You would think that being born in 1967 in Daly City, California that I would have grown up a vegan hippie child in a commune. You would be wrong. My grandfather was a butcher and I became an omnivore. I loved meat including steaks, burgers, hot dogs, ham, turkey, chicken, ostrich, and buffalo. I was willing to try most stuff including shark and alligator even though I did draw the line at Rocky Mountain oysters or menudo, not the Puerto Rican boy band, the traditional Mexican soup made with beef tripe (which is the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach). Who was the first person that said, “Forget regular meat lets just throw in the lining of the stomach?” People loved it so much that they serve it at family functions.
My mom is a really good cook. She would make ham for Easter and Christmas, and turkey for Thanksgiving. For our daily meals she would cook pork chops, tacos with hamburger filling, chicken breasts and spaghetti with meat sauce. My step-dad taught me how to barbecue steak, chicken, burgers, and hot dogs.
In my meat ignorance, I never connected the dots between my love of animals and the meat on my plate. All of my friends and family ate meat and I never met anyone that was a vegetarian or at least I don’t think I did, which looking back is pretty amazing to me. It took me until 1992 when I moved to New Jersey to meet my first vegetarian. I wanted to impress her so I bought my first vegetarian cookbook and made her dinner. I thought it came out pretty well even though that was the last time we went out. Then in 2002 I became friends with another vegetarian at work. John was hard-core. He supported PETA and Green Peace, and opened my eyes to the suffering of the animals I was eating. I was already getting grossed out by eating beef and was just down to eating chicken and turkey. After our daughter was born, my wife and I started to look at our food decisions more seriously and decided to stop eating meat all together. It wasn’t too hard at first; we just ate the same things we cooked before, but without the meat. We also were able to find substitutes for the dishes we liked, Chiken’ Nuggets, Veggie bacon and sausages, and veggie crumbles for tacos. I couldn’t go back to eating meat even though I missed some dishes that I couldn’t find substitutes for like salami, Buffalo wings, pastrami, beef jerky, and pepperoni.
Pork was the first meat product that I gave up even though I used to love ham and bacon. I think it was just the smoky salty goodness that I liked more than the actual taste of pork. After I got married we never had ham or bacon in the house because my wife would not eat it. She just loved the little piggies too much. Factory hog farming is cruel from birth until death. When a piglet is born it is subjected to a range of treatments including castration, tail docking, teeth clipping and ear notching for identification. Treatments are usually made without painkillers and runts may be slain by being picked up by their hind legs and then bashed headfirst into the ground shortly after birth. Piglets then are weaned and removed from their mother between two and five weeks old. They are then led to small pens with other pigs or individual stalls that are barely big enough for the pig to lie down. These stalls allow each pig to be fed, medicated and for easy collection of waste, which also enables diseases to spread rapidly. To prevent disease spreading and encourage growth, drug programs such as antibiotics, vitamins, hormones and other supplements are administered preemptively. The pigs also smell and breathe their own feces and urine fumes for their entire existence, as it is lies directly under their pens. Pigs in the wild or on open farmland are naturally clean animals. Pigs lack sweat glands and are denied access to wallow in mud to cool themselves; this heat stress can lead to death. Mother pigs will spend their lives in two-foot by seven-foot gestation crates during pregnancy. The use of gestation crates is preferred because they facilitate feed-management, growth control and prevent pig aggression caused by their confinement. The gestation crates are so small that the mother pigs are unable to turn around and their bone density decreases from lack of movement.
I was never a big fish fan. For some reason we just never had good fish from the store; it always tasted like the water from my goldfish tank. The fresh fish that we caught at Pinecrest Lake wasn’t much better, small trout that were cooked on the barbecue with the heads and tails still on them. It was pretty disgusting to look down on this poor fish that had earlier in the day swimming in a giant lake, minding its own business, when a juicy worm was plopped right down in front of it. “Ooh! Where did that delicious snack come from?” the fish thinks. It then bites on to it and has a sharp hook pierce its cheek. As it tries to swim away in pain, it is pulled out of the water. As it is fighting to get back into the water and suffocating, it’s head is bashed against the side of the boat, a father takes a picture of its lifeless body with his smiling son and it is then thrown into a ice-filled cooler with its other dead friends. As I looked down at my plate with the skin burned, the eyes now lifeless and cloudy, it was incredibly hard to eat. I used to go to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and have fried clams. Now those were easy to eat – all I had to do was dip them in some tarter sauce and they were delicious. If you have never had fried clams they are dipped in evaporated milk, and coated with a combination of all-purpose, corn, and/or pastry flour. Then the coated clams are fried in canola oil, soybean oil, or lard. They were easy to eat because they don’t have faces on them and you can just dip and pop them in your mouth.
I never had really good fish until I went to Hawaii, where it is caught in the ocean, brought to the fish market, and cooked that day. I know people get excited over crab, lobster and shrimp and I have tried them all. I used to eat crab cakes, lobster bisque, and shrimp cocktails, and then I realized all of these animals are bottom feeders. They eat what ever they can find from dead animals, algae, worms, and even their own species. It always seemed cruel to see these animals in large tanks in China Town or the local market; and the idea of killing a lobster by placing it, live, in boiling water, or by splitting the body in half, lengthwise was hard for me to do or watch. Lobsters may also be killed immediately before boiling with a stab into the brain, in the belief that this will stop suffering. However, a lobster’s brain operates from not one but several masses of nerve cell bodies and disabling only the frontal nerve cell does not usually result in death or unconsciousness. When I worked at Red Lobster as a bus boy, I always hated watching customers with their dorky plastics bibs protecting their clothes from lobster muscle, blood, and guts, as they torn the tail off of the body then took a nut cracker to crush the claws and take out the muscles inside.
Shrimp trawling has highest rate of bycatch and discard levels as high as 20 pounds for every pound of shrimp, with a world average of 5.7 pounds for every pound of shrimp. Bycatch (fish caught unintentionally while intending to catch other fish) is often discarded dead or dying by the time it is returned to the sea, and may alter the ecological balance, which contributes to fishery decline and over fishing. Worldwide, shrimp trawling generates about 2% of the world’s catch of fish in weight, but results in more than 33% of the global bycatch total.
Today, commercial fishing is a rape of the ocean with large nets cast and dragged behind powerful boats taking what they can sell and dumping the rest back into the ocean. They leave broken nets, equipment, and fishing line for other animals to get caught and drowned or to eat. Fish farms aren’t any better. Large amounts of animals are kept in small containers that have to be fed antibiotics since they are swimming, breathing and eating in their own feces. The water is so gross that it makes it hard for the fish to breathe. Also, the over crowding makes it hard for the fish to form a stable social hierarchy and they start to cannibalize one another. Sea lice are thirty thousand times higher than naturally occur in the wild and eat the fish’s face down to the bone. The fish are then starved for seven to ten days before transportation and then are killed by having their gills sliced before being tossed into a tank of water to bleed to death.
Beef was the next thing that I gave up. I liked grilling steaks, burgers, and hot dogs. Hamburgers and hot dogs used to be made from the meat of one cow and now are made from hundreds of cows, increasing the chance of contamination. Ammonia is being used in amounts to obtain an pH of 10 to sanitize certain beef derivatives of E. coli and Salmonella; the ammonia is classified as a ‘processing agent’ and is not included on the list of ingredients. The product is now being utilized with USDA approval in hamburgers of the American fast-food industry, grocery stores and the federal school lunch program. Although school lunch officials have some qualms about the product, its price is substantially lower and said it saves about $1 million a year in school lunch costs. Who could eat Norman’s loins (sides between the lower ribs and pelvis, and the lower part of the back) from City Slickers? He was so cute. After seeing the conditions that 90% of beef cattle live in, why would you want to eat them? They stand on hard cement surfaces in their own pee and feces, which they still have on their bodies when they go to slaughter. Cattle are fed a concentrated high-corn diet, which produces rapid weight gain, but this has side effects that include increased acidity in the digestive system. When improperly handled, manure and other byproducts of concentrated agriculture stresses ecosystems around the world, and is a major environmental problem.
If cattle are not knocked out or killed by the pneumatic gun that shoots a steel bolt between their eyes they will be tortured along the possessing line. They will be bled, skinned, and dismembered while still conscious.
Chicken and Turkey
Chicken was always a staple in my house, we used to eat it fried, roasted, and grilled. While I was growing up we always had turkey for Thanksgiving, and it always reminds me of time spent with my family. After we visited Farm Sanctuary for their annual Pignic on July Fourth both my wife and daughter were done eating meat for good. The turkeys there had some big personalities. When the tour group entered their pen they got really excited to see everyone and show off the feathers. They let everyone come up to them and pet them. They were incredibly friendly.
More than 50 billion chickens are raised annually for their meat and eggs. Chickens farmed for meat are called broiler chickens, while those farmed for eggs are called egg-laying hens. Some hens can produce over 300 eggs a year. Chickens can live for six years or more, but broiler chickens are typically slaughtered in less than six weeks. Laying hens are slaughtered after a their productivity starts to decline. Industrial bred turkeys are incapable of reproducing, and have serious health problems.
Factory farming has lead to animal cruelty, environmental destruction, resource depletion, and animal and human health risks. American farmers are four times more likely to commit suicide than the general public and factory farm workers are unskilled, poorly paid and take out their frustrations out on the animals. Human beings cannot be human, much less humane, under these conditions. Low paid slaughterhouse workers have a 27% injury rate. Workers have been documented administering daily beatings, sawing off legs, skinning, bludgeoning, extinguishing cigarettes, strangling, and throwing live animals into manure pits, which authorities have refused to prosecute. How does that meat taste now?
I know it is unrealistic to think the world is gong to give up on eating meat. Just think of the people we could feed if we did. It takes 6 to 26 calories fed to an animal to produce just one calorie of meat. We would be able to use 756 million tons of grain and corn, and 98% of the 225 million tons soybeans for human consumption if we didn’t have to feed animals for slaughter.
Now that I am meat enlightened, I am never going back. It has felt good too; I have lost 25 pounds and felt healthier. Over the years I have increased my food knowledge and palette. I look forward to finding new vegan restaurants when I travel. Some of my favorites are Sprig & Vine in New Hope, PA, Horizons in Philadelphia, PA, Millennium and Greens in San Francisco, Candle 79 and HanGawi in New York.