Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Some Chinese Dogs and Mexican Pigs Turned  Me into a Vegetarian

Facebook post: “Just want to let the animals (pigs, chickens and cows) know that you don't have to worry about me eating you now, at least for a while. Fish and shrimp, however, should still keep an eye open.

There was a news article recently about a truckload of over 1,000 dehydrated and hungry dogs that were packed cruelly into small cages in a truck that was bound for a large restaurant, where they were to be killed and used for meat. The truck was intercepted by an animal rights advocate, and people all over the world were joyful that they were saved, disgusted that this was happening , and horrified that it is probably a fairly common occurrence. I felt the same as the rest of those people.  But, an hour earlier I was driving home and saw a large truck with pigs packed into it on their way to the local slaughterhouse. My first thought was, “Poor pigs”. My second thought was, “Yummm”. 

I have been a meat eater all my life. I could eat chicken every day. I never got tired of it. A really good rare steak was a beautiful thing to me, and a rare rack of lamb with mint sauce was a favorite meal.

I have had thoughts of being a vegetarian before, but never really made any effort to do it. I have always liked almost all foods, and especially salads and other vegetables, so I was not one of those people who eats chicken nuggets every day. I have always appreciated good, fresh, healthy foods, but always supplemented with generous portions of chicken, beef of pork.

After seeing the story about the Chinese dogs, and then recalling the truckload of Mexican pigs, I started thinking about why those dogs bothered me so much, and why I was repulsed about the thought  of them being killed and eaten, when I wasn’t that worried about the pigs. Dogs, I thought, are cute and furry and we keep them as pets. Well, some people have pigs as pets, and I had read Charlotte’s Web. What make dogs more special than pigs? Is it only our close relationship to dogs, and that we don’t have many pig friends? That wasn’t good enough. Pigs are fairly intelligent for four legged creatures. They love their young and they can become attached to people. They feel compassion. Okay, I won’t eat pigs either. What about chickens? 

I remembered reading a study that determined that chickens feel empathy for one another, which leads to compassion. It was long thought that humans were the only animals to possess this trait, so we could justify the killing of animals for the purpose of nourishing ourselves, and since they could not feel empathy, we were not required to either. Now we know that is not true at all, so maybe we should have some more empathy and compassion for animals, even the ones we want to eat, even the ones that we wouldn’t let sleep on the couch. Really, what is the difference between a sweet kitten and a cute cow? So, I reasoned, if I am going to be repulsed by the thought of some Chinese people eating dogs, then what right do I have to eat a cow or a chicken or a pig? NONE.

Since that day I have not eaten any meat of a four legged animal. I have had some fish and shrimp, but that is another step in my evolutionary process that may or may not come. 

Coincidentally, the same day I was making some samples of vegetarian sausages for a local Hot Dog house, so my meals for that day were taken care of with lots of good protein. Since then I have decided to start a line of non meat meat-like products, sausages and patties, etc. I have been working on recipes and formulas and will probably be coming out with a few flavors soon. Then I will have to work on packaging and marketing. I know it is not a huge market, but I feel like it is the right thing to do. Also, I have tried some of the meat substitutes available in local stores, and they range from pretty okay to really awful, so there must be a few people out there looking for this stuff. I can hope.

I don’t know if this will be a lifelong change or if it’s a phase, but I am happy to know that I have probably saved a couple of chickens and some parts of pigs and cows in the last 2 weeks that otherwise would have been eaten. That makes me feel good.

When I see meat in the store now, all packaged up and ready to cook, I think yeah, I could eat that, but I don’t want to. I think first of the live animal and then the dead animal being chopped into pieces and I think no, I really don’t want to be a part of that.

Some people would argue that humans are made to eat meat. We have incisors and that proves it. Well, I do believe that we were made to be able to eat meat, but only what we could catch and eat ourselves, or what our friends or family would catch and share with us. If we lived like that now I don’t think we would be eating much meat at all, and we would probably be much healthier for it. I don’t think we were meant to have meat mass produced for us and available at any moment. Yes, if I was very hungry and meat was the only thing available I would eat it. And if I was at a big party with a Mexican family and meat was served I might have a little. I don’t want to go all fanatical. I just want to be as good as I can, without being crazy about it. 

No one can be truly vegetarian or avoid harming all beings. Even if all you eat is salad, you are also eating several small animals, some microscopic and some a little larger. Also, when the fields are plowed to grow our food, many small animals are killed incidentally, and others are displaced from their homes. That does not make us monsters. We are just animals trying to survive, and I would like to manage my survival  in the most compassionate way that I can.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My conviction to stand up for myself has been reinforced today. Also, I am reminded to always check at the gas pumps that they start in 0, and that the end number is what I asked and paid for. Pay attention. I know it’s just money, but as I told the manager: I don't have extra money to give to my own kids, let alone giving it to some stranger.

Last Friday night, my daughter, Maia, and I stopped on our way home for gas. I asked for $200 pesos worth of “verde”. I also asked for air in the left rear tire, as I could see that it was low. I paid and left a tip and drove off toward home.

When we pulled up in front of the house, I noticed that the tank was still almost empty, almost exactly where it had been before I stopped for gas. I told Maia that I was going straight back to the gas station to get my gas. She elected not to go, even after I asked her to come and be my witness, and even when I reminded her that she didn’t have a key to get in the house. “No way”, she said. “I’m not going. It’s embarrassing when you do that. I’ll just wait outside for you to get back”.

So back I went, pulling up to the same pump with the same attendant. I explained the situation, and I mentioned that it was possible that he got distracted by the air in the tire and forgot to put the gas in, but he insisted that he had put in the gas, and a female attendant joined the conversation and she suggested that my gauge was faulty. So I said, okay, “Let’s put in $100 pesos and see what happens”. So we did and I gave him another $100 pesos. Sure enough, the needle went up to about a quarter of a tank. That was proof enough for me, but the two of them were not convinced, even though only about 10 minutes had passed since the first time I pulled in there. If there had been $300 pesos in the tank, it would now register about three quarters full, but that logic could not make its way into their heads. He continued to insist, even though the evidence said otherwise.

So, I asked for the manager, who wasn’t there. So I asked for his phone number, and no one knew it. I asked, “What if there was a fire here? Who would you call?”

“That’s a good question”, he replied, scratching his head.

I was beginning to realize that I would get nowhere with these two, so I asked for the attendant’s name. It was Jorge. I was waiting for him to think about the situation and come around to the side of reason and admit that he had made a mistake, but it just wasn’t happening. He suggested that I come back the next morning at seven, when the manager would be there. That was not possible for me, as I had Saturday Market early the next morning, and after that I would be rushing to get to Yelapa for the New Year celebrations and wouldn’t be back for a few days.

Then I drew a little diagram of the gas gauge, indicating where the needle was when we started, and after the gas was allegedly put in the tank, and then where it was after we added the $100 pesos. I asked for the attendant’s name and I signed the paper with the time and date, and asked him to sign it too, which he did. I drove home, thinking, “Well, at least I tried”.

This morning, five days later, I decided to go and find the manager, not really expecting a good outcome. I thought they would just tell me that too much time has passed and there’s no proof, and so sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.

I was admitted to the inner office via an intercom and two electronically controlled doors, where I met the manager of that gas station and a few others. I told my story, including the possibility that it was a case of distraction and not blatant dishonesty, but I could tell that he was pretty sure that it was the second possibility that was more real. I was surprised and relieved to know that he believed me, and I could tell that he was genuinely sorry and saddened. He is a manager who realizes what neglectful or dishonest service can do to business. He UNDERSTOOD! Then he called the shift manager into the office and introduced us, gave me his card and encouraged me to call him anytime if I ever have another problem at his station. Then he gave instructions to the manager to put the gas in my car and also to find Jorge and reprimand him and charge him the $200 pesos.

I wish that more managers were like this one. It is so easy to see that keeping customers happy will keep them coming back to your establishment. I left there feeling like justice had been done, and that I do have some power when I’m on the “right” side, and I also left with a good feeling about that business and the people who run it.

So, the moral of the story is: Until you get to a point where you can afford to just hand out money to strangers, continue to stand up for what is right, even if it does horrify your kids (and keep an eye on the pumps and receipts!).