It was a bitterly cold December day when I watched my baby brother die. My mother was clutching him tightly as he struggled with his last breaths and a face turning blue, her frantic cries and the intensity of the scene is what is vivid in my mind. I was 8 years old.
That is only one of a series of tumultuous scenes that haunt my childhood, a childhood that is equally full of the joys of building forts, getting lost in the cornfield, and playing late night hide and seek at the Collette farm.
What I assimilated early being the oldest and a witness to the way a life can be drained from a person I so loved was a spirit of protectiveness over my younger brothers and sisters. My step-father's alcoholism further deepened this quality, as I spent many days being a buoy; keeping my father pacified was important, but I also wanted my siblings to be safe: after all, when your father comes home drunk and angry that your mom is still at work and doesn't have a hot meal on the table, so he smashes his truck with an axe, as the oldest (and 12 years old) you have no choice.
To make a long story short in the spirit of blogging, I became a pacifist, a protector, very early in my life, because I wanted to keep everyone happy and keep everyone safe. Becoming a Buddhist was a natural extension of this. Most recently, I became a vegan.
I never set out to become a vegan. I believe it chose me. Vegetarianism for me was not a new idea. Years ago, when in Bio class we dissected a pig, I became a vegetarian for quite some time. It wasn't the blood and guts. As the oldest I also doctored my younger siblings cuts and gashes and had seen my share of gushing blood. It was the idea that I had opened a life, an infant life, perhaps like my brother. My brother had also been opened. An autopsy had been performed to try to find the cause of his death. There was a finger pointing in the direction of my mother, perhaps she did it. But the autopsy found that he had a variety of issues, the biggest being a parasite found in his digestive tract that was stealing the life from him. A parasite that was later linked to the ecoli that comes into the water source as a result of run off when spreading manure on semi-frozen fields. (Ecoli eventually infected the wells in the town in which I grew up and became a local issue).
I did not eat meat for some time. It didn't seem natural to me that I would take a life for my own selfish desires, any kind of life, including "just a cow". There came a point when the smell of burning,cooking flesh literally made me feel sick.
But eventually, as a result of the culture of that time (after all this was 20 years ago), and the little access there was to vegetarian options, I reverted to my flesh eating ways.
This past year, I began to investigate the meat packing industry further. What I discovered was appalling. You'd think that having an FDA would make us safe, but that's not so. And that's not to mention the disgusting conditions in which the animals live. I won't bore (or disgust) you with the details, as you can google "appalling meat packing industry" and read all about it yourself if you'd like. What I will say is the food the FDA stamps its approval to is killing us. Truly killing us.
That, in conjunction with discovering that much of the pesticides and herbicides used on foods emulates hormones and causes unnecessary health issues, pushed me into going organic and meatless. I may have eaten beef altogether 5-6 times this year, and not at all after mid August.
I began using almond milk much earlier in the year as an alternative to regular milk because it was better for a calorie count, but after reading in the book Skinny Bitch thanks to my sister who is also learning to eat clean, and learning about how humans are not made to digest animal products, I realized that it was time to go from vegetarianism to veganism.
What I thought about vegans, before I decided to become one, quite honestly, is that they were a group of food elitists who separated themselves to impress upon others this kind of snobbery or superiority.
Vegans choose not to eat animal products or by products, such as eggs, milk, or (cringe) honey. (I might still eat honey... I'm struggling with full conversion). In becoming vegan, I have had to allow myself to eat more whole grains than I normally would, because foods like eggs and cheese definitely were staples to keep me full, and I literally ate a boiled egg every day. I have also had to figure out how to get more protein in my diet. In conjunction with these changes, my doctor ran a whole gamut of tests on me to see what deficiencies I had in August. This has helped me identify the specific vitamins or herbal supplements I should take.
What's most interesting and challenging has been how hard it is to eat animal free. Most foods have some product in them that comes from animals. I have allowed myself some liberties as I transition. It's important I think when converting to a new way of life to change slowly, so that the change is complete and stays with you. Allow yourself mistakes in the beginning and give yourself breathing room. Forgive your setbacks and move on with your goals.
This new lifestyle feels very right. It feels like it was in me all along. I just wasn't open enough to receive it. I had too many prejudices formed and I had to lose sight of that shore before I could find new ground.
My health is only a piece of who I am. It's so much more than that, but our health is the foundation for our attitude. So love your body. Make it your temple.