[Female, 85 years old, born in Holland]
I was born and raised in Holland. I have been vegetarian all my life. I went vegan after seeing movies at the first animal rights convention in the 80’s. When you see these horrendous situations on factory farms, you will never touch any dairy or eggs – you have to make sure. Before that, we didn’t use much dairy but I was always looking for the low fat Dutch cheese.
My mother became a vegetarian for ethical reasons. When she was around sixteen she couldn’t stand the sight of meat anymore. Her father asked [demanding voice] “do you think you want to become a vegetarian!” And she said, “I don’t become one . . . I am one!” [gasps] The house was too small then!
“Out!” said her father. But he did pay for her studies, that was good. She became a teacher, she was only sixteen. She had to stay with friends. That’s just horrible – but it isn’t any better these days. I read stories about kids who want to become a vegetarian, they’re thrown out. Or a family, I think it was in Texas, they adopted children and those children were taken away from them – because they ate vegetarian! Can you imagine such dumb nuts? It’s unbelievable.
When I was a child we knew that the milk we used – just a drop for the coffee or tea – was really meant for that calf that didn’t get it and the calf would be slaughtered anyway, so we didn’t use much milk. My mother made her own yoghurt – back then we didn’t have soya milk, we didn’t have hemp milk or almond milk or coconut milk.
It was very normal in Holland – you had people that were vegetarian and you had people that ate meat. When we were in grade school, in fifth or sixth grade, we went on a weekend outing with the teacher and she said, “Since we already have two girls in the class that are vegetarian, we might as well all go vegetarian so we don’t have to worry about meat in the freezer.” As I say, it was normal. In Holland you had plenty people vegetarian, but mostly they were India people – you had just as many people from other countries as you do here, in Los Angeles.
We had fruit trees – apple trees, a walnut tree that has to grow seven years before it bears fruit. And you know what happened? The Germans took the Netherlands and right away our home was for these monsters, because we had a corner house and they could shoot out of every window everywhere. So we lived in a tiny little apartment in Amsterdam. My mother gave all the furniture to friends, hopefully to get them back later, which never happened. Then we just had to live the best we could there. There were so many Jewish friends that we needed to help. We had an attic in that apartment, two tiny rooms, one had a sky light the other had a window towards the roof and you could climb out the window and go over the rooftops. When these friends needed to have a temporary place, my mother said it can never be for good because it is too unsafe here – neighbors above us, neighbors downstairs, neighbors left and neighbors right . . . it’s not a place to hide, they can see everything what we are doing. But they came and they stayed in that little house. It was hell, but they came and went, came and went. If you know that you can help, you must help. It is the same with all beings, humans and animals, you must show compassion, do what you can to help.
My father had as a child polio, his kidneys were damaged and the doctor said you have to for the rest of your life be on a vegetarian diet, as little protein as possible. My father thought, oh, this is something! Then he went to a slaughterhouse and that did it. He had no problems being a vegetarian, it was so horrendous, so important that you don’t participate in this. He died anyway young, after my brother was killed by a drunk driver. It hurt him so much that he died two years later. He was fifty-four. So, my mother had to go back to school and teach. In those days, you could never climb up as a woman, it was always starting salary. So, we lived but it was hardship always.
There was not much. But we had lots of berries in the yard, blackberries and red and white berries and my mother grew all the herbs and such. We also had a health food store that came by car out of Amsterdam. We were never hungry – except when the Germans were there. Then we ate sugar beets and my husband, who worked at a big factory, brought home terrible salty syrup – it gave you calories but it was so unedible! So with a sugar beet, or a tulip bulb or so, we could just make it. The neighbors downstairs, they had baked potatoes. They came from a little village outside of Amsterdam and apparently they could get potatoes. And lots of people who had better money had foreseen all of this, and bought and bought lots of food to horde in their cabinets. Also there was a soup kitchen; but my mother said, and it was so true we found out later on, “They could put a cat or dog into that – we cannot eat that food!” Whatever they stuck in it, all the meat was for the Germans, not for us. The neighbors with their potatoes put the peelings outside to be picked up but we got them first, we ate the potato peels. How can I forget those things? Such a horrible time!
I became a nurse in Holland when I was twenty-two. Most people knew I was vegetarian and I never had any problems with that, even though the medical establishment back then didn’t know the benefits of a vegetarian diet. But maybe the doctors didn’t know I was a grass eater, as my mother used to call us! With the patients, with a child or elderly person, I’d always feeds them the potatoes, macaroni, vegetables. If they wanted the meat, I’d give them a piece, whatever. But I would never ever feed them first the meat.
I came to the United States in 1955. I was married and we had to wait until my son was born in Holland because here, we would have to go to a hospital, for which we didn’t have the money and I wanted my own midwife and do it normal at home. There’s no illness, no chance of infection, so you have your babies at home. So then we made it out here when my son was fourteen days old. We came straight to California . . . if it wasn’t California I wouldn’t have immigrated [laughs]! I knew, this is the place where the new thoughts and the other people are than in the rest of the world. We were always right in the midst of it right from the beginning. I remember we went to Esalen when the geodesic domes were talked about, and all the vegetarian and vegan meals . . . many new things came up and we were always with it. But in the beginning, not even in the phone book was the word vegetarian, so we had to write to Holland, could you please give us the addresses, we cannot find anything here? So they did and then you get the Vegetarian Resource Group or something like that and we got all the info.
I can’t remember people being nasty about me being vegetarian or vegan, not at all. Maybe I’m nasty about people eating animals that are killed for them. I can’t stand the whole concept of killing for food, there is no need for it. The human body doesn’t require anything from an animal. I can only give people better education, tell them, read this book, read that book. You don’t have to believe me, but I know better. I read all these vegan magazines, vegetarian magazines, just to keep up because they find more and more tiny details that are so important for us.
For me it was very simple, so simple, to go from vegetarian to vegan. You see the cruelties involved, you don’t want any part of it. Now it’s so easy, they’ve come out with so many things like tofu and tempeh and seitan, all the vegan cheeses – it is so simple. You can just eat your tomato and lettuce and cheese sandwich like everybody else. No problem.
I know about human suffering. It is idiotic to say I only care about animals, not humans. I’m not forgetting humans. It’s not for nothing I became a nurse. Humans are just as important as the animals. We all live together under this moon.