The one thing we can do, right now

The one thing we can do, right now

“Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?” Read more.

Last week, the New York Times published this article, Life Without Plastic Is Possible, It’s Just Very Hard. It was like the NYT editors had peeped my Zero Waste/DIY Pinterest Board–or my to-do list (Which toothpaste tablets have fluoride? Where to find ingredients for making my own blush?). From poo-pooing straws to switching to all things bulk (dish soap! Laundry soap! Beans! Grains! Seeds! Protein pow! Soy curls!), it’s been baby steps, one purchase at a time.

The thing is, a lot of us saw that turtle with the straw up its nose and said, “Okay; THIS is the last straw. And the last shopping bag. And I’m gonna bike to work or take the bus more.” But we keep eating fish–despite the fact that fishing nets account for 46% of all ocean plastic (source Ocean Cleanup). And we keep eating animals, even though it’s easily Googled that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than driving cars (Source: The UN.) And, back to the fish–we’re eating the very thing we’re trying to save.

“Unhindered by regulation, driven by greed, the fishing industry is the greatest threat to our oceans.” Read the article.

The lowest hanging fruit (in addition to using cloth bags and skipping straws, and riding the bus–WAY before making your own deodorant) is skipping animal products.

When “I’m just one person. What can I do?” is asked by everyone, the answer is nothing.

It’s 2019. The information is online. I could litter this blog post with scholarly links (actually, I did, then I removed half of them and moved them to the bottom). The truth of how we are devastating the planet by what we put on our plate, it’s online. The videos of how we treat these very aware beings (by the billion)–also online. And endless delicious vegan recipes–yup. Online. It’s all just a Google away.

Everyone reading this post has access to this information. The majority of people reading this have access to a supermarket. And the majority of us have the opportunity to be the change we want to see.

When “I’m just one person. What can I do?” is asked by everyone, the answer is nothing. But when you take the initiative, inform yourself, and decide to break out of this cycle that’s dictated mainly by tradition—the future for all of us on this planet can be much brighter. And yes, you can also make your own toothpaste and feel super amazing about that too.

“I have a lot of issues with veganism.”

Skeptical? Of course. Veganism has always run into a lot of push back, and it makes sense. Change is hard, animal products are tasty, and we want to put off change as long as possible. (When I went vegan three years ago, I started out by googling everything, trying to disprove vegans so I wouldn’t have to go vegan. Turns out, the vegans were right. Ugh.) As we stand at the brink of environmental collapse, we need to do more than carry bamboo silverware in our glove compartments. It’s time to inspect our suspicions.

Here are some common ways people push back against veganism, and responses I usually give:

“But individual commitment won’t save us. The majority of people won’t even do small things. Everyone who cares needs to get involved politically. Laws have to be passed to make any real difference.”
Individual commitment is helpful. Especially when it inspires people to share information, canvas, protest, and vote. If everyone who swapped out plastic bags for canvas also took up a veg diet and shared their choices with friends, and requested for changes at their local grocery stores and restaurants, and wrote to politicians, that would be pretty powerful and hard to ignore.

“Grass-fed, though.” // “Small farms, though.” // Etc.
The truth is, we cannot continue to consume animal products at this rate–and more specifically, we cannot support it with small farming or by moving to grass-fed or free-range or hunting or any number of idealistic perspectives regarding raising animals for food. The math simply doesn’t compute.

99% of farmed animals live on factory farms.

The majority of us are not eating salmon that was hand caught, one by one. Or drinking milk from a small, eco-minded dairy with a tiny footprint. We may make careful purchases when cooking at home, but we’re also consuming animal products at work, at restaurants, with friends and family, and when you get down to it, 99% of farmed animals live on factory farms (Source: 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture).

“Regenerative animal agriculture exists and is often one of the only ways to repair soil that has been too depleted to grow crops.” // “Grazing is good for the land.” // Etc.
It’s tempting to pull out the smallest sliver of semi-positivity amongst a towering stack of opposition from very reputable sources (like this one from Oxford). However, like the argument for small farms, earth-friendly animal farming isn’t possible, large scale.

What’s more, we wouldn’t need to use the same amount of land if we stopped breeding animals for food. We’d get more out of letting the land return to a natural state and allowing the native wild animals to return than insisting on breeding non-native animals to roam them, eat the native grasses, and kill the native predators to protect them.

“Veganism is expensive.”
This is another common argument that seems to be more defensive than grounded in facts. A vegan diet can be as affordable as you need it to be. Staples (bread, rice, pasta, beans, oats, veggies, etc) are affordable. (Many vegans are also low income and do so successfully.) Some meat substitutes are expensive, as are some animal products. Both are unnecessary to a healthy diet.

So to say it again: Many people reading this post have access to a grocery store, and the internet, where they can find delicious, nutritious, and affordable recipes.

What’s more, our government hugely subsidizes animal products, making the choice of vegetables over chicken nuggets seem elitist. This is definitely something to be angry about and I’m angry alongside many people, as the government is pushing unhealthy diets on our most vulnerable, Including our schools, hospitals, jails. Read how we got here: U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat – Washington Post, 2011.

“Vegans assume all people having access to fresh foods year round, the ability to purchase them, the time needed to properly plan and research nutrition, the homes, and appliances necessary to store and prepare food. Many, many people do not have these things. In short: It’s classist.”
This is definitely an issue, which is why I’m always careful to use the word “many” not “all,” specifically to acknowledge that there are those who are food insecure, live in food deserts, etc.; barriers of time, cost, location, and skills will always be a factor in any movement.

The excuse that “veganism is classist” is like saying, “Recycling isn’t available to everyone so I won’t participate.”

The argument that “veganism is classist” and using that as an excuse to not be vegan is a bit of a cop-out. That would be like saying, “recycling isn’t available to everyone so I will not participate.” It’s up to those who are able to make the environmentally-conscious choices to make them–and to advocate for their availability for everyone. There are many vegan advocates working with low-income communities to address the barriers I mentioned.

In short, many many many more people can eat a vegan diet than are doing so. These same people have the ability to speak up, vote, and advocate for improved food systems for all.

“If vegans put half as much effort into ending poverty, food inaccessibility, income disparity, and [fill in the blank], then maybe we would see change.”
The best part about being vegan is it’s not all-consuming. For many vegans–especially a year or so into it–it’s not really a thing that takes up much time or brain space. It’s just eating. Which means vegans often advocate for many other causes right alongside animal rights and environmental issues. Due to veganisms’ inherently political nature, vegans are more likely to be tuned in to other causes, driving them to volunteer, donate, and vote.

“Have you ever even had a conversation with a small livestock farmer? Or do you get all your info from the internet?”
I read farmers’ journals and forums. I also read books and reports. I listen to interviews with farmers. And I volunteer at farm sanctuaries. Usually, when reading farmers’ forums or news journals, they speak frankly and in such a way that the many omnivores might read it and also go, “ugh, really?” It’s worth Googling something, like, say, “calf disbudding forum.”


Beyond the straws

Making any large personal change is scary. Not only do we want to protect our habits and our admittedly delicious foods, but we also want to protect our sense of self and our feelings of being a “good,” ethical person.

But there’s nothing wrong with reevaluating and realizing we can make changes. It doesn’t make us bad, it doesn’t make our past choices bad. The fact is, we live in a capitalist society that doesn’t want us connecting our choices to the environment, nor asking where our food comes from. When growth is the goal, the environment, our health, and the welfare of animals will be the victims.

Image result for all we got was a better planet cartoon
Joel Pett, USA Today

Give these links a read. Give your fridge a look. Give some thought to your next meal. Change is possible. It’s tasty. And it can only help. Baby steps can start any moment.

Learn more

Mortifying habits

Mortifying habits

me

I just finished three Mortified shows this weekend and I’m feeling those lovely, post-show warm fuzzies about humanity. If you don’t know, Mortified is a live show where adults share “their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) with others, in order to reveal stories about their lives.” The slogan is “Share the Shame.” But when it’s all said and done, Mortified is more about blessing the shame. Forgiving it. Saying it’s okay. It’s funny how we work so hard to hide our vulnerabilities—yet an evening at Mortified reminds us that it’s our vulnerability that brings us together.

As I’ve been thinking about vulnerabilities and being a teen for the past month, it made me want to share something personal—and frankly, kinda yuck. It’s a thing I’ve always hidden, but as I’m entering my late 30s, I’m starting to feel like it’s time to share things so others out there can find solutions and not feel so alone. So here goes:

I have (suffer from? Experience?) dermatillomania.

Twenty years of bad face days

One of the more pathetic lines in my Mortified performance was the journal entry, “Does one have to be beautiful to be loved? I am so alone.” Followed by another dated three days later, “When I wrote that last entry, I was having a bad face day and feeling like I would never be loved. Still feels the same, but my face seems to be a bit better.” Ha ha! Pimple joke!

But turns out…not really.

Since I was in 5th grade, I’ve struggled with dermatillomania (a less gross but scarier word for skin picking). However, I didn’t know this word until my late 20s. I just thought I had terrible acne that I couldn’t stop touching—and I felt extremely ashamed. My face, head, neck, chest, back, upper arms, and thighs were…uh, kinda a mess.

As a teen, I was on a lot of prescription soaps for acne; some burned, others dried me out, but most did nothing. I kept covered as much as possible. I tried to keep my hair in my face. (I have a vivid memory of a summer theater incident: I was inside this giant, 10-foot tall puppet, wearing a tank top because of the heat, and I’d unconsciously made my back bleed. I couldn’t come out from under the puppet at the end of the play, even though I was sweating, overheating, and finally, crying. I remember asking my high school boyfriend, What is wrong with me?)

In college, I couldn’t figure out why everyone else’s skin cleared up while mine did not. Around my senior year, I asked a boyfriend to help me stop touching my acne and making it worse. That didn’t go well. Since it’s an ongoing, subconscious thing, his admonishment was constant…and so was my shame. The only thing I knew was that I had no control.

The power of naming

It wasn’t until after grad school when I taught English abroad in a coal mining town in China that my “acne” cleared up. I’d definitely expected the opposite. The city was so sooty, I could literally feel my fingertips all the time; they were too dirty to touch anything, let alone my face. It wasn’t until that moment, in my mid-20s, that I realized I didn’t even have acne. I was simply causing skin issues by touching my body all the time. But that’s okay—I’d beaten it!

Or so I thought. When I returned to the U.S., the cycle returned. Clean hands meant a return to touching my face. So for the first time ever, finally knowing my problem wasn’t acne, I started Googling. And at 27 years old,  I discovered the word dermatillomania.

Derma for skin, till for pull, and mania for…well, obviously, mania. Madness. I was so relieved, even though I had a “madness.” I had a name for it. There were others like me. I wasn’t crazy. I mean, maybe I was, a bit, but I wasn’t unique crazy. Me and 2% of the population–and maybe someone was working on a solution for it.

Highway to my danger zones

I found a professional in the field (who ran the totally calm sounding Panic and Anxiety Clinic). I was horribly disappointed to find out this wasn’t curable. Treatable, yes, but not curable. I recall asking him if I could just take a pill or get hypnotized or something.

“This is going to take a lot of work,” the doctor said. “You’re going to have to want this.”

I wanted to want this. I mean, I was newly single. I wanted to wear strappy dresses in the summer time before I was too old. I wanted to go without makeup. But the work scared me. I was afraid I would fail. But I signed up for whatever the doc thought would help. It was better than the alternative.

First, the doctor had me map out my “Danger Spaces,” the times where picking subconsciously happens (reading, typing, driving, movie watching, etc.). He had me journal where it happens, and the feelings I’m having when it happens. The idea is bringing awareness to the actions. If I’m aware when I’m about to enter those danger spaces (or having the feelings that lead to it), I could take a moment and remind myself that “I choose not to pick.” That seemed doable.

Next, he had me prep these spaces with a variety of preventative items: a sticky note, reminding me that I’m entering a dangerous space; physical barriers, like band-aids for my fingertips or gloves (nothing weird about watching TV while wearing gloves, right?);  and fidget items to keep my hands busy, like rubber bands, bracelets, or what turned out to be my favorite, a big ball of Thinking Putty. (He also recommended I get manicures if they helped. They did, but I garden too much to keep them nice—and I’m too cheap to make that an ongoing thing in my life.)

But all that is just for the unconscious picking. For the conscious picking (I hate even typing that, but it’s a big part of it), things are tougher. The doctor suggested covering the bathroom mirror or replacing bathroom lightbulbs with dimmer ones, plus putting a note on the mirror with an inspirational quote or photo or something that reminds me why I care to stop.

So I followed his orders: I put up notes. I bought manicure gloves and band-aids and putty and beaded bracelets and put them in my danger zones. I told a few people about it, thinking I would be embarrassed enough to stop picking. After a couple of years, everything improved again: my skin, my self-esteem, my feelings of control. I started wearing tank tops. I felt comfortable enough to finally cut my hair short so my neck could be seen. I felt free.

The point of probable return

It turns out OCD is like any other bad habit; it just waits to pop up again when your attention is elsewhere. And I’m only human—I usually can only focus on one self-improvement task at a time.

I had maybe a five-year reprieve, but in the past year, picking has crept back into my life. At work, at home. My husband raising his eyebrow at me at dinner parties as I touch my neck in a way I thought looked completely innocent. I find myself having to check how I’m dressing again. Higher necklines. Scarves. Spending mornings figuring out the perfect blend of coverup, corrective tint, and foundation to cover a blemish on my chin (hint: there is no right blend).

Sometimes, I feel again like there is nothing I can do to stop myself, despite the fact that I have the tools to address it. But I want to be completely honest: sometimes, all of the tools don’t help. There are times when my mind haywires and tells me that I don’t care about the outcome. This is who I am. I can’t stop myself. It doesn’t matter. Even, This feels good. Because, when you get down to it, this is something my brain manifests as soothing. As self-care. But that’s what I hate the most. When I can’t make myself care. That’s the lowest.

Being vulnerable

In January, I stumbled across an article, Dermatillomania: The Skin Picking Disorder You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. In it, the writer shared the moment that I’d forgotten.

“…just having a name for it was immensely helpful. To know I was not alone, that it is a disorder, that other people feel these same urges.”

That’s right. I’d forgotten the moment when I realized I had a disorder. That I wasn’t alone. I’d forgotten that feeling of hope, when I learned I could control it. But as the doc had said, I “have to want this.”

Do I want this? I thought back to my wedding day, my friend covering my bare back with foundation and concealer. I looked at the scars I’ve given myself. I thought ahead to summer. To swimming with friends and not worrying that they will see my secrets.

I do. I do want this. I’ve overcome it twice—I could do it again. And besides, wrinkles and zits at the same time? No, thank you, world. I’ve had enough. What’s more, I hadn’t ever considered that I could use my voice to share this. To be vulnerable and make this disorder a little more visible. There are adults and teens kids out there, just like me, living with this and many don’t even know its name.

This idea shook me out of my defeatist funk. What if I make this not entirely about me? Could that stop that cloud of what does it matter? I think it could. Maybe it’s a bit grandiose and self-indulgent, but I always respond better when my motivations feel bigger than me. So if you’re reading this and you found it in a search, I’ve stopped picking for you. Kinda. I mean, a bit. I’m trying. Really. I am.

Starting over

I’ve gone after this with new zeal. I put my notes back in my danger zones. I got out those stupid manicure gloves again for movie watching. I ordered this thing called HabitAware; it’s a habit tracking bracelet that can be trained to monitor hand motions. It vibrates when you do the actions you want to stop. It’s particularly good for those unconscious movements. It was a bit spendy, but I always respond well to the guilt of spending money on something in order to make big changes. (When I went vegan, I invested in a Vitamix, figuring that was too much money to spend on something to improve my life and then not follow through—and it’s worked.)

(This may seem unrelated, but at this same time, I also just read How to Break Up With Your Phone. I’ve found that being more mindful in general—and reducing my phone-induced anxiety—reduces my unconscious actions. The book also encouraged meditation, which I think has helped a lot.)

I swear this isn’t an ad for the bracelets, but so far, they’re totally working. I’m more aware of my hands. I’m not sure if long term, they will stop the motions—or even how long it would take if they could. But three weeks in and I can sit still longer. I can put my hand down. The mindfulness has made me feel more in control.

I’m not cured, however. Even as I type this, I’m getting notifications that my hands have strayed. But every day is better than the one before. Every minute is a new chance to take control. To seize the minute—or the next one. Each moment is mine to take back and make it my own.

Baby steps.

~~~
If you have something similar—nail biting, hair pulling, self-harm, substance addiction, OCD, a phone addiction—whatever your deal is, you’re not alone. Much love to you if you’re in the same boat. We can do this.

Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness

BACKSTORY

sign
A Facebook post: Tomorrow, I have a rare Friday off and I’m going to bear witness to animals being delivered to this slaughterhouse in WA. I’m going with Portland Animal Save. I’ve never done this before. These are animals who fall under the heading of free-range, humane, etc. and small farms. No matter their beginning, the end is the same. 😞

I honestly dread doing this. I’ve had a knot in my stomach since I decided to do it. (I’m also a big crier, so that’s not gonna be helpful.) Mostly, it feels morbid and perhaps unnecessary; I’ve done enough research to know what is happening there.

The purpose is to comfort these sweet beings. Some water. A kind hand. From reading the book by the founder of Mercy For Animals, I know that for many, this is the only moment of kindness they get. We can’t be too kind to the ones we send to slaughter, lest we get soft. 🙄

I must admit: I do feel it is too little too late. What is one minute of kindness after the hellish duration of their short lives? Most of them are just babies, and I’m a human, and we will be separated by the metal walls of their livestock truck–how can I comfort them?

So yes: I’m skeptical. Also, it’s going to be raining. Also also, the crying thing.

But I do believe in primary sources of information. I want to see for myself and share what I see. To be a primary source for whoever will look at my photos. I know, that sounds arrogant and naive, like I think anyone will read any of this or obvs, want to see it. Maybe. But if I’m your only weirdo animal activism friend, I kinda feel responsible.

****The Dumb Numbers****
56 billion farmed animals are killed in the US every year (this number excludes fish). Globally, this number is 150 billion, or 3,000 every second.

I know, these numbers seem insurmountable.

But since going vegan 32 months ago, I’ve avoided using 1,071,377 gal of water, 38,800 lbs. of grain, 29,100 square feet of forests, 19,400 lbs. of Co2…and avoided eating 970 animals.

And yes, I know it’s a dust spec on the screen of the animal death calculator–and the death clock for the planet.

But I inspired Zach to go vegan, so those numbers doubled with him. We inspired another couple to go veg—now her parents are considering it. A childhood friend was inspired, and she’s now inspiring her family. A college friend asked about it. I now see another friend posting about making changes for her and her family. I see people sharing news stories talking about these issues.

This idea is so important. It’s life changing. And liveS changing. And future changing. I hope it’s inspiring others to consider their numbers and see how it’s possible to do more.

More tomorrow.

THE VIGIL

THE ARRIVAL

front

At the slaughterhouse, there are three types of trucks. The cows arrive in one kind and they leave in two others.

The arrival truck is a livestock truck (and when you think about it, the word “livestock” is pretty gross; it definitely portends there is a different state in the future of these animals). These trucks range from big to small. Some massive ones carry 50+ cows. Others carry maybe 8. It’s interesting to read how cattle ranchers talk about trailers and how many can fit—profit is their number one concern, not welfare.)

We see the trucks arrive. And I’ll I admit it: I didn’t understand the details of what this activism was about. I brought a sign and coffee and wore loose rubber boots for the rain. The organizer asked me if I wanted to run after my first truck and I was like, “no, that’s ok?” and it turns out this is run after trucks, get up close to the shit-spattered trailer, risk your safety as the truck isn’t stopping type activism. I understood by the 4th truck. But there weren’t many trucks to make up for my naivety.

The slaughterhouse has a set up that keeps livestock trucks idling on the road for as short of time as possible. They do not want the activists to have the time to approach the truck on public property (the road) and see what is inside—and most importantly, film what is inside. Sometimes the cows are down (I clearly saw a cow who’s face was covered in blood, but the video is too fast to capture it).

eyeclose.JPG

I don’t think their secrecy is limited to activists. I don’t think they would want anyone seeing what is in their trucks.

trying.jpg

When a livestock truck approaches, it honks at the gate. If they gate doesn’t open immediately, the truck seeks refuge in the private lot across the street. Here is a guy, discussing how to get in quickly.

back

When trucks finally do enter, they go through one of two gates. They try to fool the activists by opening both gates so we don’t know where they are going. We race to catch it.

The livestock trucks are smattered with cow shit. There are too many faces looking out. It’s raining. I can’t focus on a single one as the truck is moving too fast.

THE WAITING

Half of the time is spent in front of the entrance gates, waiting for more livestock trucks. The main point of this activism is time with the live animals. The other half is spent on the backside of the slaughterhouse, where you can see them unloading live cows at a distance and, later, their bodies coming out.

The front is where the workers are; they regularly leave the gates to cross the road for lunch or a smoke. The head guy stands behind the gate, hurriedly closing it so we can’t see in. The fence here is lined with green slats. He waves occasionally to us. He is not unkind. We try to talk to him  He doesn’t speak much English. My 8 years of Spanish is rusty and limited to present tense and maybe 100 words, surprisingly none of which are applicable to a slaughterhouse scenario.

The majority of workers are kind. Those that aren’t kind aren’t explicitly so—I mean, there was a lot less glaring than I thought there would be. We were just ignored, which is understandable.

They are young. Mostly Hispanic. Few spoke English. The activists make sure not to target them. Everyone needs a job—and those who work in the meat industry are the most vulnerable—they are people with few options. Migrants, illegal immigrants, felons. People who make little and cannot complain about poor working conditions or injuries. And turnover is high—there’s always someone else who is desperate and in need of work.

The activists are out many times a week, so they know these guys, specifically the managers—there have been run-ins with one manager who is apparently a hard ass about where we can legally stand (and who wouldn’t be? You got picketers who make the news). One woman caught a video of a downed dairy cow being picked up with a forklift—when they saw she was filming, they put her back down. (One worker thought an activist was recording him as her hand was in her pocket; to his surprise, she pulled out an apple, not a recorder.)

We have to stick to the narrow shoulder of the road. It’s pouring down rain. There haven’t been many trucks. This is a good thing and also makes it so we’re just standing around, trying to talk to the workers. How do you like your job? It’s ok. How long have you been here? A few months. Is it ok for the cows? It’s quick. Is it a lot of cows? Yes, a lot. Is it a lot of cows, very quickly? Yes, very very fast. How many per hour? 100 cows per hour. Is it hard work? Yes. Do you like it? I have kids I have to feed.

My Spanish fails me when it comes to the important words: Are the cows scared? How do you feel about this? How does it feel to do your job?

THE AFTER

trucks.JPG

After the trucks arrive, they sit in the inside-the-fence parking lot until it’s their turn to unload. Today is 53 degrees and raining. The cows stand (or lay) in their trailers for hours, waiting to go.

We watch from a distance, on the highway. We watch as a truck is unloaded. But even at this distance, being observed is a threat. They move an empty livestock truck in front of the cow chute, but not before I capture a video of a man hitting the cows to get them to move through. Other activists say they do that lot—the hitting and the blocking. They don’t want people seeing.

For a short bit, the only movement is steam from the tall carbon dioxide tank. The activists point for me—there is activity at the chutes.

There are three chutes that exit the facility—small, medium, and large. The slaughterhouse has worked to shield the chutes from onlookers, but there’s a drop from the chute to the enormous 40-foot trailers below. The one expelling the brown goo has a dirty yellow flap on it. The one dropping the biggest parts, bones, is shielded by a sagging black tarp. But you can still see. The big parts pile up higher than the bin.

As I mentioned, there are three trucks. Cows arrive in shit-spattered livestock trucks. They leave in two kinds: Sleek, white refrigerator trucks (suitable for human consumption) and what I can only describe as giant tarp-covered troughs, i.e. the bins, which the chutes dump into. Their skin, organs, bones. The air smells of burnt hair.

It happens so fast. I hardly have a moment to register they are the same cows I’d just seen at the front gates.

THE AFTER AFTER

Soon, the activists were done. They do this all the time. It was cold and raining. It was time for them to head home. They took me back to my car and I sat there for a moment and thought about what I’d done: I’d seen cows arrive. I tried to befriend some slaughterhouse workers to varying success. I’d tried to keep it light with the other activists. Learned how long they’ve been doing this, what it’s like for them to be vegan in a non-vegan world, how they keep themselves going when everything seems so bleak. Seems there is a big need for vegan psychiatrists.

But the whole time, I hadn’t cried. My biggest fear was being a sobbing mess. But I realized that was because I hadn’t taken the time to think about what I was seeing. I was taking photos, yes, I was analyzing everything—what’s that truck? What is happening now?—but I hadn’t allowed myself a moment to think about what was really happening.

So with my phone at 5%, I drove myself back.

For two hours, I stood alone on the back side of the slaughterhouse. Holding my silly sign. I noted three trucks waiting to unload. I will wait for them, I thought. That would be my end game. I would stand with my thoughts and I would witness and I would… I don’t honestly know. I was trying to tell myself this wasn’t a crazy thing to do, to essentially, solo-picket a slaughterhouse. I knew the organizer of this activity said she’d done this herself. However, she did it up front, seeing the cows, aiming to photograph them up close. I wasn’t witnessing any more—all the trucks were here. I wasn’t sure if witnessing counts at a distance of 250 feet.

But I stood there. Each time a truck started up, I honestly prayed it would just leave. But every truck pulled forward and backed up to the chute. I found a place where I could stand to see. There was a foot-wide gap and I saw their shadows pass. One after another after another after another after another after another after

I found myself apologizing to each one as it crossed that narrow gap, slouching down into the metal chute. I could see their ears back, then the mass of their body, then a tail tucked, and before she left my view, another came.

At one point, I said out loud, “How many more can there be? Why are there so many?”

And I held my sign for cars passing. Every time I had to tear my eyes away from their passing shadows, I remembered it was people who put them there. And I can’t change what is already in motion for these beings. I can only reach out to people. So for every car, I turned, I smiled, and I waved. And I found most people can’t resist a wave back.

Most.

There were three people who flipped me off. Two people told me to go back to Portland. I waved and smiled, and then turned back to the task at hand.

Three people stood between the final two livestock trucks, shooting the breeze. They had a puppy they were playing with I imagined how surreal it must look, to see me up on the hill, standing almost motionless with a giant sign, just staring. The woman tried to walk out of my view. I moved so she still could see me. I waved. She got into her truck. I stayed where she could see me in her side mirror.

There were was nature on the edge of the slaughterhouse. An oak grove. Starlings flocked from tree to the power lines above me, and back to the trees. Two bald eagles perched on a dead snag, occasionally swooping down to catch something. For a moment, one walked around on the grass, looking like a giant turkey. There were bee hives across the road. Most of the time, both me and my sign were covered in bees. They didn’t sting. I liked watching them crawl on my rain jacket, their bodies flexing as they walked. And, of course, there were the seagulls and crows, feasting from the bins.

The song, Somewhere Over The Rainbow became an earworm. The lyrics made me think of the cows, walking so reluctantly from trailer to chute, having no choice. I thought of the birds overhead, and all their ecstatic joy of being alive. It was too much.

And that’s exactly how I imagined a slaughterhouse to feel.

WHO WE SAW

Many of the cows we witnessed arrive were spent dairy cows—cows who’ve had it the absolute worse. They’ve been repeatedly inseminated (not naturally, for the most part) and have given birth to calves who are immediately taken from them. This might seem weird, but calves have to be taken away so they don’t drink up the mama’s milk (that’s for people, silly!). Females become dairy cows themselves. Males are used for veal or beef or immediately slaughtered. This is especially true for jersey cows, who cannot gain enough weight to be profitable. After giving birth 2-4 times, their milk yields are down, and they are also no longer profitable—and they end up at slaughterhouses. The cows we saw today were likely 4 years old. Cows can live naturally to 25 years old.

Walt’s Wholesale Meats processes 400 cows every day.

WHAT CAN I DO?

mini

For easy, affordable recipes without the use of animals, check out The Minimalist Baker.

Or, take the 22-Day Vegan challenge.

Thank you for reading.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan

Your friendly neighborhood vegan

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 11.17.38 PMMy neighbor down the block has a tree strung with ribbons and, spinning at the end of each ribbon is a laminated New Yorker cartoon. They switch them out often. Someone told me the house is owned by a librarian and the neatness of every punched hole and addition of weights to keep them from spinning into knots–that’s the detail of a librarian. It’s the ultimate destination for an evening stroll.
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