A vegan journey

A vegan journey

A vegan journey

By Lori Lovely

 

It was a lovely spring day many years ago when a teenager was riding in the passenger seat of a racecar hauler that was being driven through rural Iowa on its way to a race. Gazing serenely upon the passing view, she observed pastoral scenes of cows, young calves in tow, grazing tranquilly on fresh green grass.

It was a familiar sight: the backdrop of her life in small-town Midwest America. But suddenly it struck her. Although not familiar with the unbearably gruesome details of the slaughterhouse, she intuitively understood the future that lay ahead of these gentle creatures. The connection between those rest stop burgers and these mothers with their babies, once made, could never be undone. She never ate meat again.

That teenager was me. That was my moment of clarity.

Giving up meat was easy for me—much easier than enduring the questions, jokes, taunts and sneers slung at me due to my choice. Because of the ridicule hurled my way, I was low-key about it, quietly trying to eat vegetarian options without notice or fanfare. I got so tired of answering questions about what I did and didn’t eat and why I did or didn’t eat it. (No, I don’t eat fish. Yes, they are animals.)

Back then I didn’t proselytize. The choice I made was right for me, but I didn’t push my values on anyone else. I just wanted to eat in peace.

It took about ten more years for the next moment of clarity: The animals just wanted to live in peace. At that point I gave up leather. I also began donating to animal rights organizations, adopting pets from shelters and rescues and respectfully talking to friends about eating meat, hunting, fishing and countless other activities that hurt animals.

As my voice became stronger, my use of animal products diminished even further. And then, one day about five years ago, my husband and I decided to go vegan. Overnight. Done. It seemed the natural progression for me: the next step. I thought it would be much easier for me than for my husband, who wasn’t even vegetarian. I had a lot to learn.

The first person I turned to was Ingrid Newkirk, who had become a close friend. She immediately sent us several books by Dr. Neal Barnard, another good friend. They were a tremendous aid—a sort of instruction manual. While they contained some recipes, their value was more in the instructional guidance they offered.

We followed the steps proscribed in one of Neal’s books. First, we cleared the refrigerator and cupboards of everything that wasn’t vegan. Anything unopened was donated, the rest either fed to the dogs or tossed out.

Next, we went to the supermarket to restock the shelves. It took us ages to shop that day because we had to carefully scrutinize the labels on every single item. We were astonished to see how many items were made with milk. We could hardly find a loaf of bread at our regular supermarket. We felt defeated before we’d even begun. This wasn’t going to be as easy as we’d thought.

We persevered. My husband sampled a few brands of faux meat, but after 30 years of a vegetarian diet, that didn’t interest me. We looked through vegan cookbooks for interesting dishes. There were hits and misses. We struggled with the transition for a while.

One night, just as we were finishing chores on the farm, a vegan friend and neighbor who likes to cook brought us a couple servings of the black bean lasagna and Thai salad she had just made. That turned the tide for us. So there were delicious vegan entrees, after all! Modifying her recipe a bit, we’ve made the dish many times, especially when we have guests for dinner. Everyone loves it, whether they’re vegan or not. That led, in turn, to other recipes, more experimentation and additional sharing.

There were setbacks as we learned the vegan lingo that led to us eliminating additional items from our shopping list. I already knew that gelatin and marshmallows are made with beef tallow (although the nutritional label won’t tell you so), but we discovered that casein, a dairy product, is a common ingredient in many foods and some lecithin comes from meat, dairy or eggs. Label reading became trickier.

Vegan items are often stocked in the organic section at the supermarket, but organic doesn’t mean meat- and dairy-free. Nor does vegetarian. Few products carry a vegan label (although I wish the FDA would insist that they did; it would be so much simpler!)

We had to remain vigilant to avoid items with meat and dairy. We became detectives, investigating the food we considered putting in our mouths for hidden animal products. We began eliminating foods when their labels read “may contain milk.” If the producer couldn’t be sure, neither could we.

It’s easy enough to prepare vegan meals at home. However, it’s been tougher on my husband when he travels with the race team, often stuck at a race track until late at night, or stranded at some hotel in a foreign city—or country—with limited options and no transportation. Then there are the countless late nights at the race shop, when they order pizza that he can’t eat. I’m proud of him for sticking to it, taking his lunch to the shop, stashing granola bars in his backpack to nosh while the rest of the team is dining on take-out.

Despite some bumps and detours, the road has become easier with time as new habits develop. We’ve made new vegan friends and found out that a few we already had are now vegan too. Everyone has a favorite dish or recipe or restaurant they’re eager to share. Ingrid sends us vegan care packages every year with new yummies to tempt us and teach us that eating a plant-based diet is healthy, tasty and completely doable. As my neighbor said, it can be a fun challenge to figure out how to “veganize” a recipe.

It’s certainly easier—and more acceptable—to be vegan these days than it was when I first gave up meat 35 years ago. I no longer have to hide my dinner plate or feel like an imposition at the company Christmas party. I’m no longer embarrassed to inquire about the ingredients, or to politely decline if they include animal products.

Now I’m more apt to ask others why they eat meat when there is so much documentation of its adverse health effects and the devastating impact of animal agriculture on our environment … and, of course, for me perhaps the most important aspect of it all: the suffering it causes animals.

Reading labels has become second nature. Neal was right about retraining taste buds. I don’t miss Parmesan cheese. (Yes, we eat pizza without cheese and we like it.) I know I’m healthier since I gave up candy. I also know I feel better about us because we are not contributing to animal cruelty or global warming. There is no cruelty on our plates.

I ask everyone to join us—for your own health, for the future of our planet and for the innocent animals whose lives are so unjustly stolen in the name of cuisine.

A fish story

A fish story

lorifish1 150x150 A fish storylorifish1b 150x150 A fish storylorifish1c Chou afterChou alone Chou beforeBy Lori Lovely

Some of you may remember reading about the dreadful fish massacre that took place a few years ago while my husband and I were in transition, moving from the suburbs to our farm. Our house was pretty much vacant, but when I stopped by to pick up another load of “stuff,” I went to check on our beautiful koi pond. What I found was a bloody scene of terror, with dead, brutally beaten koi strewn about our patio and yard.

Despite the generous reward PETA offered for information leading to an arrest, the neighborhood punks who perpetrated this senseless violence eluded the law.

We mourned the loss of our cherished friends and began the gruesome cleanup. As we sorted through the devastation and destruction in our pond, we discovered one injured baby and a few fry hiding in the rocks. We immediately set up a “temporary” tank in our new garage and brought them to the farm. Our plan was to build a bigger, better koi pond in our back yard as soon as possible.lorifish1a

 

As soon as possible turned out to be seven years, but we were finally able to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, the new pond was too late for most of the survivors of that shockingly horrible atrocity.

When we were down to one 20-inch orange koi earlier this year, my husband suggested finding him a new home. Instead, true to my motto “Where we go one, we go all,” this spring we headed to a pond store to purchase a few friends for Fishie.

The spectacular display ponds on the premises inspired us. My husband, who was struggling through chemotherapy, lit up. I hadn’t seen him that happy in months. He chatted with other customers and employees. We lingered, looking at waterscapes and fish. We were, to use a hilariously appropriate metaphor, hooked.

 

Chris tried to be sensible: we need to spend the money on medical bills. I concluded that the pond would be better medicine than many of his prescriptions, so I scheduled an appointment for an estimate.

After three estimates, we chose a pond builder. We had to wait all summer, but the pond was installed at last. Even before it was finished, I began looking for more fish. Fishie and the two fry we purchased that auspicious day would hardly fill this 11,000-gallon pond.

I saw a post on a local koi and pond page on Facebook: someone wanted to find a new home for two large koi because he was moving and needed to tear down his pond. I contacted him, but when he explained that he was selling, not re-homing, them and that each was priced around $100, I politely declined. My budget was busted on the pond.

I thought that was the end of that transaction, so I kept looking. But I heard back from this man a week later. He had sold one and wanted me to make an offer on the other, his last fish. Because our pond, which was supposed to have been completed by then, still wasn’t finished, I declined to make an offer. But he and I started talking “koi.” I shared photos and details of our pond. A week later, this kind man offered me his fish for free.

It turns out that Chou, a beautiful orange and white 12-inch Hariwake koi, was so lonely and depressed, he was in danger. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t swimming around. He had lost almost all his color. Fortunately, this man put his fish’s well-being ahead of his bank account. He liked the looks of our pond and thought it would be a good home for Chou.

Over the years, I have rescued dogs, cats and even chickens. This would be my first fish rescue.

As soon as the pond was finished, filled and ready for fish, we drove up to get Chou. We also picked up some colorful fry: the more the merrier, right? We took steps to acclimate them and finally released everyone into the new pond on a warm, sunny afternoon. It was a blissful moment: the culmination of a long-planned dream.

For the first few days we noticed that Chou stayed close to Fishie, maintaining physical contact nearly every minute of the day. It was difficult to see where one fish ended and the other began. After a few days, as all the fish settled in and became familiar with their new surroundings, Chou established a bit of independence, but was usually found near either Fishie or the group of fry. Chou liked to be with his new friends.

We noticed something else, too. His color was returning. He was eating. He was swimming in patterns that I can only guess were joyous.

Not many people take time to think about the mental well-being of fish. Few consider the emotional health of their pets, and fewer still contemplate the happiness of wild or farmed animals. When we told visitors this tale, they were stunned that a fish could feel loneliness, that a fish might have emotions and yearn to be with others of his own kind.

I knew. It’s why I’ve been vegetarian for more than 30 years – and yes, that includes fish. (Why do people think vegetarians eat fish, anyway?) It’s why I’ve been against fishing since I was a little girl, watching in disgust as my uncle cleaned his catch. Fishing isn’t a sport and is not allowed on our farm pond. People ask. If they find out I’m vegetarian, they explain that it’s “only” catch and release – fear and torture, but not death.

The answer has always been and will always be no. No fishing allowed. I believe humans should be caretakers, not killers. We strive to give all the animals on our farm a safe environment where they can live a happy, healthy life with others of their kind. We know every animal experiences fear, sorrow, grief and loneliness. But they also feel joy, happiness, love and pleasure.

That’s why we are so elated to have been able to rescue Chou and offer him what we believe will be a happy home for him – a large pond with waterfalls to play in with plenty of friends. He won’t be lonely ever again.

 

 

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