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.