I spent 22 years eating meat and wearing animals. I went to Barnum & Bailey circus every single year of my childhood and the animals were my favorite part. My dad use to take me to the dog races and I absolutely loved it because I got to be around dogs all day. The zoo was my favorite place on the planet and I was so proud of myself when I caught my first fish on a camping trip one year. I grew up in Houston where the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is a major part of the culture and community. My dad is still on the rodeo committee to this day. Did I mention one year I got UGGS for Christmas and thought it was the best thing ever?
Everybody's Doing It
My brother -in-law, Caleb, was in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) which is an extracurricular program at school. He was given a pig which he named Bacon. I remember one time my husband and I had to go pick Caleb up from the barn and I got to meet Bacon. He was huge, pink, soft and had such a warm energy I just wanted to hug him. So Caleb fed and cared for Bacon, then at the end of the school year his assignment was to talk with buyers and sell Bacon, after which he would be given a large portion of pork to take home. Several months later I was at my husband's house, I opened the freezer and there was Bacon. I just kind of went numb and didn't know how to process the emotions I was feeling because clearly I was the only one who felt that way. It actually makes me tear up just thinking about it, even though at the time I wasn't weepy at all.
EVERYBODY"S DOING IT - Part II
Needless to say, hunting is kind if a big deal when you live in Texas. I remember all the rich kids would go to their deer lease on the weekends and talk about their guns and crossbows with such admiration. Rarely did I walk into someones home and NOT see at least one stuffed animal on the wall. This was normal. I didn't think twice about it for a really long time.
I never liked hunting, even though my peers thought I was annoying for not supporting it. When my classmates would rave about their kill and bring deer jerky to school I would say, "I don't support hunting. I think its wrong to kill for sport. But I do love me some deer jerky and since its already dead I might as well eat it." The response was always, "deer are overpopulated we need to thin them out." Like it was their honored duty to play God or something. It never felt 'right' but I just told myself.... OK I guess there are a lot of deer and hogs. If we don't kill them then deer will take over the world and hogs will ruin everyone's lawn and then eat their cat. I was just a teenager who loved animals and believed that people knew what they were doing and surely they weren't just seeking out innocent animals, shooting them for fun and then eating them because the meat at the grocery store wasn't good enough.
I was wrong. You know what, THEY were wrong! But its not because they were bad people. I went to high school with a guy who is a huge christian and just all around really sweet, non-judgmental, good guy. He collects birds like they are going out of style. His Instagram is literally dozens on dozens of ducks and geese stacked up on each other in the grass.. lifeless but still beautiful. Then there's my friend, with the most genuine happy grin standing next to 'his' birds. He is not a bad guy but that doesn't mean he's not very very wrong, even if he doesn't know it yet.
I think what it comes down to is a lack of information, stereotype, myth and a whole lot ego sugarcoated in laziness. Our culture is fucked up, yes. Do you think the world is fucked up right now? Honestly, do you? Do you think you are the one that's fucked up? Probably not.
People just don't want to consider the fact that something they have done their entire lives was actually a huge mistake. If there's 1 thing I have learned in 4 years of teaching yoga, working intimately with hundreds of people from all walks of life, its that the ego is like a poison and we are all infected.
Mankind wasn't always so prideful and disconnected. Here we all are, advanced in the century of technology and modern medicine. Is it possible that in reality we are more barbaric and clueless than ever before? We have more contact and less connection, more medicine and more sick people, more food and more starving, more science and less animals, more territory and less land. That doesn't sound very advanced to me.
IT STARTED WITH A CALF
One night in 2007 I was sitting at the rodeo watching the Muttin' Bustin, which is actually pretty adorable. (the word "muttin" refers to the flesh of a sheep that is between 12 and 20 months old) Its when toddlers ride on the back of baby sheep until they fall off. The crowd gawks at how cute they are, laughs their ass off and the child who hold's on the longest wins.
I thought it was strange but but never really considered the backstory of the baby sheep and the message we were sending to our children. Isn't that baby scared? He sure looks like it. Where's his mom, i'm sure she misses him? Does it hurt when kids are laying on you and gripping onto your coat as tight as they can? These are thoughts that never crossed my mind.
So eventually it was Calf Roping time. This is where the calf (aka living, breathing BABY) is hustled into a chute accompanied by yelling, strangers, surround sound and very much without its mother. The gate opens and the calf is sent running for his life (a moment of the event that we don't even 'see') but not for long because within seconds it is strangled and yanked backwards by a rope. No time to panic because, not a moment later, here comes a human sprinting towards the calf as fast as possible. The still strangled calf is then aggressively thrown in the air and onto its side so its legs can be tied into an extremely tight knot. The terrified calf lays there degraded and helpless, the crowd cheers, the cowboy mounts his horse and proceeds to drag the calf behind him. Back to the chute the calf goes until its his turn again. Eventually the evening comes to a close and I don't know what happens to the calf but I do know where he will be tomorrow.
I had seen calf roping at the rodeo upwards of 50 times but this time it was different. I felt like I was surrounded by a sea of aggression and everything kind of went quiet. The only thing I could see was the calf, I stared into its eyes from my seat in the audience. Calf after calf after calf went by and, for me, the arena got quieter with every single one until it was just silence.
This was the moment that changed everything for me.
You know when you get a new car and then you quickly begin to notice everyone on the road who has the same car as you? There's no more cars on the road than there was yesterday but now that this particular car is in your life you can't help but see it everywhere? In short --- the road didn't change, you did.
That's how I felt after this rodeo event. Suddenly the exploitation of animals was EVERYWHERE, it was loud and aggressive yet no one around me seemed to even raise an eyebrow. I began to feel extremely conflicted in every aspect of my life. I was raised to love animals and to speak my truth but we had meat for every single meal. When I tried to make sense of what I was feeling I would get shut down and blown off by all the adults in my life. They weren't bad horrible people but they were WRONG.