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?