Some poor cow died for this shitty sandwich.
That’s what I was thinking while trying to scarf something down in not enough time at my desk. I’d run downstairs to the cafeteria, skirted the line for the less-than-satisfying french fries and puckburgers, to the sandwich line. Roast beef sandwich, check. Buy, march back to desk, sit to eat.
I’d had trouble pulling the meat apart with my then-perfect teeth, as I bit into the sandwich, so I opened it up to dissect, eat part by part, and I was faced with a red-dyed mess of grainy musculature.
See, as I’d framed meat before that moment, it was not “musculature”, it’s “meat”. Duh.
I remember when I was little wondering which part of the chicken (animal) the chicken (meat) came from. When I realized it’s musculature, I stopped that line of inquiry immediately, and I’d avoided thinking (like actually thinking) about it for many years.
Not thinking about things is my way of escaping my own empathy. I have extreme empathy, especially for raw emotions like misery, suffering, pain, joy, longing. This is one of the things that I think people like about me, my ability to empathize, but also one of the things that make it hard for me sometimes to function as a rational being. I want to reduce others’ suffering and reflect their joy, which I know sounds super-naïve and touchy-feely and all of those disparaging terms about emotion, but it is part of the core of who I unashamedly am.
Things that touch that core make me want to respond, especially in alleviating pain. Like, in The Lion King, that scene where they hold baby Simba up above the cliff to celebrate his birth — that scene makes me tear up every time. I respond instinctively to the joy and celebration. I cannot even LOOK at the poor animals at PetSmart because if I lock eyes with an animal who is lonely, scared…it’s coming home with me.
I’ve justified my meat-eating position, in the most meat-oriented state in America, on sporadic shallow readings of unconfirmed articles stating vegetarianism is unhealthy because you can’t get necessary nutrients blahblahblah SO YEAH COOL, can’t be a vegetarian! DONE. I’d also tried veggie burgers, and the jury was hung because why eat those when REAL BURGERS, hello. Avoid avoid avoid. I didn’t admit any ethical need to eat vegetarian, so it was a nonissue.
I’m pretty sure the naked neck spot was what did it.
Salju (a.k.a. “Chicken”, see the #chickennoodlefanclub on Instagram) is my tuxedo princess, the most affectionate kitty I have ever had or even heard of. I return from work and every day she is there waiting for me, with Pixel. Before she got so sick I would wake in the morning to find her on me, without fail. If I sit, she sits on me. When I do the dishes, she will follow me into the kitchen and beg to be held, and when she finally gives up, a pathetic heap of dejection, she will sit on the floor in the corner of the cabinets, waiting listlessly until she senses that I am done, when she re-animates and resumes the meowing, begs to be held. It irritates me when I’m rushed and I simply can’t, but it’s incredibly touching at the same time to have someone’s entire focus for living just being with you. She’s my buddy, my constant companion, and my complete responsibility, my utterly-devoted muffin. She wants to be with me more than the dog, no joke.
So I felt somehow responsible when she fell ill. Our first battle, in April (there would be more) with a heart and lungs condition coincided exactly with the time I started working full time outside of the house again. She spent two weeks in the hospital, including one and a half weeks in an oxygen chamber. When she had recovered enough to come home, she said a grateful goodbye to her new fanclub at the vet’s office and came home with us.
She wasn’t out of the woods yet, though, and so we continued giving her up to three injections, twice a day, and took her back to the vet’s office for treatment every week following. It was rough, but a thousand times better than trying to pill her while fighting her delicate little struggling frame without hurting her.
Injections bonus: we wouldn’t have to watch her foam at the mouth and stare into space with betrayed horror as her body worked to inevitably get the pill out, and talk ourselves back into drying her off and re-pilling her. What killed me most about those first pills is that since the initially-diagnosed infection hadn’t been the actual cause of her illness, there had not even been any point to that week of struggle and torture.
Injections minus, I had never given injections to anyone or anything before, and I was nervous about piercing her spinal cord or nerves, and learning this new and unwanted skill. But this was not the trauma of almost choking her to death on pills and fluids meant to make her better.
Over time it got easier, and we had a relaxing cuddle routine, and the injections never hurt her. The biggest drawback was the fact that the insensitive skin around her neck began to callous with so many piercings and probably my inexperienced messing-it-up. It killed me that this was what I had to do to keep her alive, but since it didn’t seem to be bothering her as much as it does when I don’t pick her up, it was a trade-off I was willing to make.
We’d experienced the sudden loss of another pet this year, and our hermit crab died 12/31/2012, and both of those losses were a complete shock. The spiritual contemplations of the meaning of the body, combined with my lifelong animal empathy (and general overall self as a ball of empathy)…it was a hellofa mix. I already have emotional reactions when to roadkill, their poor little lost lives, wasted on the pavement because someone didn’t bother to slow down. Losing my own pets just made for heightened reactions.
Salju has a giant white ruff of furs, and beneath that fur the skin is pink – baby naked rat pink. She had to have her neck shaved, not for cosmetic reasons, but for the frequent blood tests as she struggled to recover from whatever had ailed her (we never really found out). One night she took residence on my chest, as usual, and I saw this naked patch of skin peeking through her remaining ruff.
And I saw her heart beating a quiet restful, contented rhythm beneath it.
And it was the exact color of a raw chicken breast.
Move along, nothing to see here. la la la la la.
But after the constant reminders of inserting the needle into this beloved kitty’s neck, and the needle fatigue she evidenced and the contact with her muscles, her precious meat, the shaved-naked neck spot. That packet of new connections could not get shunted into my empathy-avoidance mechanisms. I tried hard not to make that mental-emotional connection between her beloved little fragile body and edible meat. And the constant cultural chorus about “you are what you eat” and “your body is a temple” etc., and her tiny cherished body is a temple, and my demi-Buddhist leaning towards the sacredness of life and ALL OF THESE THINGS that I’d fought to not think about…that shitty sandwich made it all plain as day.
I stopped eating meat immediately, going to extremes in my desire to not perpetuate suffering. I worried a little bit about the poor plants dying for me, but my survival instincts won over that thought. THAT was just silly. Found a meal plan, recipes that would provide nutrition and satisfy my foodie leanings while not infringing on my new undefined vegetarianism. This is an interesting project, though, because while I have these internal struggles and existential agonies, my husband, who most definitely does not have any qualms about knocking out a half a chicken carcass per meal, shares my table. I need to work with my partner and honestly that has been the easiest part of this. His empathy runs strong, too.
The only meat I allowed myself to eat at first was “good” meat as determined by suffering-reduction farming practices. I pray that Chipotle is honest about its meat practices because I’ve been relying on them for a majority of my protein for the better part of the year, especially since my accident (which is why it I was at Chipotle when I fell).
I’ve somewhat relaxed my personal policies to include meat that is “delicious” (I can be a picky eater) and eliminate meat waste. My rules include
- if I get it I must eat it
- when in doubt about the source or quality of a meat, choose a vegetarian option.
I try to be flexible, and not impose it on anyone else. As long as Tony is happy eating what I cook, I don’t worry about it. I do pretty well most of the time except at places like Babe’s, which to me are just horrific, with all of the “all-you-can-eat” wasted meat left on tables by customers.
I choose meat mindfully now, and do not eat it just to eat meat. I don’t know how my feelings will evolve in the future, but this is what makes me able to live with myself, and every time I see my Chicken, I feel like it’s the right choice for me, right now.