For the Love of Animals
“Lord make me an instrument of thy peace.”
~St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Animals
*For the record, there is no judgement in this piece. Please continue telling me how much you love your bbq.
When I was 15 years old, my high school buddy gave me a book that changed my life: Diet For a New America by John Robbins of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire (insert irony).
I read that book in two days and was forever changed. Growing up I was always uninterested in eating meat, instead reaching for an orange or a plate of vegetables. It was just what I was naturally drawn to. I didn’t know at the time, but somewhere in my little body I knew that eating meat wasn’t right for me. My love for animals has been so strong since day one and I just felt weird about cutting their heads off and sticking them in the oven.
Then came the book. After swallowing this truth bomb whole, I could no longer ignore the fact that animals were being severely abused and that factory farming in America was abso-fucking-lutely out of control. I was horrified at my newfound realization that I had been eating animals who, from the day they were born, were treated like garbage.
One evening, as I stood at the head of the kitchen table dictator-style, I announced that I was done, done, done with eating meat and if my family didn’t want to play ball I would just stop eating, period. I was as serious as a heart attack and no one—I mean no one—was going to tell me any differently. I couldn’t unlearn what I now knew. And those feelings I had all my life about eating meat... well, in my mind, they were totally validated. I knew that I was actually feeling the suffering of the animal I was tearing into at dinner and no amount of béarnaise sauce was going to cover that taste in my soul. The game was over.
What came next was a mixed bag of comedy and complete and utter stupidity. People and some family members who will go unnamed (I’m half Greek, they can’t help but say crazy shit) started spewing out their version of "facts": "If you don’t eat meat, you are going to get really sick and end up in a hospital," "if you don’t eat meat, your skin is going to turn grey and you are going to age quickly," and my all-time favorite, "if you don’t eat meat, men aren’t going to want to marry you."
I wish there would have been a secret camera recording that Summa-Cum-Laude-level conversation.
The things people have said to me in the past twenty-four years have been shocking and eye-opening. I’ve realized that not eating meat is just another form of going against the grain, or as I like to call it, the super lame status quo. It’s "different" and we humans no likey when something is different. It stuns us, makes us think, and above all makes us question our own souls. Insert pain and confusion.
Cruelty to animals is as if man did not love God... there is something so dreadful, so satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power." ~Cardinal John Henry Newman
Since adopting this new lifestyle in high school, I have had a couple time periods where I ate meat. I can’t explain why, but in retrospect it seems as though I needed grounding. I’m not going all new age on you, but there are times when life gets so nuts that you’ll do anything to keep your head above water. Common suggestions in spiritual circles is to "eat a steak" or "smoke a cigar." These prescriptions for bringing you back down to earth are as old as the hills.
When my mom was passing away, all I wanted to eat were bloody rare steaks. I hadn’t eaten a four-legged animal in twenty years and there I was, night after night, like a vampire eating filets and strip steaks with my full-bodied cabernet. I felt like Hannibal Lector in Silence of The Lambs—"I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti." I couldn’t stop.
The twist in this tale is that my life was completely out of control at the time. I was a mess and my eating habits were an absolute window into my insanity.
As long as I can remember, my go-to line has always been "I don’t eat four-legged animals," an easy breezy way of explaining my food choices. In times of trouble—psychic trouble—I have eaten a little chicken and fish, but I am even rethinking that whole grounding theory. I pray, meditate and feel a great love for humanity; to turn a blind eye to the abuse animals endure just so I can have a burger seems pretty counterintuitive in my eyes.
I have connected inner peace to being conscious of what kind of decisions I make when it comes to my diet. To harm another creature just feels unbearable to me, a step in the wrong direction. Just like many other issues in the world, I don’t want to support an industry or way of life that is in any way harmful to anyone. It just doesn’t make sense.
So, not eating meat seems to go hand and hand with peace. Inner and outer.
I feel good about being kind to animals. I see God in their eyes. They are my friends. And I love them.