I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Vegetarianism

Ginger Died This Week

IMG_1758

(Cooper, blue, on left.  Ginger, yellow, on right.)

Ginger died this week. She was not easy to love. Wild, wary, aggressive. She had a lot of anxiety. I could identify.

We got Ginger to be a companion for Cooper. Sweet, sociable Cooper. Cooper was a baby when we got him and he bonded with us for the year that he was on his own. He hung out on our shoulders and our heads, climbing all over our eyeglasses, happily exploring his surroundings, making our world his.

Cooper was the substitute for the dog that my children really want. My husband stubbornly refuses a dog. We think he is selfish and overly consumed with not wanting a dog peeing on our rugs. The secret truth is that he can’t stand loving and losing a dog. He can’t stand not being able to properly take care of dog. He loved and lost a dog before and doesn’t want to do it again. Who’s to say that he is not the more selfless and compassionate human in our family?

So, we got Cooper. And fell in love. And fear his loss.

All my guilt about not taking good care of the pets I had as a child resurfaced with Cooper. I dream frequently about Cooper, worrying about him, a stand-in for my worries for all the people I love. This time, I was going to be a good pet-owner! I read the books. We got a nice cage, but let him fly freely when we were home. I memorized and avoided the list of poisonous foods and carefully gave him healthy dark leafy greens to supplement his diet. He chirped happily. All the time. A member of the family.

We wondered if he was lonely when we were at work and school. He didn’t seem lonely or unhappy, but all the books said that parakeets are very social and want to flock with other birds. My husband joked that we were his flock. Still. We wondered. After a year, we decided to get another bird as his companion. The store warned us that his attachment would shift from us to the new bird. We wanted what was best for him. We observed the latest crop of baby parakeets. A pretty yellow female caught our eye and we brought her home. Ginger.

The second Cooper saw her he squawked with excitement. He was thrilled! We introduced her slowly and they seemed to attach and bond. But Ginger never bonded with us. She learned to tolerate us, but was never particularly comfortable or happy with us. Cooper gallantly protected her from us and showed her the ropes. She became the alpha female. Demanding her spot, her food, her toy. Cooper just wanted her to be happy, as did we all. She never seemed happy. One pet shop showed me anti-anxiety drops for animals. Really? That seemed extreme.

But it was crystal clear to me that different animals have unique personalities. Unique souls. When I look Cooper in the eye, he looks right back at me, with his soul shining through. More and more I question, how can I eat an animal? Obviously, I am not going to eat Cooper, but don’t all animals have souls? Look an animal in the eye and tell me what you see. I see another being as alive as me.

A week ago, Ginger started making a squeaking noise and we wondered if she was finally beginning to tame and find her voice. She started sidling up against Cooper to be close to him instead of squabbling with him or scolding him away. I wondered if she wanted to mate. It occurred to us that she might be ill, but we were busy busy busy and chose to deny the signs and hope for the best. The day before she died, I woke them to find her huddled so close to Cooper he couldn’t move. The day she died, I offered her Reiki, sensing, like Miss Clavel, that something was not right.

My husband found her and called me. I knew something was wrong. I steeled myself for bad news, praying my children were all right. After imagining the worst, I was almost relieved when he told me it was Ginger. Sad, but accepting. When he told my son, my husband sobbed the news to him. It is my son’s deepest desire to have someone younger and needier than him in the household that he can love and take care of. It is my son’s yearning for a dog, a pet, that led us to Cooper and Ginger. Telling him of her death brings up our own love for our son, our own guilt at not doing better by these little animals we take on (selfishly?), our own mortality.

We are fearful that Cooper might get sick or depressed at Ginger’s loss. So far, he seems healthy and as happy as can be. He has reverted to his human flock, hanging out on our shoulders and chirping happily. Cooper is easy to love.

We buried Ginger in the back yard. A quiet moment. Good-bye Ginger. I am sorry you did not have a happier life. Perhaps it was not meant to be. I hope you are flying freely now.

I Don’t Like Bacon Anymore

IMG_1755

Cooper

Actually, I haven’t liked bacon for a long time.  I have fond memories of liking the smell of bacon and I feel like I should like bacon but I don’t.  We use to have bacon for special occasion breakfasts until I realized that I hated the grease cleanup and didn’t really enjoy the taste, so I stopped initiating them.  Sometimes my family acts a bit wistful for these breakfasts, but not convincingly.

When out to celebrate my daughter’s birthday at one of our special occasion restaurants, I decided to splurge and ordered the roast chicken with apple wood smoked bacon.  When it arrived, the chicken was overcooked and dry.  Highly unusual.  Just as unusual, I sent it back.  They brought me another and it was just a touch less dry.  The smokey smell of the bacon was overpowering.  I could not enjoy it.  Maybe, maybe it was time.

I’ve been very gradually eating less and less meat for several years now.  Not quite putting a stake in the ground.  Rather, I’ve been tip-toeing toward pragmatic vegetarianism.  Eating less meat as long as it didn’t disturb anyone else’s meal plan.  As is my cautious way, afraid to put myself whole heartedly out there with a strong point of view.  I can argue both sides, affiliating with everyone while offending no one, and not really honoring who I am.  After all, I love a juicy roast chicken or a grilled steak or my husband’s homemade meatballs.  And while trying to feed a family of four with completely different food likes and dislikes, why add another challenging component to getting dinner on the table?  Declaring myself a vegetarian seems both selfish and an act of self-sabotage.  It’s hard enough to deal with dinner for the family every night of the week.  Do I really need another food rule to live by?

When I took the step of getting more serious about yoga, I became aware of one of the first principles of yoga, Ahimsa, which translates to nonviolence.  Many yogi’s are vegetarian and base their decision on this precept, to be kind to all living creatures.  That year I reflected on the ways I inflict harm on myself with my cuticle picking and anxious thoughts.  I started looking people in the eye and smiling more.  I noticed that I felt better and slept better when I ate less meat and so my gradual tapering off of meat began.  I found meatless recipes that made it into the family dinner repertoire.  I brown-bagged my lunch and ate out less frequently or at restaurants that had more vegetarian options.  I lost 15 pounds.

But I didn’t really question the values behind the food chain.  Why shouldn’t we eat meat?  It’s what we humans do.

When we went away for vacation last month, I found myself ridiculously sad to leave our two parakeets behind.  We got our first parakeet, Cooper, for Christmas two years ago to satisfy my son’s desire for a dog.  We felt our lifestyle was not amenable to having a dog and settled on a parakeet instead.  Cooper is attentive, social, sweet and adapted quickly to the family, hanging out with us as much as we let him.  We were still away for much of the day, however, and we worried that he was alone and lonely.  So Ginger joined the family a year later.  She has not acclimated as well, presumably because she has Cooper in a way that he didn’t have another bird to fall back on.  She is more wary and less friendly, with a very distinct personality to whom I’ve also grown very attached, identifying with her wariness.

I grew up with pets.  As an only child, I would fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a companion and wheedle until my parents would give in.  Fish, a turtle, gerbils.  Then there were the more significant and long-lived pets:  George the guinea-pig who would oink excitedly when he heard the refrigerator door open, hopeful that some lettuce was coming his way.  Buddy the parakeet for whom I played a recording of me saying “Hi Buddy!” for hours, hopeful that he would someday say “Hi Buddy!” back.  He never did.  And Pansy the poodle, who became my mother’s dog, not mine, because she was the one who fed her and spent time with her.  When George and Buddy died, I felt enormous guilt.  After the initial infatuation, the drudgery of having a pet set in and there was only so much bonding I was able to do with a guinea pig and a parakeet as a young girl. 

With Cooper, and Ginger, there was some sense of wanting to alleviate my guilt.  Could I take better care of them than I did of Buddy?  I watched them.  I looked them in the eye, trying to understand their moods, imagine what they might be feeling, trying to create a nice life for them, as much as a caged suburban life can be for a wild creature, even if bred for caged suburban life.

Why is it okay to eat chicken and not parakeet?  Why is it okay to eat pig and not dog?  Why is it okay to eat cow and not cat?  After looking in Cooper’s eyes and feeling his heartbeat and his complete trust, I don’t think I can eat animals any more.  Truly, he has a soul.  But what about squishing bugs and eating fish, delicious fish?  Where does one draw the line?

After reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where the man and the boy are the good people in search of other good people while avoiding being killed and eaten by the marauding gangs of bad people, I wondered, if my life depended on it, what would I do?

I am increasingly uncomfortable with considering myself and other humans as better than other animals and entitled to eat them.  I am increasingly uncomfortable with keeping quiet about what I believe to be right for me.

%d bloggers like this: