Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Book, a Baby, and a Beagle

I think every vegan has a story about how they became vegan, and I think it's finally time for me to tell mine. So this blog post will be a bit longer than I normally do. I hope that's okay with you.

In my original post for this blog, I told you that my first spark towards veganism was reading John Robbins book, The Food Revolution. That was ten years ago. I was 25 years old, freshly-divorced, and living alone for the very first time in my life. I had no money, but I was not destitute. That seems to contradict, but I was poor in that special way that only young people can be. I had no money, but it was not a hardship or social obstacle, and I did not consider myself bereft. I had given up both the television and the home computer to my ex upon moving out, and I was as close to buying my own private jet as I was to being able to replace either of them. All I had for entertainment at home was a stereo, my half of the CD's, and my books. It was a peaceful, happy time despite my lack of material comfort, and it was during this period that I began to really grow up.

I believe that maturity comes not only with age (because some people could live to a hundred and still be immature), but also with introspection and circumspection. Without stopping to consider and survey both ourselves and the world we live in, life experience can net us very little in the way of wisdom. I learned to think and to look around during this period of my life, and I came out of it a better person and a more fully-realized adult. It was during this time that I first learned about how the meat industry in America treats animals, the workers that raise and slaughter the animals, and the environmental ravages they inflict upon the earth where these animals and workers are being exploited. I was horrified. I started to change my life at that point, and I never looked at the food on my plate the same way ever again. It was a powerful book, and it spurred me onto the first leg of this long journey...but I wouldn't successfully become a vegan for another decade.

I married Ashley in 2003, and our daughter, Elizabeth, was born late that same year. Thus began the next chapter of my life. I got busy. I had a lot of changes to go through. My husband is a U.S. Marine, and he was deployed to Iraq twice in the following three years. I watched Elizabeth, sometimes alone and sometimes with my husband, as she grew. I would watch my baby girl and marvel at how new everything was for her. Her body was new. Her organs were new. I realized that I was--almost solely--responsible for how she would treat that body and how she would grow--emotionally, physically, and spiritually--over the next several years. In a twist that I now view as a "God breeze," our daughter was allergic to dairy formula. After two infections in my breasts, my milk dried up early, and I could no longer breastfeed. As devastating as this was for me emotionally, all we could focus on at the time was getting nutrients into our little baby's body. We put Lizzie on a formula that our doctor recommended, but she could not tolerate it. She would projectile vomit when fed a dairy bottle, and I became concerned that she had a serious health issue to address. After two weeks of this, something had to be done. I wrung my hands as I waited for our doctor's verdict. She had good news. Elizabeth wasn't sick. She was just a human baby...and her body didn't want the milk from a cow. That was all. Doctor Hu immediately told us to switch to a soy formula. We bought a can on the way home. The first night we gave Elizabeth a soy bottle, she slept through the night--a solid 6.5 hours--and she did so every night afterward for the rest of her infancy. For the first year of her life, we called her our Little Soybean. Elizabeth no longer reacts poorly to consuming dairy (her grandparents were all appalled that she drank soy formula and continually gave her cow's milk to drink when she got old enough to drink it), but she has always been a herbivore, and she has never cared for meat of any kind. Even with those first jars of baby food, she would never condescend to eating the mixtures that contained meat. It is as if she was a born vegan, and I no longer think this was a coincidence of personality. In that first year of Lizzie's life, I pulled out Mr. Robbins book again , and read it through a second time. It was 2004...but I still wouldn't successfully become a vegan for another five years.

Shortly after Elizabeth was born, our family suffered a devastating loss. Our beloved gray and white shelter rescue cat, Kismet, was spooked one day and darted through the front door while I was carrying in a bag of groceries and Lizzie in her carrier. As soon as I could set the bag of food down and get Elizabeth secured in her crib, I raced into the street to find my cat and give her a piece of my mind for running away. She was gone. My annoyance turned immediately to fear for Kismet's safety. We had been stationed on Camp Pendleton (San Diego, CA) for only a few weeks, and Kismet was an indoor cat. She didn't know the neighborhood and we didn't, either. Her veterinary appointment to have her chip inserted and be registered with the base was scheduled for the next morning at 9am. So here we were, brand new in town with a new baby and a cat with Indiana tags and numbers on her collar. There is a large coyote population on Pendleton. We spread signs with her picture and our phone numbers. We looked and walked and called shelters and vet clinics all over the area. We never saw Kismet again. I was devastated and felt personally responsible. My only hope is that, because she is a beautiful cat, maybe someone found her and chose to keep her rather than look for her owner.

I told you this sad story so that you'll understand the happy one which follows a bit better. In 2007, on Elizabeth's fourth birthday, we moved to Okinawa, Japan to live on MCB Camp McTureous. Lizzie announced that she wanted a dog. We'd been joking, Ashley and I, for years about getting a beagle. We knew the breed's personality and shortcomings, and we felt that beagles were the only dogs for us. The problem was that I was not ready. It felt like trying to replace Kismet, and I still got very sad for her, sometimes. Having Elizabeth speak up and ask for a dog, however, made me realize that having a companion animal in the family wasn't just about me. My husband stood back and gave me room to mull it over. We brought Kioko the beagle home shortly after the new year in 2008.

Now...you have to know that Kioko is the most beautiful and amazing dog I have ever known, but she was an absolutely horrid puppy. My friend, Kristi, the vet tech would laugh out loud to see me type this because she had a lot of advice for me in this area before we got Kioko ("Amy, don't get a beagle...for God's sake, anything but a beagle. They're awful!"). It's true. Beagles are horrible little dogs. Ha ha! There was no amount of puppy cute that could compensate for what Kioko and I went through together in her first year at home with us. It was bloody torture. She would not housetrain. She saw absolutely no reason why she shouldn't poop on the end of our bed and then lie down in it. We went through ear infections, respiratory infections, urinary infections, and once--by a fluke of chance that scared me out of my mind--a triple fracture in her left hind tibia. Rock bottom was the day I knelt in my bathroom, full-on weeping, as I scrubbed a fresh batch of poop out of Kioko's coat again while she serenely sat in the warm bathtub licking my face. This constant drama went on for a solid year, and you can learn more about my saga with Kioko the Wonder Beagle here if you're interested. Long story short, we went through Hell together, my beagle and I. The whole time, I would grumble and complain, honestly convinced that I believed getting a dog was a mistake. I thought I didn't like Kioko much. Then, one night, I saw her sleeping in bed with Elizabeth, and it was the most peaceful thing I had ever seen. I realized, as I stood there watching my little babies sleep together, that I have never had a relationship with an animal as special as the one I share with this little dog. I loved Kismet, but Kismet sort of took care of me if that makes sense. Kioko considers herself my dog, and she depends on me for everything. She loves our whole family, but I am the one she looks to when she is confused or frightened or hungry. I am the one she is looking to please when she goes outside to poop even though it's raining. I am the one whose absence she cannot tolerate. How could anyone not feel humbled, gratified, and flattered by that? It was spring of 2009. In less than eight months, our family would commit to becoming vegan.

I don't know why it came to pass on that particular day, but I can tell you the moment I made the firm decision to change our lives forever. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was preparing a turkey to roast. It was no different than any previous Thanksgiving Day, but as I stood there in my rubber gloves and apron, looking at the finished and stuffed dead turkey on my counter, I was repulsed. I was covered from fingertips to elbow in butter and olive oil and flecks of various herbs from stuffing the turkey. For the first time in my life, I found the entire scenario nauseous. Kioko was in the kitchen with me and all I could think was, "We would never do this to her." I seriously felt like vomiting. Instead, I removed the gloves, washed my hands and arms, asked my husband to put the turkey in the oven, and walked out of my kitchen to breathe. I finished cooking the Thanksgiving meal, and I ate it along with everyone else, though I had very little pleasure in it. The connection had been made; the correlation between the food animals on our table and the beloved member of our family at my feet was solidified. I'll never be able to separate them, now, and I no longer want to. The next day, I told my husband that I wanted to be a vegan, because once you know--once you really know--you can never go back to pretending that you don't know.

There have been many small moments between my first reading of The Food Revolution a decade ago and today. I have flirted with vegan eating in fits and starts over the years. I have actually cried at some of the things I've learned about the treatment of animals. I have spent months at a time energetically reading veggie websites and cookbooks. I started to read the Bible for God's opinion of all this because I couldn't understand how any of this could possibly be okay with Him. None of these efforts, as genuine as they always were, ever "stuck" long enough for me to find the strength and bravery to come out of the closet and really make the changes I needed to make. It took being bonded to a totally dependent animal for me to finally put the pieces into place, and it took getting reconnected with my faith to feel the moral weight of what we, as a family, were doing at the dinner table each and every night. I know, now, that my family has Mr. Robbins' book, Elizabeth's dairy allergy, Kioko's loving presence in our home, and God, our creator, to thank for our present state of awareness and dedication.

I am vegan because of a book, a baby, and a beagle, and I can't think of a better way to honor any of them than by living this change honestly and faithfully...for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

  1. That's a beautiful story of transformation. Thank you for sharing it. Two major tenets of Christianity are compassion and mercy. I can think of no better way to truly live those beliefs than by being vegan.