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Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Line of Acceptance - Where is it Drawn?

One gorgeous day in paradise, when I was 4, we went to my uncle's beautiful home in what was then, the "country".  I loved going to my uncle's farm on the windward side of O'ahu.  He had chickens running all over and I thought it was great fun to chase them through the rich soil between the rows of taro.  This particular day, unbeknownst to me, was a family gathering for a celebration, though I cannot remember the occasion.  What I DO remember was there was a sweet little calf in my uncle's yard.  I was overjoyed.  I had the most wonderful morning with that precious cow.  We romped around in the yard and became quite good friends. 

Later on in the day, more cousins arrived and my parents shoo'ed me off to play with them. I loved these summer days in Hawai'i. Our play was carefree and filled with fun and laughter.  When the dinner bell rang, we ran off to join the rest of the extended family for some great food, which is always the centerpoint of every family gathering.  My aunty sent us around the side of the house to wash up before dinner.  I followed my siblings and cousins, still smiling and laughing.  Then I saw it.  Well, first the boys saw it.  They gathered around a galvanized washtub in the carport, making the kind of sounds that boys usually do, poking and laughing at each other, and pushing each other toward the large tub. I walked over and one of my cousins was lifting a linen that was draped over the tub and teasing his little sister while she stared with eyes as wide as saucers.  There, in that washbin, was the head of my little friend from that morning. I started screaming and running, and all I remember after that was my brother scooping me up and taking me away.  Well, I do remember everyone trying to get me to eat dinner later.  I couldn't. 

I blocked this story out for many, many years.  But it came back with a vengeance almost a year ago this summer.  In crisp, vibrant detail, and many more memories came with it.  Now, it just doesn't leave.  It's with me all the time.  Sometimes, it's with me more than I care for it to be.  Which brings me to my life in the present day. 

I'm 57 years old.  I've struggled with a great many things in my life, no different than anyone else, I'm sure.  One of the biggest things I've ever struggled with is resolve.  I have always admired Charlie, and dear friends of mine like Steve, and even my girls (thank goodness they didn't take after me in that department).  People who have been able to say; "I'm doing this." and it was done.  I found that to be a strength of character that had always eluded me.  I've been an animal lover my whole life.  I don't remember a time in my life when there was not a pet in my home.  I think my parents took pity on me because I was mostly raised an only child and we moved so often, I didn't make friends that easily.  Or if I did, I had to leave them soon, so I didn't invest.  I had tons of books, and always a pet.  But I was also raised in a home where the daily menu was meat heavy.  Living in Hawai'i especially, roasting pigs, bar-be-queing whole sides of beef, spits full of huli-huli chicken was as common as coffee in the morning.  I never made the connection between those trays of meat at the market with a living, breathing creature.  I just ate what was put in front of me.  That was just that.

Many years later, when my teenaged niece became a vegetarian, I remember admiring her but thinking that it was probably a passing phase.  That was 30 years ago.  She's grown into adulthood, is raising two beautiful daughters, and is married to a carnivore who is an amazing chef.  She's still a vegetarian.  She made a decision for her life, and she stuck to it.  But, what has become MORE amazing to me, as I have been on this new journey for MYSELF, is that her family and friends supported her.  My sister-in-law, as far back as I can remember, always made sure she cooked Wendy's meals with veggie broth instead of beef or chicken broth.  Small things like that, but really, in the big picture, not so small in retrospect.  Once my niece had made up her mind, her family supported that decision.  For whatever reason she made that decision.  It wasn't a passing fancy, or a teenaged phase, as I had naively assumed.  It was to be her life, her family knew it, and they supported her.

I've had so many conversations with my friend Steve about this.  I've long desired to stop eating meat.  I have Vegan friends and admire their fortitude.  I know that going full vegetarian or vegan would just be too much for me.  But, I'd long wanted to try.  I thought I was too old....a leopard's spots, an old dog's tricks, etc.  I'd lived this long eating meat, true, but as Charlie can attest, I've never been truly happy about it. I hated that I loved it so much.  I hated that I could enjoy living off the flesh of animals.  I could definitely make the connection now, as an adult, between that sweet, innocent little friend who became a luau dinner at my uncle's when I was four, to those trays of meat in the supermarket. If that didn't do it all those years ago, what would be my catalyst for change? 

One day, my dear friend and treasured counsel Steve asked me during one of these deep dish conversations we have at random moments in life, if I'd ever seen a certain documentary.  I won't name it, because this is my journey, and my journey has never been about changing anyone else but me.  I'm not on an evangelical mission of meat-abstinence.  Also, I'd known about this documentary, and others like it, for a long time, and I just sat on it.  I did nothing with the information.  I couldn't do it.  I knew it was going to have a profound effect on me because of my intensely soft heart and my vivid "after-view".  I didn't think I could sit through it, or ever live comfortably with myself again after it.  After all, I'm the woman that walked out of Jurassic Park during the goat scene.  I just wasn't brave enough.

Until last summer.  Everything changed with, of all things, a dog named Chi-Chi...a rescued South Korean meat market dog.  Then I learned about the annual horror in Yulin, China.  Then, with all of my rescue sites, and all of my advocating for what we, in our country, consider our domestic pets, our pets that we call "family".  What was the difference?  I asked myself; "what is the difference?"  Somewhere in the world, someone is eating Kili, or Kiva, or any number of pets in my life.  Yes, I know it's common in places and always has been. I'd grown up with family members in Hawai'i joking about "Black Dog Stew" in a Filipino accent, except I knew they weren't really joking. That really was someone's dinner in Mindanao, or Luzon.  But this time, something happened in me that I couldn't just walk away.  So I watched that movie.  That ended my life as a meat-eater.  No, I'm not a vegetarian, and I'm not vegan.  I still eat fish.  I'm trying to work my way off of eggs and dairy.  I'm not sure I'll ever succeed because cheese.  However, I'm still going to endeavor to try.

Here's another revelation that will shock some.  I smoked for many years.  I was a closet smoker when I met Charlie.  I lived in a home with two chain-smokers, and I became a smoker myself at the age of 18.  How I held off that long, I don't know.  I thought it was a disgusting, horrible habit.  And yet, somewhere along the line I threw up my hands and said "fuck it."  My mother discovered that I smoked and told me to remember that she counted her cigarettes, so if I was taking up the habit, I had to support it on my own.  I did.  When I met Charlie, it wasn't long before I quit.  We were talking about having a family, so I didn't want to start out that way.  Long story short, I quit for many years, throughout the kids childhoods, but took it up again when they were junior high.  I don't know why.  Stupidity.  Stopped again for a couple years.  Quit.  Never smoked in the house.  Never smoked in front of my kids.  They knew, but I suppose, in my head, I felt like I was being a "good parent" by not letting them see me smoke.  Again, stupidity.  When I lost a lot of weight, I was so scared of putting it back on, I started smoking again.  I quit again.  I started again.  It's a vicious cycle.  But last year, for Christmas, I decided to quit again.  I had a scare. I told myself it was enough.  I owed my family better memories than the ones my parents left for me.  So, it's now 7 months.  I'm still in the non-smoking phase.  It's been good.  Hard, but I'm working through it. I've cheated, and I hate to admit it, but I'm still carrying a pack that I bought before I quit. It's weirdly comforting.  Yeah, I've gained weight.  A lot of weight. But, I'm a work in progress.  In all of that, I've had support.

That last word; "support".  It really is the topic of this post.  Not the fact that I gave up beef, pork, or fowl.  Not the fact that I "quit" smoking.  SUPPORT.  It's become something of a hitch in my get-along.  The last few months have been quite revealing as it's become more obvious to people, and I've become more open about it.  I did not come out to my friends and family with a megaphone, or buy a bulletin board.  As a matter of fact, I resolved to myself alone, first.  I was going to try, without anyone knowing, and just see how long, or how far I could go, or if I could even have a small measure of success.  After about a month or two, and feeling that yeah, I can do this, if anyone asked, I would tell them quietly that I was a pescatarian.  Without fanfare.  I was doing this for me, and me alone. I was not into judgment or proselytizing.  What I did not know was going to happen was that I, myself, was going to be judged.  That's actually been the thing that has surprised and disappointed me.

Some of the comments that I have had made to me of late, and my thoughts when they're said:

"I wish you'd never seen that movie." 
Gosh, I'm sorry my seeing a movie changed YOUR life so much.  Oh wait...it hasn't.

"You really don't know what you're missing."
Actually, yeah I do.  I've had a good half century and some of having what you're enjoying, and like you, I did enjoy it.  I'm sure it tastes the same.  I wish you knew it's not always easy for a food girl like me to give things up.  But at this time in my life, the flavor doesn't bring the satisfaction that it once did for many reasons.  Please enjoy your meal without making me feel bad.

"Humans have canines and incisors for a reason."
What does that have to do with my decision to use mine to masticate food choices that are different than yours?  Hippos and gorillas have massive teeth too, but they seem to be ok without eating meat.

"Fruits and vegetables are living things too, but you eat them."
Well, the day a living fruit or vegetable jumps off my kitchen counter cutting board, I'll be sure and tell them you said hello.  Also, if you know me, you KNOW I'm TERRIBLE at eating my fruits and vegetables.  Those things are NEVER my first menu choices.  So if you'd like to "save the papaya" that's sitting on the edge of my plate, feel free.

"If God didn't want us to eat them....."
You lost me at "God".  Do you not know me at all?

There've been others over the past few months, but you get the gist. I've been amazed at what point people have decided it's okay to make judgment calls or comments about what I eat.  Especially considering I've NEVER made what I eat or don't eat an issue to ANYONE.  EVER.  I've never asked for special treatment.  I've never made a decision about whether or not I attend a gathering based on what food was or wasn't being served.  I've always found something that I can eat anywhere I've been.  Even if I've had to eat the same thing for three straight days (and believe me, I HAVE), I've NEVER complained or uttered a word about it.  I've never pointed out anyone else's food quirks or dislikes publically.  In fact, if I've known about someone's idiosyncratic food choices, I've supported them.  I would never put something that someone finds offensive in front of them, or make them feel that how they feel is silly, or unworthy, or inconvenient to me.   On the contrary, I have continued to prepare food, with loving care, for the people in my life who do not share my convictions. I haven't clanged any bells of shame, I haven't weighed and measured them as human beings.  I haven't disrespected them for what they have on their dinner tray.  I have carried many a plate of meat, fresh off the grill to a table full of meat eaters without so much as a Whoville-sized whisper of contempt for their choice. Why have I not been afforded the same respect for a change in my life, that at its core, is based in compassion?

I find it interesting that if someone has given up a certain thing because of a health issue, well, that's ok and we should support them.  Lose weight?  Great!  How can I help support you?  Quit smoking?  Awesome!  I'm here for you!  You can't eat such-and-such because you have a certain medical issue?  Okay, Pom-poms at the ready!  Wait...you're not eating meat because you care about animal torture? Oh brother! :::eyes rolling, air sputtering:::   So...because I gave something up for a moral issue, it somehow negates the validity of my conscious effort and validates their reason for making a scene over my food, at my expense.  Apparently, my feelings mean nothing and somehow has some bearing on their lives in a personal way.  How, I don't know, but that's the way I've been made to feel. 

Last year, when I made this decision, I knew the only ones it would have an impact on were me, and the people that live under the same roof as me.  At that time, it was Charlie and Bryson.  Of course, I'm going to share my decision with my life partner, the man I've spent 38 years with, my best friend.  Of course, it will mean that some things in HIS life may change.  But I'd like to think that it would be for the better.  I did not ask Charlie to make this food journey with me.  I did not ask him to change HIS life.  But he did what comes naturally to him.  He did what he's always done since the day I met him.  He SUPPORTED me.  He never made me feel bad for the decision I made.  He never ridiculed me.  He never embarrassed me in public.  He did what my niece's friends and family did for her when she made that decision for her life all those decades ago.  Support.  He even said he knew it was coming, and had been coming for a long, long time.  You see, my husband knows me.  He knows my heart.  He knows my fiery passion.  He knows that it may take me longer to get to a destination, but he knew I would get there.  He has been right by my side as I lamented for YEARS about my inability to make this one thing stick.  If anyone is allowed to call me on anything, it's the guy who has paid his dues with me.  Yeah, he sometimes forgets and tries to get me to taste something, or try something that he's enjoying that he knows has ingredients I avoid.  But he's allowed to forget when he's lived with me for almost 4 decades of carnivorous culinary adventures.  My kids have been amazing.  They love their meat, but they've actually been very accommodating, without my asking.  That's what you do for people you love and care about.  You support them.

I have a feeling that it's going to get worse before it gets better because there will be more decisions on my part that will raise hackles.  They shouldn't, but they will.  I'll keep them to myself as long as I can because it's evident that my choices somehow make people really uncomfortable, since they talk about it more than I do.  That's ok.  Everyday that passes strengthens my resolve in this.  Everyday towards this life goal that has literally taken my entire lifetime to try to attain. In this journey, my long-struggling soul rests just a bit easier every day, and that, above all, is the most important part to me.  The key word being "me".