One Man’s Evolution

One of the most common lines of defense from people resistant to going vegan is: “But I was brought up that way—I was raised in a family of meat-eaters.” Well, so was I. My parents are big-time meat-eaters and they’ve got all the standard American health issues to prove it.

In college during the 1970s, I still proudly flew the flag of flesh-eating. I chose to join the “carnivores” camp cooking group on a quarter-long nature photography field course in the backcountry of Yosemite, rather than the ahead-of-their-time, health-conscious group of California falafel-eaters. I was fairly fascinated with the field of physical anthropology and could identify most of our earliest hominid ancestors by their Latin names. I even studied primitive buckskin tanning and stone tool making during an “aboriginal life skills” course in eastern Oregon.

But the allure of anthropology waned during the ensuing years after I moved to a remote wilderness cabin in the heart of the North Cascades. Living out where the resident nonhuman animals were my closest neighbors made untenable the notion of humankind as the center of the universe, or even the most interesting species to study on this planet. I discovered a new understanding of our fellow beings as unique individuals (as opposed to mere things to be objectified in paintings on cave walls), and I soon came to accept that meat was the product of their suffering.

It was ultimately my involvement in wildlife issues, such as the group efforts to oppose whaling and ban bear-baiting, hound-hunting and trapping in Washington State that led me to examine the cruelty inherent in the meat industry. I’d seen first-hand the look of fear on the face of a bear who’s being pursued by crazed hounds and technologically dependent human hunters, heard the cries of shock and agony when an animal first feels the steel jaws of a trap lock onto his leg and witnessed the look of despair in the weary eyes of a helpless captive who had been stuck in a trap for days and nights on end. I could tell that suffering is every bit as intense for the animals as it is for humans.

Almost overnight, I became what you might call an ethical vegetarian, or vegan. When I say “almost overnight,” it was actually a matter of several months of soul-searching, but it must have seemed like overnight to the rest of my family who knew me as quite a turkey addict at Thanksgiving.

When I allowed myself to hear the message of compassion for farmed animals, I didn’t hate the messengers or think of them as “party-poopers” or “food Nazis.” Instead, I was finally ready and willing to listen to how easily human beings can get by without eating meat.

That was 14 years ago; my only regret is that I waited so long.

Wildlife Photography Copyright Jim Robertson

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10 thoughts on “One Man’s Evolution

  1. thank you for this. I, too, am a vegan for the same reasons. It took me while to get there, but while I hated to hear it, I also welcomed each bit of information I got because in my heart I didn’t want to support what was cruel. I feel very awkward talking about meat because almost everyone I know eats it and I’ve been met with some real and intense anger (over the fact I refused to have meat at my wedding which really surprised me). But you are right in that there may be someone listening at any given time who just needs that one last bit of information to put them over the line. I can recall specifically a couple of events that both really furthered my own journey toward veganism – one of them was a pamphlet handed to me by someone who had likely been ignored all day at best and ridiculed at worst – if they’d given up before I came along, I’d have been slower in my path.

    • Thanks for your great comments. What you say about the stalwart person handing out pamphlets (probably “Why Vegan’s”) is something that a lot of activists who have been in that same boat should hear. If they knew that their message got to just one other person, it would be worth all the hours of ridicule and frustration.

  2. I, myself do not eat red meat – but I do eat organic chicken every now & then. But, will eventually stop that in time. I had seen on 60 minutes back in the early (very early) 90′s a piece on certain slaughter houses that treat their livestock in such horrid ways that it made me literally sick to my stomach. My heart just sank. I had NO idea @ that time that that went on. And still does. So, to all of the folks out there who are & decided to be vegetarian or vegan – I applaud you!

    • Thanks, you’re right–it still goes on, and always will as long as people eat meat. I applaud you for shunning red meat and hope that eventually comes sooner than later for the chickens’ sake, too. As I was loath to learn, oeven rganically raised chickens are trucked to the nightmarish slaughterhouses for “processing.” Eventually becomes reality the day we decide enough is enough!

  3. My fate is similar. Perhaps I wasn’t “ready” to become fully ethical vegetarian when I began my dietary changes last year. Heck – I didn’t even know what that meant! A month ago, one radio piece was all I needed to hear to push me off the fence for good. Now I’m hooked and am not looking back. “Because I’ve always done it” is no longer a good enough answer for continuing a thing despite all the evidence that it is wrong and unnecessary.

    Nice piece. Glad to have found you.

  4. I have a problem with a lot of traditions. Somehow, the word seems to allow the justification of horrendous cruelties– towards animals and humans. Bull fighting, turkey dinners for Christmas and Thanksgiving, infant circumcision– the list goes on.

    It takes guts to stand up for ethics, especially in front of one’s families and old support system. People tend to not like it when something so huge, changes.

    I’m with you– I went vegan more than 16 years ago– and wish I’d done so sooner.

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