An Indiana resident shares her path from growing up on a farm to becoming a vegetarian and aspiring vegan.
I grew up on a Southern Indiana farm where my dad raised cattle and swine. The smell of animal manure in the air was natural and normal to me, still is. It’s what I’m used to. Although the squeals of angry pigs no longer fill the air since my dad stopped raising them, I can still hear their screams vividly in my mind. Honestly, none of this growing up ever haunted me. It was just life.
I have memories, good memories, of going to the hog market with daddy, playing with the owner’s chubby little pug, and eating delicious bacon and egg sandwiches. For years I showed hogs at the 4-H fair, grew attached to them, and then watched them get hauled away to their deaths. I loved to go see the newborn piglets, but was scared of the hog house because it was loud and really smell, so my dad would bring the piglets out. Their little noses and tails wiggled with excitement at the smell of fresh outside air, only to be put back in the warm stench with their mothers.
I remember the ever-present bellowing of cattle and the strong, grassy burn of their manure as I came to pet them through the blue painted fence. The coarse, short hair just above their eyes was all I was willing to touch. They scared me. All the stories of people getting kicked and maimed or worse, were terrifying tales to a young child. I believed them. These monstrous beasts would do their best to buck my petting hand away, but I persisted. Eventually they’d walk away, through the muddy, manure path underfoot and back to what they did best: eating.
None of this bothered me for the better part of 25 years. I left my childhood life at 18 for the big bad world of college. I learned a lot about who I was and the things I wanted and believed. Still, though, I ate meat without qualms. Even though any sort of meat gave me heartburn and indigestion, I would still eat it because that’s what I was supposed to eat as a human, right? That’s what I was raised and made to believe anyway.
It was around my 26th birthday that I visited my dad’s house. My sister brought my niece and nephew. It was a beautiful day and a good time to enjoy family company. From my dad’s house about a quarter of a mile from the farm, we could hear the cows mooing in the distance. The little ones soon wanted to see the cows, and just as I was always curious about these strangely aloof, massive animals, so were they.
Within a short walk, we were there and I’d realized that I had not stood on this spot for almost seven years. Everything looked relatively the same. The barns were painted a new, bright silver for rust-prevention, the manure pond was buried and gone, and the hog barns were replaced by barns to hold equipment. Much of what I remembered was somehow a little changed, yet still very familiar.
We approached the cattle barn, my city-slicker boyfriend gagging at the smell and I couldn’t help but laugh at him. The smell never bothered me. Yet, something else very much bothered me. The cows no longer looked fearsome and terrifying, no longer huge and scary beasts. No. I saw them differently then. They looked like sad little animals, trapped and very much aware of their impending doom. These were the cows preparing for market. The ones in the field, happy and still enjoying grass and sunshine, those cows had a few more years left in them. These cows, smashed in this feeder barn, were preparing for their deaths. That truth hit me hard in that moment. Those long-lashed, beautiful brown eyes looked sad and terrified and I felt like I was going to cry. This was all wrong to my new adult eyes. How could we do this to them?
We left then, the thought of what I just saw still hanging in my gut, sickening and sad. My boyfriend and I drove back home far away from the grim reality of that farm. For a few more days I ate meat, all the while thinking back on what I’d seen. Yet, the thought of how cruel it was would not leave me. Finally, one night after a case of indigestion after eating steak, I literally told my boyfriend “That’s it. I’m done. I’m not eating meat anymore” and from that very moment on, I haven’t put another cow or pig or chicken in my mouth again.
I’m going on a year now of not eating meat. At first I still ate fish, but gradually phased that out. My goal within the next few months is to transition fully to veganism. Since cutting meat out of my diet my heartburn and indigestion is almost nonexistent. I have more energy and have lost weight, which has also led me to exercise far more than I ever have. I love the challenge of learning to cook new things and I am eating a much wider variety of foods. I’d also like to think that by not eating meat I’m helping out the environment.
But all of these good things to me are incomparable to the animal lives I am saving. Since I was a little kid, I’ve absolutely loved animals. I used to dream of being a veterinarian and had a big animal encyclopedia that I enjoyed reading. Becoming a vegetarian just makes sense to me now. It’s who I was always supposed to be both physically and mentally. As an adult with goals, motivations, beliefs, and values of my own, I chose a different life, a more compassionate life and one that makes sense for me.