How Chickens changed my life . . . and the psychology of food

Ho hum. One of the wonders of blogging is the opportunity to connect with others – across Australia and around the world. Last week I became the recipient of a large number of comments on my last post ‘The Carnivore’s Conundrum’ from a host of vegans from across the US of A, because a philosophical professor and vegan blogger had posted a link in his blog, ‘Eating Plants’.

And then I became the subject and target of a great deal of violent vegan activism, particularly because I am soiling my son’s soul by allowing (forcing) him to murder innocent baby animals in order to fulfil some misguided fantasy that he needs meat in order to grow and be healthy. Phew!

As you can imagine, it has all got me thinking . . . and many of the comments have resonated deeply with my soul, because I was a vegan for over 20 years. I too was an angry, militant, neurotic food nazi who drove my friends and family crazy. I was completely committed to my belief that to kill any animal was anathema to the soul, and that we are supposed to live on this planet harming none (meanwhile, with my anger and attacking personality I was hurting the humans around me). I believed in peace but there was no peace or love in my heart. In fact, the reason I love animals so much and crave their presence them is because they radiate the peace that I have so rarely felt in my head, body and heart.

I was in a war zone of my own creation. At war with myself with my enraged, judgemental, critical and perfectionist mindset. At war with the world. I had been anorexic since my teens, and then when I gave up smoking, alcohol, and recreational drugs, I became firstly fat and spotty, and then bulimic. As I began to work through a life time’s rage, the bulimia stopped (thank God, because that complete out of control experience was the most terrifying for this control freak) and slowly, slowly, I began to see that all this control around what I would or wouldn’t eat was a manifestation of my continued eating disorders. There was the paradox, my spiritual beliefs around eating meat were deeply seated, and yet as I explored my psychology, I could clearly see that all these rules and the obsessive, excessive, exercise were all part of the same rigid control patterns. They say that anorexia stems from a desire to control SOMETHING in a life that seems totally out of the sufferer’s control. I resonate with that. And I also see that the childhood sexual abuse and critical parenting which gave me to believe that I was not good enough, unworthy of love etc, made me believe that I was also unworthy of good things, happiness, a nice life, and hearty, healthy food.

As a single person I didn’t cook creatively for myself and had a habitual diet of tofu & veg stir fries, and pasta as my quick and easy comfort food. I was close to 40 and despite all the exercise and vegan food, I wasn’t really healthy. So I fronted up to a fantastic naturopath, Mim Beim, with a wonderfully pragmatic approach to health and wellbeing. She was horrified at my supposedly healthy diet and its lack of protein, which is the building block for the body. We talked about how my veganism was just another manifestation of my lifelong eating disorders. She knew it, I knew it, but we both had to respect my spiritual beliefs as well. ‘Could you eat fish?’ she asked. ‘No way’ I answered. ‘Sardines?’ she queried. I gagged. ‘What about eggs?’ I balked. But she insisted that I must start eating some protein. Finally, I capitulated, ‘Only from my own chickens’ I said. So it was that I bought 6 lovely Isa Browns, or Rhode Island Reds as they are called in the UK and US. I made a home for them, fed them, watered them, cuddled them and loved them and before long they started gifting me with daily eggs.

It wasn’t easy to begin with, eating them, but soon I became used to and learned to love, my poached eggs on toast and I began to feel stronger and healthier. What, I beg of the vegans, is wrong with eggs. These are NOT baby chickens, because there is no rooster to fertilise them. They are eggs, just like most women release every month. Hens just lay them every day. As a by-product of all the good grain and scratching around for worms and bugs. They are an important part of the ecosystem – chooks eat the paralysis ticks which could kill the dog or cat, they provide food for same and their human owner, they rake over the ground and improve it by aerating it, they fertilise it with their lovely nutritious poo, and they are delightful to befriend and be around. Happy, healthy, free ranging chooks lay beautiful eggs which are a joy to consume. We should all keep a few in our backyards and knock the global cage bird egg production industry on its foul (pardon the pun) head . . .

I am a firm believer that the Dairy industry is indescribably cruel. Boy calves born to dairy cows are routinely shot immediately after birth, or just left to die from weakness and lack of food. Some farmers bucket feed them for a few months to be sold and slaughtered for vealers, and we have spent a lot of time and mine bottle feeding dairy born boys. Many fail to thrive because they just want their mothers, and they often haven’t had the benefit of the first essential colostrum feeds. The reality is that male animals are raised for slaughter, the girls are ‘keepers’ because they add to the herd with their breeding prowess. Sometimes we have to help the young to suckle. Sometimes we have to milk the mother and bottle feed the baby until they can ‘latch on’ for themselves. This happens with human babies too. And often the Mumma Cow doesn’t mind sharing a little milk with her human. Although I agree that humans are not designed to consume or digest dairy products past weaning off their own Mothers. But on the farm we do learn to share!

The vegans would have all flesh raising farming cease immediately. But while they focus on factory farming which is abhorrent, what they don’t realise is that there are an awful lot of small farms across the globe who use herbivores to manage weeds and pasture. And if we love these amazing animals and want to share our lives with them how do we do that – just keep them as pets? Or do we kill them all off and just let the beautiful countryside revert to weeds and trees? And do the rabid vegans like the farmed countryside to visit and appreciate and will they miss it when it goes? My dog is a carnivore – how am I supposed to feed him? Isn’t it better that we raise our own animals, giving them happy and beautiful lives, and peaceful deaths (one shot, no fear) rather than hauling them to the abattoir where they smell the fear and the blood?

Humans have always been opportunistic carnivores, mainly eating fruits, grubs and leaves, tubers and herbs. Their diets have been supplemented by what nature has presented in the way of protein – eggs and meat. Spiritually, I agree we must do no harm and tread carefully and gently in this Eden. But I don’t see the problem with unfertilised eggs. And yes, I guess, living on this land that I adore and nurture, with these beautiful, gentle, beings who I love, has changed my mindset somewhat. I remain on the horns of a dilemma, but I feel more empathy and respect for people who are on the land and raising and killing animals for their own consumption like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver et al. Because they are wrestling with their conscience in very real terms, and they truly respect and love the animals they consume, waste nothing, and honour that a life has been given that they might eat meat.

Vegans also abhor the robbing of honey from hives, but bees are essential for pollination and life. I’m more up in arms about the heat treatment of honey (which destroys all its health giving properties) than the global honey industry. I love our bees and getting up close and personal with them in the hive is amazing. What a lesson in the miracles of Mother Nature. As in all things, we must not be greedy, and take too much.

The vegans are angry about my decision to feed Ben meat. But here he is, growing up on a 400 acre oasis, with the platypus playing in the river, the alpacas providing the fleece for his duvet, the sheep providing the fleece for his underlay and felting projects, the chooks laying eggs for his breakfast and yes, a lamb or two a year and a steer go in the freezer for his consumption. And he loves those animals, he gets to see them being born, learning to live, staying safe from the predatory wild dogs, foxes, eagles etc and growing up happy and very much loved. He also tends the veggie patch with me and he knows where food comes from. He has an amazing life here – rich and varied and full of the miracles of Mother Nature and her incredible abundance. He has a reverent attitude to life, and an appreciation that death is a natural part of life. It comes to us all, and what better epitaph for any of us, than that our lives meant something, that we are remembered with love and gratitude.

I know before I had a child I was full of high minded ideals about how to raise them. It’s amazing how the reality of Motherhood and parenthood changes much of that. Not that there is anything wrong with holding high minded ideals but as my psychologist tells me – there’s no such thing as Mary Poppins and while aiming high is healthy, being a perfectionist is not. I have been a rigid perfectionist for all my life to date, and the person who has suffered most is ME.

My little Libra child came to me to teach me BALANCE in all things and while I may be a slow learner, I am sure that I will get there in the end. Or as my dearly beloved Grannie used to say ‘a little of what you fancy does you good.’

Vegans (remembering that I have been one for almost half my life) won’t wear leather and many won’t even wear wool. But what is worse – the petrochemical plastics and recycled PET bottle fleeces which are produced by first raping the planet for oil, then concocting chemical solutions with their resultant waste products into the waterways etc and then not biodegrading once they are worn out? I would rather wear natural products from the animals I adore, and feel their loving gift to me, and know that once they are worn out, they will natural compost down, giving back to the earth they came from.

The vegans who have diatribed against me refuse to answer the questions about where their food comes from and how entwined they are with its production and packaging. They are more concerned about damning any bloodshed than entering into the very real and live debate that all humans need to engage in about where and why and how ALL their food is raised and grown and harvested and shipped and packaged and priced. THIS is the crucial ethical debate of our time. That we all learn to shop locally, eat with the seasons, know the growers, engage with the farms, meet the farmer and the animals and make decisions based on that solid footing and relationship with the land. As long as foodstuffs are scrubbed, packaged and priced at below production costs, presented in artificially lit supermarket lane ways at bargain basement prices and bearing no relation to the land or beast that produced them, we will never learn to engage with Nature, with reality, with the land that sustains us.

Don’t damn those who are thinking, feeling, and philosophising about food and clothing – embrace and educate them, calmly and rationally. We are all emotive beings and food politics can ramp up the emotional temperature. But let’s open up this debate, open our hearts and minds to lots of different perspectives and arguments and make our own choices without ramming them down everyone else’s throats.

Posted in Animals, Life Matters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to How Chickens changed my life . . . and the psychology of food

  1. cathmiller says:

    Loved your description of gagging at the thought of eating sardines. After being vego for 30 years, I am starting to choke down my beautiful chickens’ eggs. I poach in the microwave for a minute then mash up in a cup with olive oil, garlic and soy sauce. 🙂 Extremists in any sphere are not worth talking to. Whether it is religion, politics, climate change or veganism, there is no commonsense or rational, deep thought. There are too many people on the planet now to revert 8,000 years to the hunter gatherer lifestyle. Maybe the vegans want their soy beans fertilised with petrochem manufactured fertilisers rather than animal manure. You are living an authentic and wholesome life.

    • sophie says:

      Thanks, Cath, for the support. Ged makes the best mushy eggs with soya mayo (I have tried and tried to make my own but it is always way too runny, if very tasty!) and that is my absolute favourite in sandwiches or on toast at the weekend. Can’t eat eggs anywhere else except at home from my lovely brown ‘girls’

  2. Sheridan Stumm says:

    HI Sophie,
    I know your dilemna regarding eating animal products and my feeling as a Buddhist is that if we treat our animals with respect (for that matter everyone on this planet) then it follows naturally that we will support methods that kill them for eating with the minimum suffering and maximum respect. All animals are carnivores and eat each other to survive. WE are part of that cycle and should only kill what we need and nothing more. AS for vegans. I just love the way they still wear leather shoes while condemning others for what they eat. AS the Dalai Lama says life is about balance, the middle way and I add neither hurting or wasting.

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