I’m no stranger to unusual birthday gifts.
Through the years, I’ve received a ceramic rooster, hot glue gun, bedazzler, nesting tins and–a personal favorite–being serenaded on my 22nd birthday by a 50-something drunk who pretended to have cancer. Committed to his lies, he sang happy birthday in a raspy voice as he held his fist to his throat, desperately trying to convince beer enthusiasts he had a tracheotomy. Even worse, his backup singer was a guy named “Big Daddy,” who pretended to drive limos for a nonexistant local mob, but actually drove a school bus.
On that particular birthday, my friends and I chose to roll our eyes as we ignored the truth.
But this year, the truth could not be ignored.
This particular gift started to be appropriate a few years ago when I became a vegetarian for four months. Watching someone make a mess of themselves while eating wings during a March Madness game, I decided it was time to leave that party. A July cookout, however, eventually made me cave for grilled shrimp, and I downgraded to pescetarian, adding eggs and fish into my otherwise-meatless diet.
I coasted as a pescetarian for quite some time until a three-month health scare inspired me to become a vegetarian and design my diet with plant-based products and dairy.
Then I started a new job 220 miles away from the place I called home. At my old address I was surrounded by houses, businesses and busy streets, but in my new abode there’s room to breathe. I’m within walking distance of ponds, lakes, trails, a tree farm, and some of my favorite neighbors are dairy cows.
Though the nearby Holsteins seem to graze a lot and get milked by hand–unlike those at factory farms–driving past them every day made me think of food differently.
As my 5-year-old son Ty said, ‘That’s not protein. That’s an animal.”
His words brought tears to my eyes, changing our lives one gentle, innocent, honest word at a time.
It was quite easy to find alternatives to milk, especially because I had been a fan of Silk for a long time, but I struggled to give up cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
Then I got to know Andy, a co-worker who writes a wonderful vegan blog, VegOnTheTable.com, with his wife Sara.
One of the quotes I found on their blog was shared by Ellen DeGeneres, who said, “Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s just ignorance.” And Andy was very good at keeping me from being ignorant. When I’d say, “Oh, but I just have a little milk, a little cheese, a little ice cream…,” Andy would share all he knew about the inhumane lives dairy cows suffer at factory farms.
In the seven months since I started at the York Dispatch, I’ve also been on the fortunate end of Sara’s cooking skills. Chocolate chip cookies, blondies, muddy buddies and ice cream have been revamped in my household simply because a compassionate wife shared her recipes with my family.
Not only is the taste amazing, the recipes are an easy swap when applesauce can replace dairy, you can find milk-free chocolate chips and all you need for a frozen treat is a whipped banana.
My new way of life earned a lot of eye rolling (or maybe it was just my fashion) from family and friends who were comfortable with the status quo. They were also concerned the kids and I wouldn’t get enough protein.
Well, they were half right. I did it the wrong way for a while, taking in way too much soy for one hormonal girl to handle. But after speaking with a doctor, I found healthy protein alternatives and feel great.
For anyone considering a vegan diet for themselves or their children, I recommend consulting a physician first. Everyone has unique needs, and there are a lot of options to tailor compassionate living to each person.
It requires some planning and thought, especially in the beginning, and I researched my new lifestyle for months before fully committing to it. I didn’t want it to be some trend or fad I supported just because it’s cool to love animals.
What I found is it’s incredibly healthy if you do it the right way, and there’s a growing food movement in York County, demanding fresh, local food.
The combination of awareness and compassionate, healthy eating can lead to a higher consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, while reducing chronic diseases, according to medical reports.
My husband, who doesn’t eat an animal-free diet, shared support among my birthday gifts this year. One of the presents was a sponsorship in my name for a cow at the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Maryland. Attached was a note–”I hope it’s Jason”–and the biography of a cow who was fortunate to be derailed in Pittsburgh.
According to his animal story on the sanctuary’s website, Jason is an Angus steer who was rescued 12 years ago when the double-decker tractor trailer he was riding in crashed into a guard rail near the city.
Jason, along with 120 other cows, was en route to a feed lot in Kansas, where he would have lived among thousands of cattle in a large dirt area with no shelter, getting fattened up on grain before being slaughtered for beef.
Though the crash killed about 100 of the animals, Jason survived and was rescued by the former OohMahNee animal sanctuary in Westmoreland County. But the animal farm didn’t really have room for him, so he ended up at the 400-acre, nonprofit refuge in Maryland.
I’m not sure if my sponsorship will help pay for Jason’s food, bedding and veterinary costs, but I’d sure like to meet him. I know I’ll see him the way Ty sees him.
Jason’s not protein. He’s an animal.