She could have been my mother; she looked rather like her. A few years over 60, nicely dressed, sitting a table or two away from where I was dining. And when our gaze met, it was as if my mother had just laid eyes on me: she smiled that warm, affectionate smile that only a parent can express for a child. She thought — it seemed — I was the sweetest thing she’d seen in a while.
Then she lifted a barbecued cow’s rib to her mouth and began gnawing.
Definitely, not my mother.
And if she could hear my thoughts, she wouldn’t think I was so sweet, either; she wouldn’t smile the way she had smiled — because she would have known how genuinely disgusted I was. Eat garbage, for crissakes, I silently chided her, but not the diseased and decomposing corpse of mutilated cow flesh and bone.
“Leave ’em alone,” my companion warned me, catching that glint in my eye, and tapping the table to get my attention. I leveled his gaze. “What?” I nonverbally asked, as if I didn’t know why I was being reprimanded. If he’d seen what I’d seen, his stomach would have turned just the same.
“You used to eat meat,” he reminded me.
Yeah, but, then I grew up, man. I opened my eyes. I looked around, questioned authority, reassessed the situation, embraced the truth, for crying out loud. And now I know I was brainwashed, damn them, that I’d been force-fed a cruel and deadly diet. You know I used to eat calves’ liver with onions? Liver, mind you; the liver of a cow’s calf, a newborn cow, get it? a little, large-eyed, small-hoofed, milk-smelling baby who cries “maw” when you hurt him, for God’s sake.
Am I the only one around here who’s gettin’ this?
The woman across the restaurant smiled at me again. I just happened to have glanced back; you know, that morbid curiosity overtook me, like, how could someone that intelligent-looking and that sophisticated gnaw on a bone that was designed — in vain, I might add — to protect the internal organs of an overly weighted bovine? Heart, lungs, stomach, spleen. Blood and guts and veins and muscle. Do you see yourself, lady?
I tried to set an example by gnawing on my corn cob in front of her.
She didn’t get it. She smacked her lips, and held her little piece of sauced carcass ever so daintily as she moved it around to nibble the still-fleshy parts.
“Can’t you leave well enough alone?” my companion chastised me.
I looked at him and defended myself. “I haven’t said a word.”
He grunted. “Just relax, already.”
Relax already? Like everyone else around here? Just pretend everything’s all right, is that it? But don’t you get it? Every year in the United States alone, more than ten billion animals are raised in factory warehouses, deprived of most of their basic needs, of companionship and sunlight; they’re branded, dehorned, debeaked, detailed, and castrated; they’re artificially inseminated, deprived of their offspring, prodded, roped, trucked, kicked, shot and stabbed, and then chopped into unrecognizable pieces — so that woman over there can gnaw on one as if it didn’t — and never —matter(ed).
I ate in silence for a while: corn and potatoes, carrot salad and green beans. I kept thinking about her, that woman who reminded me of my mother, and wondered how she could miss what I couldn’t for the life of me shake. Are you that ignorant, lady, that unfeeling, that blind?
Ah, it had to be the way it was cooked — for she wouldn’t eat it raw! If I handed her uncooked cow flesh and said, “Here, try this instead,” she’d turn away in disgust as if I’d offered her something putrid — and yet she had none when the same cow’s rib was presented to her doused in a tangy, tart-tasting, blood-red barbecue sauce.
“Enough already.” My companion didn’t get it, either; some people are ethical vegetarians and others abjure it for reasons of health. They don’t see what we see.
Enough already. Amen. Enough with the killing, the suffering, the blinders. Enough with the debate, already. There’s only one side to truth.
If it wasn’t for you, the people I carry around in my head with me, I’d be having these conversations with no one.
I know you’re out there. I hear you thinking, “Yep.”
Keep fighting the good fight.