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Vegetarian: What is meat?

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Participating (or not) in the Big Picture
by John McCabe

Being a vegetarian means different things to different people. Some were born into vegetarian families, others adopted vegetarian diets for other reasons, such as religion, health, ecology, or for animal rights.
     Being one who became a vegetarian by my own choice for the first time when I was a small child still in grade school, I know why vegetarianism occurred in my life. It was solely to avoid harming animals. And was prompted by one incident that shocked this city boy.
     One day as I was walking home from school I noticed a large animal in a neighbor’s back yard. Seeing a large animal in our neighborhood was unheard of. But, that was not what shocked me. The thing that got to me was that this animal was hanging from a tree by ropes tied to its hind legs. Its blood was dripping from a slit in its neck and trickling onto the ground in the quiet of this Spring day.
     Seeing such a large animal dead like that with its tongue hanging out, its neck slashed open, and its blood splattered about, brought a lot of questions to my mind, with the main question being: Do humans murder animals?

What it Was Really All About
Before this day, I already knew it was so. I didn’t have confirmation of it, and I didn’t really want to think about it. But that day, seeing such a large animal dead like that froze me, it took my breath away, and was a real wake-up-call. When I saw this animal, I had the feeling as if a load of bricks had been placed on my chest, and I slowly backed away from the bloody scene. When I got home I could barely formulate the words as I told my mother that there seemed to be an animal hanging from the neighbor’s tree. She didn’t stop what she was doing, and, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, explained that it was a deer, and that the neighbors probably shot it while they were out hunting, and that they were probably going to cut it up and eat it.
     And that just about made me sick. I went to my bedroom and sat there for a long time thinking about all of this information. Then I did what I often did when I wanted to learn something, I went to the dictionary and started looking up words. Meat. Hamburger. Hunting.
     This type of incident was bound to happen. I was so innocent. I never had the experience of the country folks who go out and shoot animals, or kill the animals they raise on their farms. My familiarity with hunting was cartoonish, but the animals never really got harmed in cartoons. And farm animals were something to play with when I visited my cousin’s farm during the summer. I never saw an animal get harmed. In fact, I wasn’t so sure what meat was. But the truth of it was hitting me hard as I sat in my bedroom that night.
     This thing about animal farming had been something that was on my mind for a while. I knew where milk came from. I knew where eggs came from. But sausage, hamburger, pork chops; those were a mystery to this city boy. Even though I ate chicken, I didn’t make the connection that it was a dead chicken, or, perhaps, I didn’t want to make the connection. I really never saw a whole dead chicken. Instead, I only saw parts of them that were packaged and sold in the stores. I was in youthful denial. I knew what it was, but also didn’t think about what it was. The bones in the chicken were bones, but I wasn’t a kid who thought about the bones, or that they were actually “bones,” as in: from a dead animal. It was all cartoonish to me. Kind of like Ronald McDonald and the talking, happy hamburger characters in the commercials. The reality of what I was eating had not set in.

Where it Came From?
I laugh about this now. But, there was a time just before this incident that I came to the conclusion that meat was actually poop. That was my childhood rational. Meat had to be that. Milk came from the udders. Eggs came from, who knows where? And, therefore, in my childhood reasoning, meat must have come from “there.” When I finally realized this, I was grossed out by it. But, because everyone else I saw was eating this stuff, I continued to eat it too. With some reservations. There was even a phase where I poured the ketchup and mustard on extra heavy to cover the taste of this dead animal flesh that I thought was poop.
     But, I was wrong. The truth was even worse.

The Sad Truth
What was really going on was that animals were being bred on farms, fed till they became large enough for financial payback, then slaughtered, chopped up, packaged, sold at the store, and made into patties and sold as burgers at fast food restaurants. And cartoon characters at fast food restaurants would wave us kids into the places to consume the stuff. And, when I finally figured it all out, I was repulsed by it. And I hated Ronald McDonald, Burger King, Wendy, and all the rest of the fast food cartoon spokesmodels.
     So, I became a vegetarian. For the first time shortly after I turned
      I say, “for the first time,” because it only lasted a few years. And it was only, “kind of.” And I say, “of,” because I was still eating fish sticks and tuna, and eggs, and cheese, and milk. As many now know, eating cheese isn’t quite the vegetarian way many thought it was. For most cheese on the market contains rennet, which my Webster’s dictionary defines as: A) the contents of the stomach of an unweaned animal and especially a calf. B) the lining membrane of a stomach or one of its compartments (as the fourth of a ruminant) used for curdling milk; also: a preparation of the stomach of animals used for this purpose.
      By the time I was in ninth grade I was eating cafeteria food. Whatever that was. I am still trying to figure it out. There were these funny-smelling, hamburger type things that were like a square of meat loaf. And, who knows what was in them. And there was this gravy that had an interesting consistency. And who knows what was in that. And there were breaded bits of dead chicken and fish served up by the scoop-full by the sickly-looking women who worked in the school cafeteria. And who knows what was in them. Both the women and the chicken looked sick to me.
     So, I switched back. And became a vegetarian again in tenth grade. And I became healthy. And swam almost every day after school.

Working With the Devil
Then, halfway through the year in eleventh grade, I got a job at a market selling eggs and meat at a stand in the old part of the city. And this was interesting. A lot of the people who shopped there looked half dead, as if their hearts were struggling to beat, and their body tissues were laced with corroded arteries. They would use their arthritic hands to point out various items in the display case, and would order me to bag up all assortments of dead animal parts. Animal parts that had been chopped and sawed into convenient sizes for cooking, and other dead animal concoctions that had been ground up and made into sausages, weiners, kilbasas, and loaves. When the display cases ran out of something I had to run up to the warehouse-sized cooler on the second floor and wind my way around animal carcasses that were hanging on big hooks attached to the ceiling by thick chains. In the cooler I would quickly grab the dead animal parts we were out of, and head back down to continue bagging them up for waiting customers.
     And all this dealing with dead animals bothered me. So, five or six months after I started, in a response triggered by the reality of nearly cutting the end of a finger off on the meat slicer, I quit.
But money is what a teenager needs if he wants to have fun. So, with the encouragement of a friend, (after a brief stint working for some angry Italians at a place called Froggy’s Doughnuts) I applied and got a job at the local Murder King, er, um, I mean, Burger King. Home of the Whopper.
     Who knows how many cows I handled bit-by-bit as I did my part to serve people rushing through the busiest Burger King in town. There was no time to spare. Time seemed to speed up there. Every worker had to do their share to keep the food flowing, the place clean, and the customers happy. It was all about marketing and image here. Never mind the bloody gore of where the murdered animal bits came from, what we were to do was to serve the dead, ground-up, and cooked animal chunks to the customers with a smile. Get them their dead animal bits and make sure the animal bits are still lip-smacking hot with sizzling saturated fats when you got them to the customer. Nobody likes a cold cow, dead or alive. And serving hot cow bits was the way to keep the customers happy there at Burger King. Don’t want any of them customers rushing back and saying, as one occasionally did, “Excuse me, but my burger is cold.” On more than one occasion I made some co-worker laugh with my bit about, “Of course it’s cold, it’s a dead cow.”
     When the restaurant closed down for the night there was cleaning to be done. Mostly it had to do with getting the grease off of everything. Grease from the meat that was once the tissue of living, breathing beings with eyes that saw, minds that thought, flesh that felt pleasure and pain, and babies that needed to be fed. But now the grease was something to be dreaded. The grease that was on the restaurant equipment, walls, floors, and air vents had to be cleaned off every night by us using scrub pads and strong cleaning chemicals. And the grease that collected in the drip pans beneath the broiler was dumped in a big vat out back. There the grease would sit until a truck would come to pick it up and bring it to companies that purchased it to use as part of the ingredients in cosmetics, shampoos, and other such items. And knowing this brought us Burger King workers to make more jokes about women who wore makeup, and them not knowing that they actually had dead cow smeared all over their pretty little faces, and how, if they spent any time thinking about this, they would likely freak out. Of course I never said any of my smart-ass dead cow remarks in front of the customers. You can’t remind them of what they are really eating. They don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes of the dead animal bits food industry. Especially within the steel walls of the factory animal farms where animals never see the light of day and eat drug-laced diets. Nobody wants to hear about the transport vehicles that animals are kicked and prodded onto, and driven in to the slaughter house. And nobody at all wants to hear about the bloody gore of the slaughter houses where frightened animals are being slaughtered by the thousands, blood splattering about, body parts chopped off, guts spilling. They certainly don’t want to know about the saws, the filth, and the occasional blood-covered slaughterhouse worker losing a finger or two when they slip using the blades that cut through the murdered animals.
      The animal farming industry is not pretty. Those who purchase the products put out by the animal farms are participating in the slaughter. They are part of the picture.

Away from it All
I am away from all that now. It has been years since I stopped eating meat of any kind, and have since also learned to avoid other food items containing animal products, such as milk, cheese, eggs, and elements of these.
     Books such as Diet for a New America, and Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm have helped to enlighten me about the damage man has done to the animal kingdom, and to nature. No animals are killed for me. Being a vegetarian is my way to protest the animal farming industry, protect animals, help to preserve nature, improve my health, and keep my karma clean.
     But there are always reminders that everyone has not made the same decisions as I have. The actions of a friend who was having his kitchen redone recently asked me if he could use my kitchen reminded me of this. When he left, he left behind a carton of eggs in my kitchen. It has been years since I have used eggs in anything. And it was an odd thing to see them in my refrigerator. And I seemed to go into a denial stage about them being there. It was as if they didn’t exist. Maybe because I put eggs out of my life a long time ago. I left them there for weeks before I finally got rid of them. It felt good to know that I wasn’t part of the egg-farming business. I don’t buy them. I don’t eat them. Most importantly to me is that the egg farmers are not getting any support from me, nor are any of the other animal farmers.
     I know that being a vegetarian is only part of what I can do. Part of my picture now is helping to spread the word and financially support organizations that help ecology and animal rights. In addition to organizations such as PETA and the Sierra Club, there are many other lesser-known animal and ecology groups that do good work, and that need financial support.
     To end this article, I am providing the addresses of some groups that you may wish to find out about, and, perhaps, send financial donations to. In addition to these groups, you may find organizations in your own region that need your help.
The Action Resource Center helps to spread the word about ecologically sensitive issues.

Action Resource Center
PO Box 2104
Venice, CA 90294

While it is not a company that deals with saving animals, those of you who grow gardens may be interested in Garden’s Alive. They sell non-toxic gardening supplies that may help you maintain your organic garden.

Garden’s Alive
5100 Schenley Pl.
Lawrenceburg IN 47025

The Gibbon Sanctuary takes care of a bunch of gibbon apes, most who have been rescued from unhealthful situations.

Gibbon Sanctuary
Alan Mootnick
PO Box 800249
Santa Clarita, CA 91380

American Tortoise Rescue does good work in that it rescues tortoises that have been abused or abandoned, and is a resource of information on the topic of endangered tortoises and the loss of their habitat.

American Tortoise Rescue
23852 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 926, Malibu, CA 90265

The Association of Sanctuaries is a resource for information about a number of animal sanctuaries, some of which may be close to your home.

Association of Sanctuaries
5700 Serrania Ave.
Woodland Hills CA 91367

United Poultry Concerns is an organization that, among other things, publishes a newsletter, runs a bird sanctuary, and works to spread the news about the unhealthful and ecologically destructive poultry farming industry.

United Poultry Concerns
Karen Davis
PO Box 150
Machipongo VA 23405-0150

Wildlife Damage Review does some amazing things. Did you know that the US Government is responsible for killing all sorts of wild animals to protect the grazing lands of the animal farming industry? In fiscal year 1997, the US Government was responsible for the killing of wild bobcats, coyotes, foxes, turkeys, turtles, deer, ducks, otters, owls, and many other types of animals. Send this organization a donation and request them to send you a copy of their informative newsletter.

Wildlife Damage Review
PO Box 85218
Tucson, AZ 85754
Fax 884-0962

Earth First works to, among other things, protect the rainforests and other ecologically sensitive lands.

Earth First, North Coast
PO Box 28
Arcata CA 95518

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