When I was thirteen, my mother and father bred Berkshire pigs. We kept a few for the freezer and sent the rest off to be packaged and sold. The first time our sow had her litter, my father woke me at five in the morning to watch her give birth. The piglets and their mother had a run of their own. They ate feed supplemented with table scraps: melons and old scrambled eggs and stale bread. They rolled in mud made fresh by the rain and rooted around in the straw when they were brought inside. They taunted our Newfoundland from their side of the fence. They let my brother and sister and me chase them around in our rubber boots. They let themselves be caught and scratched under the chins. When they grew old enough, they were put on the truck and the next time I’d see them they were pink and juicy on the plate. Eating meat was easy.
Now that I’m twenty-four, my parents don’t breed pigs anymore. The hobby farm I grew up on was packaged and sold. Our Newfoundland died years ago. My mother and father aren’t married to each other and I don’t eat meat. Growing up while watching animals carted off for slaughter wasn’t the reason I became a vegan. If anything, it was the reason I ate meat for as long as I did – my family watched those pigs grow up full and happy and lazy in the sun. Their existence, while whose purpose was eventually to become food, wasn’t dark or marred with cruelty. What I knew of farming meat was from the acre of land that ran between the barn and the forest that claimed the rest of our property.
In early January, I watched a Yarmouth fisherman torture and mutilate a seal pup on the deck of his boat in a video he posted online. Hunting seals is a common practice in Canada that I accept, even as a vegan, as an important part of culture and industry when it’s done with a hand of empathy. As the fisherman kicked the pup in the head, and dragged its squealing, bloody body across the floor, I had to look away before the inevitable end. The fisherman laughed at the animal’s terror and the man behind the camera egged him on. The seal wasn’t threatening that particular fisherman’s livelihood. The man wasn’t fishing cod, or halibut, or salmon. He was fishing lobster.
In January, Donald Trump was sworn in as President. I couldn’t seem to escape the cruelty of the everyday: the Muslim ban, attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the denial of the state of the physical earth. But each time I went to the grocery store and skipped over the dairy aisle and ignored the cases of shining, pretty meat, I felt like I was doing my part to negate some of what is wrong in the world. I couldn’t save that seal pup. I couldn’t stop Donald Trump from becoming President. But I could invest my money in Gotham Greens and So Delicious and Beyond Meat, companies that are cruelty-free and operate with the environment in mind. Veganism has forced me to try new things: lentils, white beans, cashew cheeses, non-dairy milks. Cooking with these new discoveries exercised my creativity when I couldn’t seem to get words on the page. My veganism became synonymous with my activism.
It is not the animal that dies, but rather, the type of hand that feeds it. We ate pork once it was ready because it was farmed without dark, cramped pens, without mass-production, without forgetting that while a life might have a purpose, that it must be sparkling and bright while it lasts. I would eat meat again if my parents were still together, if they still had that hobby farm, if they still raised animals with the love that comes with keeping something alive.
Holly Rice is a creative writing MFA candidate at The New School and the Deputy Editor of the Inquisitive Eater. She is the 2015 recipient of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust’s RBC Emerging Artist Award and lives in Williamsburg. Her book reviews can be found in Boog City and on PublishersWeekly.com.
featured image via Farmers Weekly.