Food... I have always been passionate about food, but I never had a conscience, until recently. Being one who loves to cook and smell good aromas drifting from the kitchen, I simply find it comforting. It can be as simple as a salad and a cup of soup or an elaborate meal that takes hours to prepare. I enjoy the process as well as the reward.
But let me digress for a moment. Years ago, I liked to go out and shoot with my friend Bobbie from the Mesquite Photo Club. It was the perfect match... Bobbie liked to drive and I liked to ride. She had a sense of adventure and had photographic experience far above mine. You see, she freelanced for the newspaper and had a knack for capturing the moment. She even got a double page spread in Texas Monthly magazine following the tornado that ripped through Lancaster. I will never forget that shot of the little doll laying amidst all the rubble left by the tornado. It was a haunting image and I saved the magazine and it is somewhere in my room filled with memories and cookbooks.
Bobbie and I went to the stock show in Fort Worth one year. I loved watching her shoot and talk to the people she was photographing. That's what she did so well. She captured a moment that others would overlook and that is exactly what she did in this image. She got a shot of me looking into the eyes of a cow and the cow looking a bit fearful. I have looked at this photo nearly every day since she gave it to me back in 1997. It is displayed prominently in my chaos of a computer room but it was not until recently that the full meaning of this photo took hold.
I will always remember that day at the stock show in Fort Worth. They were having a Cook Off and one of the fellas was dressed in shorts and tee shirt wearing an apron that said "I Cook Better Naked". Bobbie and I both started to giggle especially when he had two "naked" chickens in his hands, preparing to put them in the smoker. Yes... "great minds" work alike and she suggested to him that he remove his tee shirt and let us get a shot of him with the chickens in his hands so that indeed he appeared to be "naked" beneath the apron. And he, being a crazy contestant, thought it would be a great idea and took off his shirt and posed for us!
Sadly, Bobbie moved to the east coast and that ended our fun photo jaunts together but in this photo of me and the cow, she captured a moment that would transcend time.
Following a trip to the Texas Hill Country I began a long and somewhat complicated journey on my way to becoming vegetarian.
As we go through life, we change. We are made up of bits and pieces of all the experiences throughout our lives and are influenced by those who have touched our lives in a special way, and so it is in this case. My journey in life is definitely effected by photography and the friends I have made through the hobby as well as the books I have read... for example, "The Emotional Lives of Animals" and other books by Marc Bekoff. And then there is the cookbook "The Food Matters Cookbook" by Mark Bittman.
Mark Bittman, though not a vegetarian, has come to the realization that "our current consumption of animals is simply not sustainable" and advocates eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables and grains in our diets. His cookbook celebrates food as well as taste as we become less and less dependent on animals to make up our diet.
I think back to a recipe I used to make. It was called "Crying Lamb". Honest! That's what it was called. You put a leg of lamb over sliced potatoes and the lamb drips fat on the potatoes as they roast together in the oven. And now... it makes me cringe. I will do my small part so that those lambs may continue to frolick in the meadow. That is where they belong!
So... in the latter years of my life, I have a new conscience and feel I do not need to kill and eat animals to survive and this has been an abrupt change as I have been a meat-eater all my life. After all, that is how I was brought up. I did not think of the horror that goes into slaughtering animals. Our meat is "santitized" in the market. We do not see a carcass hanging from a hook nor do we see the fear and panic as an animal is put to death. And now... finally, it all comes together, and that photo that Bobbie took of me and the cow once again becomes relevant. No... I would not hurt you in order to have that burger or steak! I want you to live and to be happy. Your life matters as much as my own and as much as those I love.
In the words of Marc Bekoff...
“Human beings are a part of the animal kingdom, not apart from it. The separation of "us" and "them" creates a false picture and is responsible for much suffering. It is part of the in-group/out-group mentality that leads to human oppression of the weak by the strong as in ethic, religious, political, and social conflicts.”
“Although other animals may be different from us, this does not make them LESS than us.”
And with that in mind, I continue on my journey to better eating. It is a challenge to be sure, but food does matter and I thank every person who has pointed me in this direction and for the support in making such a change in my life.
So tonight for dinner I will have a meat substitute along with veggies in a Mandarin orange sauce and I will not feel deprived and will know that no animal was harmed in the preparation of this meal so that I may live.
I invite you to join me on this journey one meal at a time... for the animals, for the earth and for your health.
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