and their legs; it ran down their faces into their eyes and mouths. They were breathing hard and just moving forward by instinct.

It made me so sad. I know that they are born and bred for slaughter. I know that they will make up the hamburgers I’ve always eaten. But looking at them, I couldn’t understand why an animal that is destined to be killed and cut up and turned into meat wasn’t being treated with some dignity during its brief life. There was no reason for those animals to be living in filth. There was no reason for them to be turned out into a pasture while soaking wet, with a night of freezing temperatures ahead of them. They were exhausted and no doubt thirsty, and I could see no accommodations for watering them.

I drove home, feeling that the world is a bad place and that I am a bad person for driving fast by the feedlots around here and never, ever really looking.

This morning I headed out on my bike to look at “my” cattle and to see how they had fared during the bitter night. I was hoping to find them grazing tranquilly, all panic somehow forgotten. It was a hard ride, cold and extremely windy. I had to travel down what I classify as a “scary” road: Scary = fast moving (though occasional) traffic and no shoulders. At times I got off and pushed my bike into the wind, lest it push me backwards.

When I arrived at the pasture…I got it. There were no tranquil cattle grazing. There were no cattle at all. I had completely misinterpreted and misunderstood what I was seeing yesterday. Those cattle were about to be loaded into the big cattle truck. And for an animal raised for meat, going somewhere in the big truck is never a good thing. They were panicked and trying to get away. They were hopeless, because they knew that the cowboys always win. Sure, I’m assigning human emotions to animals. But I defy you to look into the eyes of manure-covered beasts like them and not see a life of unwilling, unrelenting, and miserable slavery.

I know there is a better way. I have raised meat animals myself, in my “back to the land” days. Although we were inexperienced, we did everything we could to ensure that our animals had good lives and that they met their end in as humane a way as possible. They were raised in a clean barnyard and were never sent to the slaughterhouse. They were killed at home with a quick shot, usually as they ate a peaceful meal in familiar surroundings.

Here is my challenge to you: Learn about how the animals we eat live and die. It’s not easy reading, believe me. And don’t just read about it—go to a feedlot and look into their eyes.


Read about the raising, transportation, and slaughtering of animals at

Read about another way to celebrate the that animals we raise and who nourish us:

Read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for information about humane raising of meat animals.


Anonymous said...

I would highly recommend "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal", by Eric Schlosser. It covers a broad range of topics relating to where our food comes from. Of course it exposes the shameful way we treat animals, plus the horror of the slaughterhouse, but there are fascinating parallels into the world of illegal immigrants who work in many of the slaughtering and harvesting facilities. They are often treated as poorly as the animals. It also covers minimum wage, pesticides, genetics, the obesity epidemic, and the scary looking industrial buildings across the river from NYC, in smelly old Elizabeth, New Jersey. That's where they invent flavor!

I'll also recommend a book that I have not even read! It's called "Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism" by Temple Grandin. I don't know how the writing is, but if it's even slightly as fascinating as it's author, it should make for a fascinating read. This autistic woman spend a whole lot of time with cows and circumstances led her to design a more humane slaugterhouse design, heavily rooted in her understanding of the way that cattle think and interact. It's not a perfect system (and the cattle still die) but supposedly the last moments of life that the animals experience are calm and unsuspecting. I'm pretty sure that the process is still pretty awful, but it's refreshing to see that someone within the immense beef industry is trying to include the element of compassion to the process.

Sony said...

Hi Z--

This is so wonderfully stated. While I didn't become a vegetarian because I saw something like this, I did read about it in a PETA or PCRM mailing and decided I just couldn't cause anything that amount of pain.

Thanks for writing it :)


Anonymous said...

Great post! You know, "Skinny Bitch" by Kim Barnouin is what sent Melina recently back to being a vegetarian (untimely as she missed that excellent chicken pot pie Aimee met). So, what does this mean for the Zee NM household?

clairz said...

Thanks for the comments, Ben, Dee, and sonjag, and thanks for recommending that book, Ben. I just happen to be reading another incredible book by an author with autism--Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet. And Dee, thank you so much for taunting me with that "Skinny Bitch" title.

So, being a vegetarian in cattle country will be challenging. I am having a hard time finding those nice frozen vegetarian foods you have in NH, although we do have a selection of veggie burgers. Of course, Beez still craves steak, so that will add to the challenge. Perhaps he can do his dead animal eating at lunch and we can veg at supper time. Right now I am working on finding some good vegetarian soup recipes, because as the weather grows colder (well, slightly coolish to you easterners) I crave nice hot bowls of soup. The first ones I want to try are Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato, and a squash/apple cider soup.

Do any of you want to start a vegetarian blog? Or maybe this will work--I've just set up a cookbook on under "clairz" and perhaps you can access it. In the meantime, may I recommend the beautiful blog by Mercedes called "Desert Candy?" She has some lovely vegetarian dishes, not to mention at least 15 outrageous homemade ice cream flavors.


Sony said...

Hi Z-

If you're looking for good soup recipes, look at the Moosewood Cookbook (there's one on its way to you... every vegetarian needs this cookbook!) I have so many recipes that I just love from this book, including a bunch of soups. The Onion Soup is one of my favorites, and the Cauliflower-Cheese and Gypsy soups are right up there too. The only one I've tried and not been too keen on is the Hot and Sour. Bummer, cuz I really like H&S and most restaurants make it with meat.

My other fav soup recipes are in a beautiful bowl of soup by Paulette Mitchell. Lots of great recipes in there. One big difference between the two books is that Moosewood uses pretty common ingredients, while a beautiful bowl of soup calls for some that I have a hard time finding.

HTH you in your quest for soup recipes!!


Jean (aka Auntie Bucksnort) said...

Hi Clair. I got out my recipe box to find some of my vegetarian soups from the 70's and 80's when I was cooking for a vegetarian child. Cream of potato w/ fresh spinach, sharp cheddar and fresh nutmeg is good. How about a miso borscht? How about a lentil/eggplant soup with fresh rosemary? I used to make creamy carrot with chopped watercress soup, And a potato-watercress soup. Cream of mushroom from scratch is good. Cream of zuccini with leeks and arugula is good. Potato/cream cheese/dill is good. Cream of potato with peas, spinach, chervil and a tiny bit of mint is good.

How about sauteed/browned mushrooms for your vegetable stock. Miso makes a good stock. There are three or four different types these days, aren't there? Brown, red, white, yellow. Adding a tiny bit of nutritional yeast to soup stock helps to "beef up" the flavor. Dr. Bronner's used to make a really good powdered soup stock that we used all the time. Don't know if it's still around or not. Swiss chard has a nice hearty flavor that might help "flesh out" a vegetable stock. Everyone seems to be adding balsamic to soup these days. A nice big dollop of yogurt is a yummy protein garnish for a lot of soups, esp. borscht.

There's alway barley soup which is nice in winter. And a nice spicy thai coconut soup is always an eye-opener on a dark winter night.

Northanna said...

When we came out here, I was horrified to pass the animals at the feedlots. It is sickening. So cruel. The things I've always read about were happening here! And alot of places around here. The calves that are killed for 'veal' are here ~ all the horrifying things. At the grocery stores, when I make selections for meals; I can't buy animals' dead bodies anymore. I use soy/tofu/edamame and I use other sources such as beans for protein. I wish that more people were more conscious about the cruelty they are doing. I wish that before anyone ate an animal, they would have to watch what the animal went through. Milk that people buy? That is for calves! It's not for people. If they want milk, soy milk is great!