I’ve always been too sensitive for my own good. There are things – like animal cruelty – that upset me so deeply I try to avoid hearing or reading any stories about the subject. You can probably imagine, then, that I was disturbed when I read that last month President Obama signed a law passed by Congress which lifts the five-year-old ban on federal funding for horse meat inspections. What this means is horse slaughter houses can reopen, which means horse meat can legally be produced and sold in the U.S. I really can’t bear to think of horses as meat, so I’m consoling myself with that fact that, according to a piece in the L.A. Times, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA — said there were unintended side effects [of the ban]. For one, the ban did not halt the practice of eating horse meat. Horses that were abandoned, rounded up or seized weren’t put to death in the U.S., true. They were instead shipped under inhumane conditions to other countries for slaughter there.”
I suppose, then, what I’d really like to see is a ban on both the slaughter and export of horses. I know the world is full of people who love meat of every kind, but I think of horses as companions and it’s impossible for me to tolerate the idea of horses being slaughtered and eaten. As a young child I hung posters of horses on my bedroom wall. I had a toy plastic horse, a golden Palomino, named Rhinestone. It was with great sadness that I came to terms with the fact that there was never going to be a real Rhinestone to in my suburban backyard. But, even with animals I don’t consider companions, even with animals I never dreamed of having in my home, I am unsettled by the idea of them ending up on a plate.
I became a vegetarian at the age of ten, and one of my favorite childhood t-shirts had a picture of a cow holding a sign that said, “If you love animals, don’t eat them.” I was very proud of my shirt, but growing up in the cattle-land of Texas, I got quite a bit of crap for wearing it. In hindsight, given how unpopular I was to begin with, that shirt was definitely a bad move. It made the weird, quiet girl even weirder. But I have always been stubbornly principled and wearing that shirt made me proud of myself, even if it made me unpopular.
Now, thankfully, I’ve reached an age where popularity isn’t much of an issue. However, I really do need to like myself. And thanks to diabetes, I’m having some problems on that front. What I mean is that my very low-carb diet, which works wonders for my diabetes management, makes it pretty much impossible to be a vegetarian. I eat very little grains, beans, or potatoes because they are high in carbs. Most fruit is also out because it’s too carby. I eat yogurt and take a splash of milk in my coffee, but aside from that, I don’t eat a lot dairy, either. So what’s left? Veggies, nuts, eggs, fish and meat. As much as I’d like to be able to live on lettuce and almond butter alone, I can’t do it.
I will never be able to eat red meat or pork. And definitely not horse! I’m okay most of the time eating eggs and fish. But chicken – which I eat sometimes and only at home and only when it’s prepared in a very certain way- is something I can’t quite come to terms with. I can’t eat it without, on some level, feeling bad about myself. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to eat it. It’s easy to prepare, it’s affordable, the kids will it eat, and I have to nourish myself. But I hate diabetes for putting me in this position. I really hate it. I hate that sometimes I am starving and there is actually nothing I can grab and eat guilt-free. If I eat something with carbs, I feel guilty about my blood sugar. If I eat something derived from an animal, I feel guilty about the animal. I wish eating were not such a loaded and complicated issue. But then, why should something so intrinsically tied to survival be simple? Life, even on a perfect day, is complicated.
What comes to my mind now is a poem by Galway Kinnell, “The Bear.” On the surface, “The Bear” is about hunting in the snow and ice. A primitive hunter leaves a sharpened wolf bone dipped in blubber as bear bait. After the bear takes the bait, the hunter spends days stalking its bloody trail. The way I read the poem, and why I see beauty in it is because it address the need to kill for survival, but also the sanctity of life. The hunter who killed a bear because he needed to eat then becomes part of the bear. He shares the bear’s pain. He even dreams the bear back to life. It’s well worth reading the entire poem, but I want to excerpt one stanza here – from the third day of the hunt – because it’s analogous to what I feel:
On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and go on running.
In order not starve as he tracks the bleeding bear, the hunter must eat the bear’s blood-soaked excrement. In other words, eat shit or die. The hunter chooses to live. He eats and goes on running.
I, too, eat what repulses me and keep going. I choose to survive, but not without acknowledging the sacredness of the life behind my nourishment.
*Photo by Kvetina-Marie