Salmonella outbreaks, meat recalls, environmental devastation, undercover abuse videos – the list of reasons for reconsidering a diet rich in meat and dairy seems endless. Yet it’s hard for most people to make the break. You’ll hear them say they “love animals.” But, ironically, they continue to eat meat and dairy even though meat and dairy are animals. The connection between their beloved dog or cat and a calf, lamb, pig, or chick is one they mentally block out.
For one man, though, the journey toward making that connection took some unexpected twists and turns. Meat had always been a part of his life, society’s norm, the “manly” choice for dinner. He said he loved animals, too. But the choices he made were pretty shocking. What sparked the connection that changed his life?
The following is an excerpt from his incredible life story (read the entire piece HERE)
My opinion is you are a product of what absurd situations life throws at you. These situations are what made me what I am today - a compassionate man.
Born and raised in Northern Wisconsin with 5 sisters and one brother, we had a very quiet household since my parents are deaf. My first language was sign language. Growing up, I remember making utterances/noises just like Mom and Dad did. My English speaking skills were very poor at best. I had a very rough time in school. My father made just $50.00 a week, with 7 kids to support. At only 12, I was picking produce for 50 cents an hour.
My early memories are of taking many walks in the woods, alone. I liked the animals. They were never mean to me. On one of those walks, I found what I thought were puppies. The mom of the puppies didn’t seem to mind me petting them. I remember thinking the mom was thirsty, so I put bailing twine around her neck and walked her home. I tied her to the tree in the back yard so I could get her some water out of the water cans. Before I got back, she bit my big sister. Dad pulled my sister and me into the house and shot the mom. I was banned from going into the woods. Why I had a connection with the mom & puppies, I’ll never know. I regret not going back to the woods to see if the puppies made it.
I had a trap line, mainly for muskrats. I had 10 traps and big ideas to have many more. There was money in fur. I remember the first time my trap drowned a beaver. My trapping days were over - but I still ate animals.
I used to break off ice chunks big enough to stand on and float down the creek. There were usually 5 of us, hanging out in the country. A beagle approached us, obviously friendly. Before I could pet the dog, one of the guys kicked the dog sending him airborne into the creek. After helping him out of the creek, I assume the dog found his way back home. I wanted to inflict pain on the person who kicked the dog, but he left immediately. We were never friends after that. In my environment, empathy and compassion for animals were somewhat ok, just don’t overdo it because people might think you’re a pansy!
My dad and I went on numerous hunting trips. I liked hanging out with my dad. I didn’t like him shooting deer. I liked deer. Because my dad is deaf, he never heard the noises I made to scare away the deer. To this day, I don’t think he realizes that he never had an opportunity to kill a deer when I was with him. I felt bad because I know my dad was just trying to feed us, his family. I was so confused - but I still ate animals.
Later, I worked on a local mink farm. Every year, I was involved with killing thousands of mink. They were murdered by suffocating them with poison gas. There was good money in their fur. I remember how the mink fought for their lives while they were being suffocated. I remember the few that got out. I’d help them “get away,” if the boss wasn’t looking. There were countless 50 gallon steel barrels overflowing with skinned mink carcasses and yet - I still ate animals.
Then, I worked at a small rendering facility that picked up downed/sick cows. I remember the look in the downed cows’ eyes when the driver would wrap the steel cable around whatever extremity was available and drag their huge bodies off the ground, 3' into the truck. I remember the painful cries the cows made and the sound of breaking bones. I didn’t understand why they weren’t just shot immediately to put them out of their misery? We’d grind up these cows and feed them to the mink. Killing animals so they could be ground up to feed other animals we were eventually going to kill. It made no sense but – I still ate animals.
I quit school at 15 and went to work in Texas on a shrimp boat. Each time the huge net was pulled on board, it was filled with dead sea creatures. There were some things left alive, like crabs and shrimp. Most of the catch was dead, suffocated by the sheer weight of their fellow sea beings. How awful it was to keep a few pounds of the “Golden Catch” shrimp and throw back/discard the thousands of pounds of dead sea creatures. I saw this and yet – I still ate animals.
I was 17 when a new meat packing plant opened in the town next to us, "Packer land." My dad quit his job as a hired hand on a local farm and started working the Kill Floor at the meat packing plant. It was the most money he’d ever made. He arranged a job for me and, to make him proud, I started working at the same plant on the Kill Floor. My job was to squeegee the coagulated blood down the hole in the floor. The blood was not to exceed more than 3” deep.
I remember the smell, the uncontrollable shaking and the fearful cries of the cows while they were waiting their turn at death. I know they knew death was near. I remember the Kill Floor team high-fiving each other because they broke the record, killing 107 cows in 1 hour.
I remember one cow that somehow escaped the chute and slipped on the blood of the others that had come before. This cow was one of the many who survived the bolt in the head and was somewhat stunned. The steel cable was wrapped around her back leg and she was being hoisted up so her neck would be exposed for her turn at death. Before being hoisted, she aborted her calf and the sound that came out of her was something I’d never before or since. Her neck was slit and as the blood was draining from her, the last thing she saw was her baby on the floor. Being a "man," I dared not say anything or get emotional. A schoolmate picked up the aborted calf and held it like a football and proceeded to pet it like it was his pet. How the Kill Floor team laughed.
During my next break, they accused me of claiming to be a “cow whisperer” because I dared to say now I know what a fearful cry from a cow sounds like. After that shift, I never went back. Yes, she was a cow, but her cry of what I believe to be a Mom losing her baby while dying is what I hear in my head every day of my life. But, incredibly, I still ate animals.
By 18, I was on a crash course with death, living in a haze of hard liquor and drugs. A judge ordered me to go to jail or join the military. I joined the army and served 15 years on active duty. The army, literally, saved my life. It’s where I met and married my soul mate - and, yes, we both ate animals.
We’ve been together 30 years. As we raised our 3 children, my wife began reading more about what I already knew; i.e. what animals go through in the agricultural industry. It took seeing the horror through my wife's eyes before I finally made the connection and got it. When we quit eating flesh, within a month, the health issues I’d been suffering from for so long improved. We became vegans 19 years ago.
I have killed thousands of animals during my earlier years on this planet. I never liked it and yet I still ate them. Now, I am proud to be an advocate for the animals alongside my hero, my wife. She has taught me it is ok for a man to be compassionate.
AND, FINALLY, I DO NOT EAT ANIMALS!
A note from his wife:
Though he’s basically a private man, my husband shared his story to point out all that he did to animals as part of his life, because it's considered ok and the norm. In his heart, he felt it was wrong. But, since it was the norm, he pushed it down and kept participating in it by buying, eating, and doing things that caused animals to suffer. People often say things to us like, "we’ve always eaten meat," as some sort of explanation for it being ok. He wanted people to know that he always knew, on some level, that it was wrong. Even though he cared about animals and didn't want to cause intentional harm, he couldn't quite admit that is what he and others were doing because of our intense societal brainwashing - until the day he finally made the connection and got it!
Today, this man is one of the founders of Colorado’s very successful, annual VegFest. He’s also a founder and organizer of the Animal Action Network in Colorado and A Vegan Life Colorado, with over 1,100 members. He spends most of his spare time attending demonstrations, manning booths, and leafleting on behalf of all animals everywhere. He has become an inspiration and leader to hundreds who follow in his footsteps.