Growing Up

by R. C. Curtis

I think I was destined to become vegetarian, it just took a while.  Veganism is just a logical extension of that.  I didn’t become vegetarian or vegan out of health or environmental concerns, though those have become important to me.  I became vegetarian because I did not want animals to have to suffer and die so that I could eat them.  I had a deep concern for animals as far back as I can remember.  But it wasn’t until I was in college that it all came together.

When I was a little boy, it troubled me to realize that the meat I ate was once part of a living animal.  I wanted to know,  why did animals have to be killed for us to eat?  Was it fair to hurt them?  Was it right to make them suffer?  I think many children grapple with this on one level or another.  Many children feel a natural affinity towards animals and when they are old enough to realize what it is they are eating they look for ways to make this all right. They look to adults to explain why this is okay.  My father explained it all to me.  He told me that  the animals we ate did not suffer because they knew no other existence.   They were raised to be killed and had no idea what it meant to be free, to live a full life.  This was supposed to comfort me.

I work with young children and it breaks my heart sometimes to hear how they try to deal with the cognitive dissonance of being told to be kind and loving to all creatures on the one hand and then being given animals to eat.  A little girl once told me that she didn’t eat animals.  When I asked her what she liked to eat, she said, “chicken.”  But isn’t a chicken an animal? I asked.  She looked confused for a second and then said, “That’s a different kind of chicken.”   The children also find it odd when I tell them that cows make milk for their babies, not for us.  They think I’m joking.

I developed my own theory in my young mind to help me deal with the cognitive dissonance.  I told myself that the animals who became my food were the “bad” ones.  They deserved whatever suffering befell them.  But it wasn’t a fully satisfying theory.  And so I just didn’t think about it too much.  When you’re a kid, unless you have the power to make decisions about what you are going to eat, unless you are able to make that connection between animal suffering and what is on your plate and have the ability to understand that you can make a choice – well, you just don’t think about it too much.  After all, would your mom and dad feed you something that represented suffering and death?  Would the whole world eat meat and consume animal products if it were wrong?  It’s just the way it is.  It’s just one of those things you don’t understand as a kid but you learn to live with not understanding.  You learn to live with the fact that there is suffering and  killing.  You are told it’s the way of the world.  Especially if you are a boy, you are told to grow up and stop being so emotional about things. You are given the message that it is somehow not masculine to care, to show compassion.  That’s girl stuff.

When I was in junior college I met a girl who was vegetarian.  We were in a broadcasting class together.  Once we had an assignment to read a commercial for a Thanksgiving dinner.  This girl decided to subvert the text:  she told her audience to invite a turkey over for a vegetarian feast.  I admired her moxy but  wasn’t persuaded, just yet, to become vegetarian.  After I transferred to the university, I took a logic class.  I didn’t know it then, but the teacher was one of those animal rights guys.  He had us read a chapter from Peter Singer’s  Animal Liberation in which Singer lays out his argument that if we support equal rights for human beings we must logically extend that to include all animals — because of their capacity to feel pain.  I found the argument to be valid but continued to eat meat.  Then, not too long after that, I was cutting up a chicken carcass and rather ineptly.  I stopped.  I looked at what I was doing.  Then I put the hacked up chicken into the trash.  I had become a vegetarian.  Thirteen years later I became a vegan because I could no longer kid myself that in continuing to eat eggs and dairy (and to wear leather , wool and silk) I was not contributing to the suffering of animals.

I had grown up.

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