Thursday, July 26, 2012

From My Friend Leaf

The Vegan Chronicles

by Rev. Leaf Saligman

On June 27, 2012, I decided to stop eating dairy products. At the time, I figured I would continue to eat eggs from the bantam hens my friend raises because the hens have a nice life and my friend made sure the roosters she got in her latest batch of chicks were spared any undoing. My friend kept two and found happy homes for the others. I decided though, to stop eating any other foods with eggs listed as ingredients or eggs served in restaurants because I couldn’t be assured the chickens were happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian since my nineteenth birthday—so at the time of this writing thirty-four years. For the last few I have said when people ask, “Are you vegetarian or vegan” that if I lived out my values I would be a vegan but I just love dairy too much. But over the last few months I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with that inconsistency. It formed an incoherence in my intention. I’ve been to dairy farms. I love cows. I know cows must be bred annually in order for milk to be produced. I know male calves on a dairy farm end up being slaughtered for meat. I know baby calves are taken from their mothers and most, though not all, cows express distress at this separation. But somehow, I managed to disconnect myself from all that and focus instead on my delight eating yummy Walpole Creamery ice cream, freshly whipped cream dolloped on bittersweet chocolate pudding, fresh milk in my morning mocha, and the occasional wedge of aged Gouda or sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan.

But I heard myself preaching in a couple of spring sermons about connection—how every day we are faced with myriad choices, large and small, that either connect us or disconnect us from the ground of being—which is to say, Being. Beingness. The whole of Creation. The web of life. The garment of destiny. On March 18, two women from a neighboring congregation led a worship service on Will Tuttle’s book, World Peace Diet at the church where I minister. At the end of the service I commented to a congregant, “This got me thinking…” The guests gave me a copy of the book and it sat unopened until late June when I was ready to read it.

First though, I stopped by my mother’s apartment. She is an inveterate reader. She had checked out a library book. Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. I sat reading parts of it, gruesome descriptions of what happens inside a slaughterhouse: how hideous it is for the animals and almost as hideous for the humans who labor there. I got so frustrated, thinking how can so many smart caring people I know ignore the reality behind the meat they eat? It’s as if they plug their ears and ululate to block out the sound of truth.

And then I realized they do it exactly the same way I block out everything but images of happy cows grazing in a pasture to justify consuming milk and ice cream and cheese. So I depart my mother’s and go home, check email and find a trailer for the film Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. I watch the trailer and cruise the Tribe of Heart website, finding my way to a webpage called wherein I read more about the realities of dairy farming and eggs. The wall of denial is showing cracks.

To read Leaf's entire essay click here.

Rev. Leaf Seligman is a Unitarian Universalist minister at the First Parish Church of Fitchburg, MA. Before attending Harvard Divinity School, she taught writing at several universities in New England. After her ordination in 2002 she has served as a chaplain in a hospital, a jail and as a volunteer facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in local prisons. She also continues to teach writing at a college near her home in Troy, New Hampshire. 

In 2011, her collection of her Sabbath meditations, Opening the Window, was published.

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