The following is an excerpt from Sensational Salads to Cool the Earth, by Beth Love.
When I was a child, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and several years before the advent of vegetarianism in my family, our father took my sister and brother and me out on a fishing expedition. If I remember correctly, he chartered a boat and we went out on the sea. Much of the experience is lost in the depths of memory, but I do clearly recall that I was the only person who caught a fish, a very large tuna. I also remember the sound of the fish after it had been hauled into the boat, disconnected from the hook, and placed into a wooden box on the deck; in fact this sound is the crispest part of the memory. For the rest of that expedition, until it finally died, the fish flopped around in the box, causing crashing, erratic, drum-like sounds. I was fixated on those sounds. They forcefully drove me to face the fact that I was the instigator of the slow, painful death of a living creature. If, as seems likely, there was blood in the box when the fish was removed, or if the body of the fish was lacerated from its heroic struggles, I have completely blocked these things out of my memory.
In recalling the incident, I want to believe that I begged and pleaded with my father to let the fish go. I can almost see my child self doing that, hear myself crying out for mercy for the fish. I even seem to have a vague recollection of my dad taking a stubborn stand; after all, he had paid good money to charter the boat for the purpose of catching fish! In actuality, however, I don’t really know if I even made the suggestion that the fish be released. I may have simply sat, silent and numb, feeling disempowered to right the wrong that I had surely just committed.
I also want to believe that I took a stand when my Baba (Dad’s mother) cooked the fish and served it to us later that day. I want to believe that I refused to eat it and that I made my reasons clear. But I don’t really know whether I ate it or not, or whether I said anything or not.
I fantasize about the idea of having had that incident be a conversion experience—of having sworn off of eating living creatures ever after. I know that that did not happen.
How is it that most of us who live in cultures in which the eating of meat is normalized become so shut off from the ethical and spiritual dimensions of routine cruelty and killing? How have we, as a species, so fully otherized our animal brothers and sisters such that we can take their bloody, dead bodies into our bodies for pleasure without even giving it a second thought? How can we tolerate the ripping of children away from their mothers in order that we might enjoy the mothers’ milk? Or the excruciatingly horrifying realities of imprisoning animals in Auschwitz-style conditions so we can take pleasure from consuming their body parts, their children, their potential children?
(The photo is of my dad, my siblings Craig and Alix, and me, taken around the time of the fishing trip. I am wearing a treasured pair of bleach-dyed bell-bottoms that my dad bought me, after much begging and pleading and protestations to his suggestion that I get a pair of JC Penney’s “plain-pockets!”)