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Most of my childhood and adolescent years was spent on a Dorset farm, so I was surrounded by the sights, smells and behaviour of animals from an early age. My father was the poultry keeper, at one time looking after thousands of birds, and, as a small boy, I used to be out "helping" him. From the innocent stage of boyish fun of chasing the poor chicken around their pens I graduated to a more mature attitude of questioning the reason for keeping so many fowls. I remember being quite upset when the "deep litter system" was introduced and feeling sorry for the hens being confined in a dark, hot and smelly atmosphere and denied the freedom of the open air. Also, I could no longer be present when my father killed the capons and turkeys by wringing their necks and then plucking them ready for our or someone else's Sunday dinner. I have the vivid recollection of the day when the pigs were slaughtered and hearing their pitiful squeals before their throats were cut. These and other memories come flooding back, and I often think the early experiences of farm life played a significant part in my becoming vegetarian. But it was many years before this happened, during which time I went on quite enjoying meat - especially bacon!
Things changed several years into my first marriage. My wife never ate red meat - just trying to chew it turned her stomach. We always had a full Sunday roast, she eating hers without the meat. One Sunday she said "I'm never cooking meat again". I didn't protest too much as by then I was beginning to hate the stuff. So that was that - we turned to a vegetarian diet, although still succumbed to the occasional fish 'n chips! I used to regularly buy my joint of meat from a small friendly butcher. How was I going to inform him I would no longer be entering his shop? My apprehension was unfounded: "Don't worry," he said with a smile, "my son is a vegetarian too!"
I then started to entertain the idea of going vegan, though not seriously, as I was put off by the thought of having to digest bland meals of beans, pulses and salads! This changed after staying overnight at the guest house then run by Margaret Lawson, during a touring holiday in Scotland. Not only did she serve some delicious and tasty dishes, but also introduced me to the spiritual and environmental aspects of veganism - things which until then I had not really considered. Through literature I became more aware of the cruelty associated with the dairy industry and, reinforced with memories of my childhood of the pitiful state of the cows being herded up to be milked twice a day. I resolved to refrain from dairy products as much as possible; admittedly, partly for health reasons. My son has been a vegetarian virtually from day one, and my present wife and her family are likewise. So there has never been any problems over meat-eaters and veggies.
My veganism took a long time to manifest itself, but eventually it happened overnight. I still liked a bit of cheese occasionally and one day at our favourite wholefood restaurant I was tempted by a cheese and egg flan. I don't remember finishing it, as I developed a violent headache and felt really ill for the rest of the day. That was the point at which I said "I'm going vegan". Twelve years on and I've never regretted taking that final step - and not even wishing for a piece of Stilton!
Through my mouth the soul of the fish cried his indignation. I was three years old (1923) in this step upon the road of the infinite when I saw for the first time the long and big corpse of a fish. My sister had bought it in the market. When I saw it, I was horrified. The eyes of this fish were infected with blood, his mouth open wide: his statement was terror. Further, he gave off an infected smell. My old sister, who was twelve years older than I, did not notice. She was not conscious, but I was. So, I cried and cried... This happened in the Athis-Mons market in France, two kilometres from our house. During the long walk back upon the road, I cried my indignation. Many people along the way asked why I was crying. My sister replied by showing her bag of goods, "It is because I bought this fish."
Nobody understood why this made me cry because none of them were conscious of the deeper truths. A woman stopped and said to me: "Look my little girl, you do not have to be afraid. This fish has died and you will be happy to eat it." At the thought that someone was capable of eating this fish, I screamed even louder and deeper. When we arrived at home my mother was scared to see me in this state. She demanded my sister to explain what happened. Opening her sack, she showed the fish and replied: "It's because I bought this fish." So, my mother sighed with exasperation and said: "Oh, it is because of this. It is nothing, she will get used to it." Then she took the fish and scraped it's scales. I vomited. I was sick every time I smelled the dead fish. At five years old I learned that people eat animals. And, I was also. One day, I was eating a substance that I thought was celery since it was finely chopped with oil, vinegar and mustard. My sister approached me and asked me if I knew what I was eating. I replied, "Yes, I think it is celery." She replied to me, "No, it is a cow." A cow! I can not believe a horror like this. But, my sister explained that my mother bought and cooked this cow meat. Horrified to learn this, I grabbed my plate and threw it on the cement floor and I ran out crying. At home there was no cow, but on the other side of the road there was a vast field where there were cows that I loved. I wanted to see them and take their heads into my arms, to embrace them, as I had done many times. But, the gate was closed. Holding this gate, I cried a long time and I even fell asleep. Someone took me back to my bed. I dreamed, or more exactly, someone from another planet said to me, "Yes, on this earth it is like this, people kill animals to eat, it is horrible. The animals are suffering and dying but their souls survive and are reborn." I understood it is the same for all beings.
So, my father said to me: "If you do not accept eating meat, you will fall sick and you will not live until you are twenty years. You will be in the grave a long time." At this I replied spontaneously, "It does not matter, I will be born in another family!" So, this is how I became a vegetarian. Much later, ten years ago, I became vegan. Sylvain and Bleuette also. We buy milk on a farm where the owner said he is also vegetarian, but we found out it was not true. Therefore, we stopped buying milk. We did not want to participate in exploiting cows. This is how we became vegan.
Vivi lives at Douceur et Harmonie in the French Pyrenees. See Small Vegan/Organic Community under 'Accommodation'.
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Cross-reference: Why I'm Vegan
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