Thursday, January 26, 2012

A vegan’s descent into hell

Well, not exactly hell, but certainly an unpleasant experience.  It all began a couple of nights ago, when I was preparing dinner in this lovely little country home.  It was dark and rainy, I was listening to music, and hoped that what sounded like a knock on the door was part of the music.  I nearly jumped out of my skin when a face appeared at the window, luckily my brain quickly registered that it’s a female face and hopefully connected to a friendly person and not an axe murderer.  I doubt the little kitties, lovely as they are, would be much help defending me against an intruder.

It turned out to be a neighbour woman, inviting me to dinner the following night.  I thanked her for her kindness, wondering why she’d invite the houseminder next door to dinner, and explained that I’m vegan.  After a short discussion of what I could or couldn’t eat, she said to be there by seven and bring my husband.  I realized that she thought I was one of the homeowners, who are new to the neighbourhood but currently away at a conference.  She invited me anyways, in good country community fashion.

I felt a bit out of place, but prepared a quinoa salad and carried a flashlight to find my way along the dark country lane.  She had a cute little dog, could be another potential client.  And I could be the vegan representative, breaking the ice for the vegan people whose house and cats I’m looking after. 

Walking through the kitchen I noticed the four large steaks on the counter and my mind automatically began to prepare an exit strategy.  I could feign sudden illness, which wouldn’t be a lie since the smell of cooking meat quite literally makes me nauseous.  But I’m the vegan representative, it was raining outside and I was there in a warm and friendly environment.  I decided to tough it out.

Earlier in the day I had noticed some horses in their field, and the many barn structures so, in the spirit of polite conversation, I asked about the farm.  It’s a working farm, with goats and sheep and cows and pigs.  I mentioned that I had lived on 40 acres when I was younger, with horses and dogs.  Their other guests arrived – a single mom and her teenage daughter who very enthusiastically shared stories of her own horses and competitive dressage, and their farm cats.  I thought about how the conversation might turn if my clients, rather than I, were sitting at that table.  They’re of the philosophy that cats shouldn’t roam outside, I was listening to stories of a hunter cat dragging home more rabbits and mice than it could possibly consume.

We finished our salads, and the dreaded moment approached.  I tried not to breathe as the thick stench of scorched meat circulated through the house.  I tried not to look as the slabs of dead cow were distributed among the guests, focusing instead on the lovely rice and lentil meal that had been prepared with me in mind.  The young woman mentioned that many of her friends are going veggie but when she asks them why they don’t really have a good reason.  They’re just doing it because it feels better, she said.  I hoped someone would ask me why, but nobody did.  The young woman said she’d finally found one friend who said she didn’t want to be part of the industrialized slaughter, the animals suffer too much, so she’d decided only to eat locally raised meat.  The hosts agreed that the pain and suffering is not good.  They only eat the animals they raise themselves.  

I managed not to throw up, the sight of them carving through the cow they’d raised from a calf entering my peripheral vision, thoughts of its happy little life suddenly and inexplicably taken from him by the very people he’d learned to trust.  One day they were feeding him, caring for him, moving him from the delightfully grassy field to the warmth of a clean overnight bed, and the next day they were … what … killing him themselves?  Shipping him off to the slaughterhouse?  Why? 

How is it that we live in a world where quinoa salad with yellow peppers, celery, cucumber, and blueberries, green salad with avocado, spiced lentils with caramelized onions, and chocolate cake isn’t enough? 

Dinner conversation was all about horses and farm life and how much we love our pets and what a great life it is.  I wanted to ask how can you eat the ones you love?  But I didn’t.  I sat quietly, thinking about how interesting it was going to be when my clients returned home to meet these friendly, but philosophically opposed, neighbours.  It’s difficult to remain quiet in such situations.  I wanted to do my vegan duty and speak for the animals, ask the questions they might ask, express the sentiment they might feel, but I didn’t.  Sometimes just being present is enough.  Conversation about the delicious vegan chocolate cake that the horse rider made, after being told there’d be a vegan guest, was enough.

I was asked about my pet minding services, but nobody asked for details about my other jobs even though I mentioned that this wasn’t only one way I earned money. We talked a bit about some of my clients, I explained that most of them are dogs, we chatted about the difference between cats and dogs, and how interesting it is to travel and live in different neighbourhoods to look after them.  I didn’t feel at all like a newspaper publisher, or an alternative media person with a radio program and a blog.  It was unusual.  I felt welcome, and I was asked for my contact information upon leaving. 

I’m writing about it because I love to write, and being in the country seems to inspire writing, and because if anyone reads it, and they’re veggie, they’ll likely nod with understanding.  We intentionally avoid holiday dinners where dead animals are served up on a platter, but occasionally we find ourselves in these awkward situations.  Thankfully it’s only occasionally.

Sometimes I forget how different I am.