What do all of these pictures have in common?
Answer: I am extremely ill in all of them.
A. My muscles were so weak and my body so fatigued that I could barely stand. The simple act of kneeling down to rub a pig belly was nearly impossible and I was wiped out - useless - for the rest of the day.
B. This photo was taken in Hawaii this last March. I had to use the wheelchair service in the airport on our way home due to extreme joint pain and muscle weakness. My body was, essentially, eating itself in a scramble for nourishment because my guts weren't absorbing enough nutrients. On our last day of vacation Mike had to physically carry me to the beach.
C. Denali National Park. I was on death’s door. I often said with a shrug, "either I get better or I die, either option would be a relief." And I meant it. Don't get me wrong, I didn't WANT to die. But I also couldn't go on living like that. Everything hurt too much. I was waking up in the middle of the night from pain. Sometimes it was the throbbing pain in my joints, sometimes the stabbing pain in my gut. Worse than that, I was too fatigued and weak to really do anything but survive. I couldn't participate in life.
I have a chronic illness, specifically, Crohn’s Disease. No one knows what causes it, there is no cure, it is lifelong with active periods of ‘flare ups’ and inactive periods of 'remission.' Your immune system misreads healthy cells in the gut as foreign invaders and starts attacking itself.
Crohn’s Disease is characterized by stomach pain, nausea, and bleeding ulcers in the gut (I’ll spare you the gory details of my bowel movements). But it also comes with a whole host of other secondary issues including anemia, arthritis, extreme weight loss, skin issues, eye issues, fatigue, malabsorption, etc.
The medicines they put you on to manage the condition come with nasty side effects. Some of them fairly benign - like weight gain, 'moon face' (where your face swells up), and rage. Others not so benign - like cataracts, liver disease, and osteoporosis. But these side effects are preferable to the alternative.
I was born into a body that doesn't work.
As we move into Thanksgiving, I am reminded of my health struggles in two ways.
1. Turkeys are also born into bodies that don’t work. I feel a keen sense of connection to these innocent beings. Turkeys have been genetically manipulated by humans to grow incredibly big, incredibly fast. So much so that their legs can break under the crushing weight of their own bodies. They eat and eat and eat until they get so big that they break.
Fawkes was rescued from a local meat farm. We have to carefully control her food intake so that she can enjoy all the things that make life worth living - the sunshine, exploring in the bushes, and cuddles and pets from her caretakers for many years to come. In an attempt to fill her up without causing dangerous weight gain, we supplement her diet with leafy greens. But even still, she is perpetually hungry. We have bred her species to be starving, constantly, even when they are full. What a cruel thing to do - all for a bite of flesh.
She will always suffer. I will always suffer. But our lives are still worth living. She will always struggle with her body and its limitations. I will always struggle with my body and its limitations. I feel a kinship with her in this regard more so than with my own husband. Whatever our souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.
2. Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude - and Crohn’s disease helped me discover that I have a lot to be grateful for. When you are sick, you learn to appreciate and celebrate the little things. So many people take their health for granted. I certainly did before I was diagnosed.
Today I am grateful for…
Those who came before me and paved the way for making kinder food choices.
The privilege of rescuing animals and running a sanctuary.
And much much more.
Most of all I am grateful for all the people who have supported FMNFS over the years through volunteering and donating. When I have been barely able to function – the FMNFS family has stepped up and kept our doors open.
Despite our broken bodies, Fawkes and I will fight to live and - together - advocate for a kinder world for farmed animals. It’s a beautiful life and everyone deserves the chance to live it. Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, and, that you let the turkeys have one too.
I was no shrinking daisy and I REALLY wanted those chicken nuggets. I grabbed that bloody heart without a second thought and marched right inside with it. A year or two later my sister and I were dared by him to eat a moose tongue sandwich. Our prize would be not having to do the dishes for the week. That seemed like a fair deal until I discovered that a moose tongue has the texture of... well... a tongue. I threw up after the first bite.
Some of my favorite memories of my dad are when he took me fishing. We spent a whole weekend sleeping in the back of his van in Kenai, dip netting for reds. So why vegan? Despite being a tough Alaskan girl I also had the softest spot for animals. So even while I LOVED going fishing with my dad, I also hated the sound when the fish were hit over the head. An instinctive part of me recognized the violence being done. I couldn't watch it and - even though I pulled the fishes up out of the water to be killed - each time I would turn around, cover my ears, and hum while my dad took their lives. The proverbial ostrich burying her head in the sand.
I recall another time, while camping, and my sister and I went out in a boat to fish. When I caught a massive rainbow trout we frantically scrambled to release him before anyone noticed and forced us to kill him. That poor fish spent twenty minutes with our fumbling, inexperienced fingers trying to get the hook out of his slippery mouth before my dad noticed, came over, and begrudgingly released the long suffering fish for us. That fish probably didn't survive the trauma, but I learned a valuable lesson that day - I didn't actually want to fish. I just wanted to spend time with my family.
I think these are relatable experiences for a lot of people growing up in Alaska. I am forever grateful to my father for never making me kill my compassion by forcing me to kill those fishes. This is a far cry away from his own childhood experience where he was forced to kill a baby cow on the family dairy farm with a hammer when he was just 11 years old. With tears in his eyes he revealed to me that even now - over fifty years later - he relives the trauma every time he picks up a hammer.
In 1996, when I was six years old, our family brought a dairy calf to our house in Anchorage to raise in our backyard and show at the Alaska State Fair. A 4H project for my sister.
I'll never forget when we overslept Rascal's breakfast time one morning and our dad brought the calf into our bedroom. We woke up to a rough, slobbery cow tongue across our faces. It was the best day ever for a six year old animal lover.
When the day arrived for my sister to show Rascal in the ring to be auctioned off - price per pound - she was late coming from my aunt's house (where she had stayed the night) and I ended up going in the ring with him.
I don't remember much from that time, but I do remember feeling profound sadness and loss. And I have a clear memory afterwards of refusing a hamburger for fear that the meat in it was from our beloved cow, Rascal. My parents eventually convinced me to eat it by telling me that Rascal most likely would've been used for breeding. That he was living a happy life on a field somewhere surrounded by ladies. I know now that even if that were the case, because he was a cow, his life likely ended with a knife across his throat.
In 1998 we brought chicks home from the feed store. My sister and I raised them and I fell head over heels in love with chickens and have loved them ever since. When winter approached, and we weren't prepared to keep them, they were given away to backyard flocks. Within a year all three of our pet chickens were dead. Our rooster had his head cut off and was served up for someones dinner and the hens died from a dog attack due to improper predator protection in their new home. The fate of our chickens and of Rascal drives the mission of Forget Me Not Farm Sanctuary. To protect farm animals through rescue and community education. I can't go back in time and save them, but I can and will do everything in my power to give animals like them a fighting chance. To be here as a compassionate alternative to the status quo.
Growing up so close to the farming world has shown me that there is cruelty and suffering in every single animal product - even on these mom & pop farms. It is the nature of animal farming that the animal must lose her life if we are to eat from her body. (And make no mistake about it, to take an animals life is cruel). This is not to rag on local farmers - they do a difficult, labor intensive job most people would balk at. Like all of us, they are doing what they were taught to do and they are providing a service that people are paying for. Farmers cannot afford to think of animals as having the right to live - their livelihoods depend on them dying. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Rather, it is up to each of us to choose for ourselves how necessary we believe cruelty is to our own lives. Personally, I knew from a very young age that I didn't want anyone to suffer for me. I knew it when I averted my eyes to the slaughter of fishes. When I refused to eat McDonalds after the auction out of fear I would be consuming our cow, Rascal. I knew it when I would bite into a piece of gristle or fat (or moose tongue) and lose my appetite at the reminder that this was part of someone else's body. And for years the part of me that instinctively knew these things fought with the part of me that thought I needed these products. Until I finally found peace with myself and with the animals by making different food choices.
We have moved into a world abundant with choices. You can choose to hurt or to help. You can choose to eat a pig or a plant. I know what choice I want to make. What choice will you make?