The stewing chicken pushed me over the edge.
I was de-boning it for Chicken Tetrazzini, one of my all-time favorite meals. But as I stood at my kitchen counter pulling chicken legs apart, stripping the greasy meat off the bones, and stretching arteries until they snapped, I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” The reality of this chicken’s creatureliness overwhelmed me.
It’s not like I somehow failed to realize that all the chickens before this one were, well, chickens. It’s just that, up until this chicken, I had never thought of them as creatures. They were meat, packaged antiseptically in foam containers with plastic stretched over them. They didn’t look like the real chickens you see on TV–with feathers and beaks and general all-around quirky cluckiness. No, what I was buying in the store, I had deluded myself, was meat, not a being.
But on this particular day three summers ago, the illusion was shattered. What I was shredding with my fleshly fingers had itself been flesh and bone, a living thing that was now dead. The creature lying before me was a corpse and I a cannibal.
Repulsed by my carnivorous appetite, I decided to do some research. I visited some websites and began reading books detailing how animals get from the factory farm to the plate. To my horror, I discovered that, with few exceptions, modern meat production subjects animals to unimaginable pain and suffering. From birth to the slaughterhouse, these creatures live a miserable existence, crammed into tiny crates and cages, denied access to sun and fresh air, de-beaked or otherwise mutilated, forcibly torn from their young, treated as commodities rather than living beings—their piteous suffering goes unseen and unheard as we carefully choose the lean hamburger at the grocery store.
I also learned that thoughtful, brilliant people, such as Ghandi, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Coretta Scott King, Henry David Thoreau, and a host of others advocated vegetarianism. Their reasons differed—some became vegetarians for ethical reasons, others for religious reasons, and still others for dietary reasons. But all of them acknowledged that animals are fellow beings worthy of respect and concern.
So, I decided to become a vegetarian. For me it was a choice born first out of my concern for animal suffering, but it became a theological issue as well. As one who claims to love God, how could I continue to participate in violence against creatures created by God? If I mean it when I pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then I believe it is my duty to seek an end to suffering, to create peace for all beings in the here and now.
It may seem a futile gesture—becoming a vegetarian. I mean, how can one person refusing to eat meat change the suffering of billions of creatures? But, I consider it to be absolutely worthwhile. I view vegetarianism as a perpetual fast, a spiritual protest against cruelty and the utilitarian use of other creatures for our pleasures. Yes, the stewing chicken pushed me over the edge, but what I found on the other side was a way to begin living peace on earth.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.