I am wrist deep in a Dominick’s roasted chicken, tearing the flesh apart like a cheetah tears apart a gazelle.
My dogs are on the floor at my feet gazing up at me with frantic, hopeful eyes and my kids are asking me yet again, “Mom, why won’t you even taste this chicken?”
I am nauseous, silently thanking the poor chicken for his life and his flesh which will now feed my family, knowing that my gratitude is irrelevant. No matter how grateful I am, he still had a shitty chicken life, and a shitty chicken death, and I am one among billions who helped author his fate.
I am a vegan mom feeding a carnivorous family—and I’ve gotta tell you, it ain’t easy.
How jealous I am of my sister and her family, whose ears perk up when they hear words like “buckwheat” and “Swiss chard.” I feel the same envy when my son’s little friends come over to play. They gladly eat the vegan chili I’ve made while my own son turns up his nose and pretends to gag…in between demands for a turkey sandwich.
I make my girlfriends lunch and they exclaim, “Oh my God! We love your food!” I make the same food at home, and it sits, untouched by all but me.
Of six kids, I’ve managed to influence only one in the realm of food. Sadly, this child lives far away in Arizona. We tag each other in pictures of beet salad on Facebook, and rhapsodize about freshly roasted pumpkin seeds on Skype—but it’s only as satisfying as a single pistachio might be when you want the whole bag. I’ve waffled back and forth over the years, sometimes just giving in and eating seafood, chicken or dairy here and there.
During those times I try to justify it; the seafood is low on the food chain, the chicken is organic, I’m too tired to cook two meals for eight people every night. But the sadness always catches up with me. I can’t avoid what I know.
I think that’s what Al Gore would call “an inconvenient truth.” Any time I start to get preachy about veganism, my husband tells me to “get off my soap box.” Which is weird, because he supports my decision and never questions what I’m eating, or why—he just hates when I seem to pass judgement on others. Fair enough; that is pretty rude. But sometimes I get so frustrated I could scream; “Do you know what had to happen for that steak to be on your plate? How can you not care?”
However, I do find that screaming seems to turn people away from the cause. So I try to lead by example—and I try and I try. I have fantasies about my example finally sinking in. Thanksgivings at which I am old..too old to cook. I am at one of my children’s homes, surrounded by my other children and their children, and maybe their children’s children. (Hey it’s the future. I could live a really long time! Especially if I keep eating all these fruits and veggies.)
When the call comes to sit down to dinner, I heave my aching body over to the table. The candles are lit in the old candlesticks, and my daughters have placed baby pumpkins by everyone’s plate, on which their grandchildren have written in great clumsy child letters the name of every guest.
When dinner is served, it is passed in big bowls and dishes from one person to the next all around the table. We help ourselves to everything; spiced peaches (my own Gramma’s recipe), corn casserole with caramelized edges, stuffing laced with hazelnuts, sweet potatoes topped with pecans, honey and nutmeg, roasted green beans scattered with slivered almonds, mashed potatoes pungent with garlic, crisp salad with creamy avocado dressing and another of tomato, olives and dill, celery root soup with cashew cream and a drizzle of truffle oil, and on and on.
For dessert, there is avocado dream pie with a raw date crust, grilled pineapple served with vegan ice cream, hot chia seed pudding with coconut, raisins and almond milk, and a light pumpkin mousse which I’ve never tried before, but vow to learn how to make.
All the while, the dogs, not my dogs now, but my children’s dogs, lay on the carpet under the table hoping for a scrap. I secretly hand bits of stuffing down to one of them (my daughter has asked me not to, this dog is overweight ), and enjoy the feeling of his moist muzzle and the delicate way he has with his teeth.
Afterward, we lay around the TV room with the television off, but a fire on, big and crackling. We adults sip whiskey and the children drink hot chocolate sweet with almond milk, and we laugh and nurse our distended bellies. I let my old eyes close, the voices of my family growing distant, and allow myself to drowse. Imagine, I think to myself just before I sleep, how we ate like kings.
Like kind kings who live lightly in this world.
Is it only a dream? For now, I will continue to do the best I can, to tease out whatever threads of compassion and empathy I can from the people I feed, without raising my voice.
And sometimes that will mean pulling apart a chicken and putting that chicken into a soup, which will be served with fruit and bread and other things that are delicious and karmically wholesome.
And I will very softly say, think about what you are eating.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise