[45 year- old German Female]
I grew up in a very small village in Germany, about fifteen hundred people. The slaughter house was right next to me and every Monday I would hear the pigs scream. I’d press the pillows against my ears, trying to block it out, because to me they sounded like children, like humans – they screamed pretty loud. I always wanted to get away from it, I wanted to stop it – but as a kid, you don’t have any choice, you’re just born there and it’s where you grew up.
The butcher had three kids, but I never played with them, I thought they were pretty hideous looking, no necks! They had a little store downstairs and my mom would take me to buy meat. I would stand there, just frozen looking at that stuff, knowing where it came from. The butcher and his wife would always give little snips of sausage to the kids, they’d try and give it to me and I would just be horrified. My mother would say, “Don’t give her anything, she won’t eat it, she’ll feed it to the cat!” They already knew I didn’t want any of that! I was a vegetarian even as a child because I just knew, whatever screamed there on Monday, ended up in that glass case. I wanted nothing to do with it, it was too horrifying.
My parents also had a large garden at the end of the village, we would never go to the supermarket, we’d just go to the garden and pick our salad, whatever. My mom would cook from scratch. We didn’t have any school lunches, we’d go home for lunch, that’s how I grew up with pretty healthy food. I was lucky that my parents had that garden and that my mom knew how to cook. Of course she’d always say, “Aaarrgh, she doesn’t eat this, she doesn’t eat that, but there was enough other stuff for me to eat so my mom or my dad never said, you have to eat that. My brothers, though, were unaffected by the pig screams and all that – they didn’t care. My older brother, he’s an architect in his fifties now, he doesn’t even like animals. I don’t know what makes one person go the way I did and another person not care. I’m trying to figure it out. My brother and I, we don’t get along, of course !
Becoming vegan for me, it was a gradual thing, I already didn’t like milk – the only thing was the cheese, that’s one thing most people find hard to give up. Of course, back then if we had like Daiya cheese or all these substitutes it would be easier. Living here in L.A. it’s very easy to be vegan, easy to find substitutes. There has been general acceptance of my veganism but the family, I think, is the last thing that changes. Every family meeting turns into a fight over my diet. My brother says, “Are you still vegetarian?” He always tries to provoke me. It’s just very sad.
For me the sad part is, why am I the only vegan from this village? There was even a horse butcher. They have a racetrack in Frankfurt and they would get injured horses from there and they would get butchered. You’d think most people would be horrified. So, for me, to go back and visit my mom, to still see that store, to still see the butcher, I think I can’t believe I grew up there. But I’m glad I’ve had this experience because it gives me stronger arguments when people talk about sustainable, humane meat I can say – it doesn’t matter, there’s nothing humane, whether it’s twenty-thousand cows or five cows, it’s the same thing. People are horrified by these immense feedlots and such, but the small stuff is just as bad.
And people just don’t realize how bad the conditions are for dairy cows and chickens who lay eggs. My mom would say, oh, but eggs are okay! And I’d have to say, no, it’s worse, you don’t know how these hens are raised. Well, last year she went to a blueberry farm where they also sold eggs. She said she went into one of the sheds and there were thousands of hens in there, which is still considered a small operation. She was horrified. She said, “There’s no sunlight and they’re cramped in there!’ And I said, “That’s what I’m talking about, Mom. Now you see it!” And she said, “Okay, I can see it now.”
It’s frustrating, Germany is very conscious of environmental , ecological stuff like acid rain and you have to recycle religiously. But the meat issue is not talked about.
I don’t want to become an old cynic when I’m seventy sitting there saying, “Nothing changes, it’s all like a circle that just starts again, we make the same mistakes over and over again. I just wonder why some people are aware of things and others aren’t, or choose not to be, just being like plain stupid about stuff. I wish we could be just stupid for a week and have a break. I don’t want to know all these things I know! Most people, obviously, choose not to know. I wish I could wake someone up so they just don’t go mindlessly into a supermarket and grab whatever is there. I wish they would make a more conscious choice about their food and think, wait a minute, where did that come from?
People always think that vegans are such preachers. But I live with this burden of knowledge that most people don’t want to listen to. So where do I put all that?
It’s there, it doesn’t go away.