Sunday, January 01, 2006

Making the simple difficult

A few days ago, I went to a local shop to buy a wedding gift and to get some supplies, and the shop owner, a very friendly woman, began speaking with me. Soon, a man came in--a regular customer--and she began chatting with him, also. The conversation turned to Katrina and all the loss of habitat and food for wild animals. Hawks were becoming more common in residential yards, and were attacking the squirrels--that sort of thing.

The two of them said they hated to see it, but they understood that a certain amount of killing is necessary. Somehow, that led to the man and I saying that the world is also full of unnecessary killing of animals, and the woman said, "How do you mean?"

"Well, for starters, there's factory farming," I said.

This pushed a button in her, and she said something to the effect of "I have wanted to be a vegetarian for such a long time," but I don't know how."

"You just stop eating meat," I offered.

"But I really like meat."

"Then don't give it up, but change to free-range meat."

"No one over here sells it."

"They sell it at the store down the street."

"I didn't know. I'm not even that concerned about the hormones, I just feel I shouldn't be eating meat. Maybe I could be a vegetarian if I knew what to cook."

She then asked me to tell her what I had had for dinner the last several nights, and she seemed genuinely surprised that I was able to reel off a series of tasty dinners that were usually vegan (we are about 95% vegan, and I'm not sure if anyone who doesn't grow her own food is 100% vegan, but that is another topic). She seemed even more surprised that what I had eaten was pretty similar to what she had eaten, just without the meat.

The man was listening, but since he eats only raw food, he was not able to help her with menu planning. I asked her if she had ever bought a vegetarian cookbook, and she said no. I asked her to imagine everything she already eats, but without the meat; this seemed like a revelation to her.

Then she mentioned eggs, and asked me if I ate them. I told her I did, but only free-range chicken eggs, never the grocery store factory-farmed eggs. She told me she had seen free-range eggs at the supermarket, and I explained to her that the U.S. government allows companies to label their eggs "free range" if they make their battery cages a little bit bigger than the tiny ones--that the only way to get real free-range chicken eggs was to get them from people's yards or from real free-range farms.

"But how do you do that?"

"Another store down the street."

We began telling her about battery cages, and she said "No! I don't want to know."

"But it's already troubling you," I said.

She then did something really strange: She began quoting from the Bible, but not in an obnoxious way, just in a way that argued that perhaps it is okay for us to kill and eat animals. "Excuse me for getting religious on you," she said. "It's okay," I told her; "we got vegetarian on you."

The man, who lives a spare organic life, engaged her in a discussion of religious matters, and we reminded her that the store down the street sells free-range meat.

When I left, she looked confused. We had opened a subject that was troubling for her, and we had offered her so many options for making a positive change. But she had never bought a cookbook, never checked to see who sold cruetly-free items, and I figured there was no reason to believe she would make any changes. Nevertheless, it was an interesting discussion, and I walked out with a lovely wedding gift and a brand new bird seed combination.


Happy New Year, Diane! Best wishes to you and O. for a wonderful year. And thanks for faithfully living your principles everyday. You make it a better world for all of us. I have to believe that your conversation w/ this woman had the desired effect. She'll be more mindful of her choices now.

By Anonymous ae, at 12:14 PM  

Thanks, ae. I am not as confident as you; so many people prefer to be bogged down in confusion and conflict when it is relatively easy to make decisions.

Happy New Year to you and db, too. I am being lazy, drinking coffee and fooling around, but I need to get in the kitchen and do something with blackeyed peas and cabbage. Then maybe watch the Hingis/Venus 2000 U.S. Open semifinal, which I ordered several months ago.

By Anonymous Diane, at 12:26 PM  

One other thing about the woman that makes the whole scenario even more frustrating--she is an animal rescuer and rehab person.

By Anonymous Diane, at 12:51 PM  

I am so doing the vegetarian eating thing. I know I can do it because we eat so little meat as it is, and while I think the range free is good and I use the free range eggs and milk and all of that, I still think about the animal's faces and it makes chomping down on that burger impossible. By the way, I make a mean black eyed pea patty. What is your position on fish and shell fish?

By Blogger zelda1, at 1:16 PM  

Fish was my second-favorite food, but now I avoid it unless I am in a situation in which it is the only viable choice. However, it is the only food I've given up that I miss. I still eat shellfish on occasion, especially if I am in a restaurant with a very limited menu, as I was last night. Shrimp and oysters are an essential part of the Louisiana menu, and I cannot associate the harvesting of them with the cruelty that goes on in factory farming.

I do not drink milk, but use soy milk because the free-range cows' male calves still end up you-know-where, and anyway, all of the calves are taken from their mothers. I have found excellent substitutes for sour cream and cream cheese. However, where I live, all of the regular cheese substitues are simply terrible. I gave up gourmet cheeses long ago--cheese is my favorite food and that was, and is, quite difficult for me--but I still eat a few non-animal rennet cheeses because I cannot find a substitue that doesn't taste like a melted hairbrush handle.

I feel bad about doing this, and hope that some better substitutes will appear in my region of the country.

By Blogger Diane, at 1:30 PM  

We are big fish eaters too. But, in our area, fresh water means coming from farm ponds or from the rivers and most of our rivers are polluted. So, the only choice is the farm raised and I have been to the hatcheries and they, the fish, are raised pretty much like the chickens, too many in too small a space.

By Blogger zelda1, at 2:11 PM  

What an interesting conversation! Both at the store and here. My advice: Subscribe to Vegetarian Times magazine. When I did that, I finally went all the way to a vegetarian diet after hovering for several years. It made it seem possible, with new recipes each month, and positive, supportive advice.

Shellfish were the last thing I gave up, and then after I realized if I was vegetarian to save lives of animals, then each time I ate a shrimp that was one life I was taking. I really don't miss it now. It was hard to eat whenever I went to New Orleans, though, so I sympathize.

We had Hoppin' John and cabbage tonight, made without ham hocks of course. We served it to my daughter's friend, who is Jain (hard core vegetarian sect of Hindu) and studying in Sweden. She'd never had such a delicacy!

By Anonymous KathyF, at 2:22 PM  

I try to do something different every year. Today I am baking cabbage in a casserole and serving it with blackeyed pea salsa, leftover cranberry-orange relish, and some rolls I made when a guest came over Friday night.

The other thing that is hard to find around here is vegan wine; I forgot about that. You have to go to New Orleans to the Whole Foods Market to get it, so that is another non-vegan thing I consume.

By Anonymous Diane, at 2:29 PM  

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