A series in which ordinary people talk about living a plant-based life
Having been a committed vegetarian, Talya Lewis went back to eating meat when she was pregnant – but it was through the inspiration of one of her daughters that she ultimately ended up a vegan
There is an uncanny human phenomenon of promoting the rampant suffering of other sentient beings. Our species considers itself worthier than all the others with widespread abuse not only justified but condoned by the majority of people, and no consideration for the physical and emotional pain of the animals, whom they regard as insignificant.
I entered my teen years before the existence of drones that would catch footage of barbaric animal mistreatment and before the internet where the horrors could be shared for the world to see. It was in that world that I became a vegetarian.
I flitted between strict adherence and lapses into succumbing to the smells that wafted from my mother’s kitchen, settling on my olfactory receptors, then targeting my salivary glands, sparking cravings in to which I would cave. It was in this cycle that I was firmly entrenched until my early twenties when I joined the Anti-Vivisection Society, participated in demonstrations from the 1986 Fur Expo in Madison Square Garden, New York, to Milan, Italy, protesting against animal experimentation, and became exposed to some of the truths that were stealthily camouflaged from public view.
Through my twenties and thirties I remained a devout vegetarian, still blind, however, to the depths of the ruthless and sadistic means to which man could go. I was embedded in the illusion that the meat industry was brutal, but that the dairy industry looked like the cows on the milk cartons and the egg industry housed happy hens clucking about as they joyfully relinquished their offspring by the dozen. I thought I knew it all. I knew nothing.
Time passed; I married and had children. Pregnant for the third time, I experienced cravings I had not encountered in more than 20 years. My hormone-ravaged body screamed out daily words I never thought I would hear my mind utter, “Meat, give me meat!” I resisted and resisted and resisted… until I succumbed.
With shame and guilt as my constant companions, I found my way back to cheeseburgers, steaks, sausages and bacon, of course. The smells that travelled to my nose from my mother’s kitchen now found themselves travelling through my own home to the noses of my two young vegetarian daughters. My four-year-old succumbed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Navigating a world while raising your kids as vegetarian was frustrating. Nannies in the park wanted to give them pieces of salami and hot dogs. Moms, while in charge of my children on play dates, wanted to take them to McDonald’s where they could rejoice in succulent juices of the dead animals that were neatly chopped and placed between two buns before being topped with cheese, mustard and ketchup.
But the worst came from family, where the expectation of respecting my choices should have been granted without fear of betrayal.
My husband and I were at his company Christmas party, entrusting the care of our veggie kids to my parents, sister and brother-in-law. My then youngest child (my third was yet to come) was just shy of two years old. The family was scarfing down steak while my oldest, then four, was eating whatever non-meat items were available.
My almost two-year-old, as the story goes, was toddling about when she approached my brother-in-law pointing to her mouth. Naturally his assumption (remember what happens when we ass-u-me) was that this little child who had been deprived of the culinary sensations that only a dead cow could bring gave my child… wait for it… STEAK!
After she had her fill of the flesh she had been given, she made her way to the basement where there was a family of Barbie dolls, Ken, little Tommy who came with a pacifier, and Barbie herself. The innovative and creative toddler, who chose to save her ability to use words for a later date, emerged holding the pacifier of Barbie’s baby (or little brother; I’m still confused about their relationship) and held it to her own mouth. Are you starting to understand where his assumptions held true to the old adage “an ass out of you and me”? Just in case, and not to offend, but she did not want steak, she wanted her pacifier!
Fast forward, I’m pregnant with baby number three, swallowed up with those cravings for meat and succumbing to my desires. Over time my soon-to-be-middle daughter indulged innocently in the hypocrisy of her mother. My oldest daughter’s initial reaction (six and half at the time) to her almost four-year-old sister was, “Ewww, you’re eating flesh”. Not long after, even that child was putting the carcasses of the abused into her precious body.
Press fast forward yet again and my oldest daughter had returned to being a vegetarian, having engaged in the carnivore chaos for only a brief period. My middle daughter (the one who was given steak when she wanted her pacifier) had been playing with veganism on and off throughout high school until she finally settled into and became committed to the lifestyle. She insisted I do what came to be called “Vegan Tuesdays” in the hope it would turn into “Vegan Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays…” but no such luck. I actually came to dread Tuesdays, but stayed true to my promise.
Then came the request, “Mom, I want you to watch a documentary with me.”
We plopped on the bed and streamed What the Health on our television. By the end of it I had committed to a two-week vegan challenge (I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person). That, my friends, was over two years ago.
I’ve learned a great deal about the truth behind the meat and dairy industry. A truth that disgusts me, horrifies me and haunts me with agonizing images seared into my brain. I do my part in repudiating an industry that tortures and murders the innocent for no reason other than the four minutes of culinary pleasure the participants enjoy and the financial gain that comes with selling dead animals by simply living a vegan lifestyle, yet it was not enough to mitigate my outrage.
I knew I had to become at least a part-time advocate through social media as well as Cube of Truth demonstrations with the organization Anonymous for the Voiceless. At times my advocacy leaked into areas where it was most certainly not welcome… friends and family.
I think one of the most difficult experiences is accepting my husband’s choice to condone the butchering of animals and the collapse of our climate. His love for animals that are domesticated pets (ie, our two dogs and three cats) is intense, yet he still sees all others as expendable.
When out with friends and they are all ordering dead animals in disguise – steak, bacon, foie gras (unless you speak French and know this means fatty liver) – I would either bite my tongue or risk an interaction that would fall far short of a relaxing evening out, while knowing that my words were not nearly as powerful as the defensive wall that surrounds their sense of species-specific entitlement.
I am fortunate, however, that I can enjoy a vegan connection with my middle daughter as well as my youngest, with whom I experienced the obnoxious cravings, participating in ending life as I was growing one within me.
I know I have to contend with not just a world in which the move towards veganism will be long and drawn out, but a generation of friends who are removed from the exposure more likely found in those younger. I will continue for a lifetime my journey of doing no harm to those with no voice; to taking the adage “live and let live” literally; to keeping my refrigerator, my cabinets, my dogs (yes, they’re vegan too), my closet, my home, my life purely, wholly and thoroughly vegan.