24 Nov

My blog was name over two years ago thanks to a friend setting me up on WordPress. I haven’t written since then because I have been distracted with trying to get full time work that pays the bills and pays other back who have been kind and both lent me money and invested in me and my work.

Well, after 5 years of struggling to get full time work that is sustainable (I will talk about sustainable work in the Bay Area at another time), I am going back to where I was back in 2009 before I had to leave my doctoral program at the Graduate Theological Union.  I was immersed in research and teaching about religion, environmental ethics, spirituality and practice, including the nonprofit work that gave and give all of us hope.  I was focused on writing my comp exams for my thesis which included ecofeminism, animal theology and animal welfare and rights activism and choosing to be a vegan in my diet and practice.  I was beginning to see the interconnections between systems of oppression and my diet which included at that time chicken, turkey and all dairy products in addition to vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.  I thought I couldn’t live healthily without chicken and turkey, and so I was talking to vegan folks about the plant-based diet and my fears.  I was also swimming in ethology, the study of animal emotions and behavior, and finding Mark Bekoff’s and Jane Goodall’s newer research and writing particularly inspiring.  I had, like most of the world, assumed that animals were sweet and nice and deserved love, at the same time I thought that they wouldn’t feel the pain that much when they were killed for food. And that of course, they went peacefully to their deaths because they were quickly killed on the farm, right? I had been silently questioning these beliefs for awhile, but my dog, Gambit, broke open my willingness to look at these assumptions and to look at both my thinking about animals, and my practice of consuming them out of my diet fears, and regarding dairy, just plain ignorance.  Gambit made me question all our assumptions about intelligence and behavior regarding animals, and simply and plainly, cracked open my heart large and wide while he was alive and when he died from cancer at the tender age of 5.  I had a huge paradigm, world shift when I adopted him as a rescued puppy and let in what I had been hearing about and reading about for so long from vegan friends who I thought were a bit extreme. I finally could hear them talking about the loving, kind, sweet animals themselves, instead of the rhetoric of animal rights.

I went “dairy free” after doing my own research by visiting a small, family owned, organic dairy farm in Petaluma, CA.  There were at least a dozen fall festival gatherings on family farms where the public was allowed onto the farm to do fun, fall, farm-like things, including hay rides, buying pumpkins, drink apple cider, etc.  I was on a date with a local, who let me know that I would probably get to actually pet a cow or two so I was very excited. And since it was a small, family-owned, organic dairy farm, I was feeling good about affirming my continued eating of my favorite foods-cheese, milk chocolate and the holy grail “Ben and Jerry’s” ice cream.

I did get to pet a cow (who in retrospect, wasn’t that happy or healthy), pet baby calves (who I found out later were in the “dog houses” and tiny 2 ft outside area they would live in for their lives as they were probably veal calves), and see the miracle of a calf birth. This calf birth would change it all for me.  Laying on the ground soon after being born, surrounded by other cows (all female, I found out, due to the fact that male cows are useless in the dairy industry-cows are all artificially inseminated), I wondered at the beauty of the Mom and baby right in front of me. “Yes,” I thought, “this is how it is meant to be.” I asked my date if we could stay and watch the Mom and baby for awhile, and he was happy to oblige.  Several other folks, including children, joined us at the fence.  And then, one of the farmers came over and stood with us. “Great!” I though. “I finally get to dispel the vegan myths of how cows are treated.” I excitedly asked the farmer how long the baby got to stay with the mamma cow. His answer floored me. “As soon as the baby stands up and hooks onto the mother cow.”  I was floored. “What? Seriously?” I exclaimed rather loudly, in genuinely shocked tones. The farmer replied “You want your milk don’t you?” Horrified at his response as he showed no sign of concern for the calf, I followed up quickly by asking “do your male baby calves go to veal?”  He stated proudly that only 60% of his calves went to veal and the other 40% go to Future Farmers of America kids.   I was now getting the picture–babies weren’t able to stay with their Moms soon after birth (within two hours!) and male dairy calves were regularly killed for veal, not just at factory farms, but at small, family, organic dairy farms.  Just as my vegan friends had told me.  Soon after this visit, I was done with dairy, and was chatting with vegans about what they use as cheese, milk and ice cream replacer. I found all sorts of good things that made the transition easier. Though, because cow’s milk has casein, a morphine like substance found in all mammals to help the baby latch onto the mom and drink the milk they need, it was harder to get off of than turkey and chicken.  Cheeses are especially concentrated with the morphine-like substance.   Like all dietary changes, it took me a little time, but because I had the suffering of the animals clearly in my mind, I eliminated dairy from my diet within one month.

It was while I was teaching courses on environmental ethics and religion and the environment at the University of San Francisco that I  gave up chicken and turkey as my protein source and favorite go to comfort dinner meal.  I shared with the class that I had a desire to stop eating chicken and turkey but was unable to do it yet.  While in our section on “animal welfare and rights” I found myself openly talking to the class about my challenge. There were already vegetarians in the class, so they were already supportive, but what I loved was that when I asked the class what made it hard for them to give up eating meat, dairy and/or eggs. they responded with wisdom that was compassionate and priceless. Some stated that it was hard to go home to their families and have them be treated differently, or have their parents upset that they won’t eat their food that they had spent a long time preparing. Others said that they thought it would be really hard to do around friends–they didn’t want to make their friends uncomfortable or they didn’t want to be uncomfortable.  The majority of the response was something I hadn’t considered before–they were concerned about the social implications of eating a vegan diet. The desire to not offend others while also wanting to be a part of their friendship and family community was strong. “Aha!” I thought. I don’t have these issues as I have frequently proudly announced to my family my new changes in lifestyle, but also knew to walk them through it gently so no one felt offended.  But, I got this! I understood the care and concern one has for one’s parents, friends and the desire to stay a part of a community. I loved my friends and community. And so we brainstormed together how helping family and friends through our transition process would work–what we could do and say to make it easier on others. That way we weren’t preaching about our choices, we were showing love and understanding that our choices might make people we love concerned or afraid, and knew that it would be wise to hold their hands through the process, choosing to not eat animal products.

To be continued….



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28 Oct

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