Car-free Living with Kids: Part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~Yes, it's a thing ... and we do it!~

WALK, BIKE, TAXI, BUS...let me tell you about it 😉

Hello folks,

So today I thought I'd delve into our lives as a 'car-free' family and answer the classic five W questions, starting with the WHY?

First, let me dispel the notion that many people assume when they hear we don't have a car. It was NOT because we couldn't afford one. We had a van which I affectionately named 'Madame Blueberry' and I loved her. Until we made this big decision, I had always owned a vehicle. Growing up in the country meant that buying my first car came hot on the heels of getting my driver's license.

But in my growing awareness of the horrendous cost of oil and gas production on the environment, on real people and in its role in war, and I just looked and saw oil saturating everything around us. I wanted to escape it. How could I continue to rail against oil and gas companies when I was so dependent on them myself?

It is so hard to extricate ourselves from our systems of production. I'm trying, but every item we buy in the grocery, hardware, clothing, dollar stores -- it all has an imprint of oil and gas on it. Every bit of plastic is a result of it. It just sucks that we are literally swimming in it daily.

So, what was one thing that we as a family could do? Well, we could stop filling our thirsty tank with gas every week.

I read everything I could find on the internet from families who had gone car-free. I scoured YouTube for videos of biking with kids, biking in the winter, biking in the sun, you name it, I was looking for it. I was obsessed. And I had no idea if we could do it.

But here we were, in a city that DID have a transit system. We lived within walking distance of a mall that had a grocery store, bank, drug store and library among other things. Sure, the grocery store was more expensive than the one I usually drove to, but maybe I could splurge on a taxi home when I wanted to stock up on staples at the cheaper place? There was a walk-in clinic a block away...

What else, what else...

There was so much to consider, but finally our van developed a cough and it was going to need some work done in the near future. It seemed like a sign.

So, we thought of a compromise for our own peace of mind. We could keep the van and get a year's worth of storage insurance. If we couldn't do it, if it was too hard, we could just re-insure it and, tail between our legs, go back to our car dependent life.

It was settled then. We were taking the plunge with a safety net in place. When I went to change the insurance on the van, I had a great chat with the insurance lady. Far from looking down her nose at the idea, she was enthusiastic about our coming adventure and was interested in how it worked out for us. She said that she was trying to walk more and wished she could do the same.

Oh, and there was another little challenge -- I was pregnant when we parked the van that December 31st, 2014. I was staying true to my motto: "What's the hardest possible way to do this? LET'S DO IT!"

Yes, so I feel I can say with some degree of certainty, that if we could do it, then many others could too. At least those who live in cities where there is a decent transit system. It does take some shifting of priorities, some patience as you learn to wait for buses and take the extra time to walk or bike to places, but these are the deep changes that we need to make when we see the environmental crises for what they truly are.

We have been going like this for nearly four years and we are completely used to it now. It hasn't been without it's inconveniences, and there has been grumbling on many occasions, but on the other hand, we haven't had to deal with car breakdowns, accidents or close calls, unexpected costs and the headache of driving kids everywhere all the time simply because there's a vehicle in the driveway. My teens have learned how to take the bus and when there's a crisis of any sort, there are taxis ready for hire. But I will get more into the 'How' of it in another post.

I hope you stay with me as I add to this series. I also hope that it will encourage you to consider making similar changes if you are able!

Until next time,

Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Family Food Journey

Many twists and turns, stops and starts and stalls led me to a whole-food, processed sugar-free and plant-based life. If we had never had to deal with health issues, I may never have looked at it. So, with one child who suffered from allergies, horrible excema and a gluten-sensitivity and another child who is haywire when he has processed white/brown sugar, I was forced to look at how I was feeding my family.
We eliminated eggs for a period of time around 11 years ago (the Grade 5 immunization in Canada is egg-based, and our daughter's body had trouble dealing with it) and moved to a gluten-free (due to gastrointestinal issues) way of cooking. It was Difficult. My repertoire of recipes were no longer viable and in 2007 the gluten and egg-free options were hard to find...and I found myself dreading cooking. Over those few years, I experimented-many fails, few successes-and eventually got better and started to feel good about my cooking again.
Enter the 'Hungry For Change' documentary....and then 'FoodMatters'...and I shifted again. These movies called attention to the incredible amount of sugar in our North American diet and processed food in particular. We clearly needed to eat more vegetables. I realized that this was contributing to why my son was so difficult - too much sugar was going into his growing body. I learned so much from these documentaries and they really supported me as I implemented going sugar-free.
I would just like to note this mistake I made as a warning for other moms:         DO NOT TELL YOUR CHILDREN THAT YOU AREN'T BUYING SUGAR ANYMORE and expect them to be as excited as you are. We had a revolt.
But I was stubborn and prevailed hahaha. We have been white/brown/molasses/corn syrup-free for about 5 years now. Not perfectly! We have icing on cakes and treats from friends and school still make it through the gate but it is WAY less than it used to be. We've even changed Hallowe'en...but I'll write about that in a different post 😉
When we were first married I had a sugar bin, and bought a 10kg bag of white sugar about once a month. Now I have coconut sugar, maple syrup and honey to sweeten our life (yes, I know that honey is from bees and many vegans abstain. We have quite a few bee-keepers in our area who are passionate about their bees and no bees=no growing food, so I am happy to support them). We eat very little processed sugar, preferring fresh and frozen fruit and raisins as sweet treats over the kid-friendly fruit snacks and store-bought cereals and granola bars. The kids still like those things but I don't buy them as a regular staple anymore.

So while I was transitioning to sugar-free and increasing the amount of vegetables in our diet, my sister Carla had been moving towards Veganism and while I was there for a visit, she introduced me to 'Forks over Knives'. While I was always sad when animals die and had to pretend that they didn't when I ate meat, it hadn't really hit me as something that I could or would be willing to change. We need meat, right?? Well, between that movie, Cowspiracy and great support on www.Foodmatters.com...I was done with Meat. Now to get the family on board....
Thankfully I remembered my "DON'T TALK ABOUT SUGAR-FREE" lesson and started with myself. The first week was hard, the cravings while cooking meat for everyone else were sometimes overwhelming. The second week I was tired and had brain fog and thought 'I don't think I can do this' about a million times. By the third week, I was feeling proud of myself and in the fourth week I watched the documentaries again to bolster my spirit. I was still cooking meat, but it was no longer attractive to me. Yay!!
Somewhere around month 4, as I stuffed a Turkey (not for the last time, but I'll get into that later) I realized that I couldn't even cook meat anymore. My Spirit was screaming at me. I was a hypocrite. How could I spout the health and spiritual benefits I was experiencing of living animal-protein free and still feed it to those that I love the most? It wasn't enough for me to just abstain...I needed to remove it from the dinner table. So, a few months later I told my husband "I'm not cooking meat anymore. Period. I just can't do it. I can't feed it to the kids anymore. If you want it, you will have to buy it and cook it yourself." Fight ensued. Not a deal-breaker one, but one that definitely shook things up!
So there we were, a somewhat divided family for a period of time while I once again dreaded cooking dinner and the inevitable discussion of 'where's the beef?' at the table. And I had to learn how to cook food that my family would eat and hopefully enjoy! Some wins along the way...a lot of misses. But we got through it.
In the spirit of compromise, I taught my husband how to stuff the turkey the next Yuletide and washed my hands of it completely the second year..and last year he said 'Why don't we just not have turkey this year?' so we had a Harvest Vegetable Pot Pie and it was a bigger hit than the turkey had been all those years!

Over the last year, I have let go of dairy. It's not always perfect - I love dips and caesar dressing and sometimes slip, forgetting that there's probably dairy in them. Letting go of cheese was tough, but I found that once I stopped looking at it like a nutrient source and more like a garnish, it was easier to give up and convert to Non-Dairy cheeses when I feel the craving. Dairy-free options in restaurants can be hard to find, so occasionally I send an energetic Thank You to the cow or chicken who provided me with that aspect of my meal. I have learned to Forgive Myself on this path.
Overall, the dairy consumption in our home has DRASTICALLY reduced - in the past we used to buy FOUR 4L jugs of milk a week..yes, you read that right...and now we buy none. There's still cow cream going into some coffee mugs, cow butter for those that still want it on their toast and cow cheese going on kid pizza and nachoes (still working on a good melt-in-the-oven cheese!) but waaay less than even a year ago! I'm excited for a further reduction in this next year!
As far as the kids go...I have one daughter who transitioned easily to about 98% meat-free (parties and friends homes are the other 2%) in the first few months of my cooking completely meat-free, a son who has discovered that veggie hotdogs and nuggets are now his favourite (yes, they are highly processed, but this is a Journey, not a race!), another son who craves Udon Noodle Miso Soup (from www.itdoesn'ttastelikechicken.com - LOVE her!!) which is loaded with straight-up tofu! And because my eldest is out in the Great Big World living her life...all I can do it hope that her Food Choices are a Blessing to the Earth and her body and encourage her where I can. My husband and children may never be completely vegan, but through discussion and taking the time to really acknowledge where our food comes from, their food consciousness has definitely improved.

It has been over 3 years now that I have been fully vegetarian.
I feel good, from the Inside-Out. My kids are healthier, we talk about food differently now. This was the right path for us and I'm glad I implemented it for my family. This journey began with excema, tummy troubles and a child who literally bounced off the walls, challenges that felt frustrating and very unfair at times, but the strings weaving our Family Food Story led us to where my Spirit always wanted our family to go. 'Do what you will, and harm none.' We're getting there and I am Greatfull for that 🙂

~ Debbie

Beeswax Wraps

One of the things that I felt would help me on the way to a Plastic-Reduced kitchen was Beeswax Wraps!

These handy sheets and bags were made with an old, clean duvet and napkins that were destined for goodwill, a block of Beeswax from our Health Food Store, my handy dandy sewing machine and some string from Dollarama. Thankfully my Mom was around while I sewed the bags and she grated up all the beeswax for me (thanks Mom!)

First Step was to create the bags...I used no pattern and just eye-balled the size and shape (which is why this rectangle is not perfect - I am a 1 hr-project girl after all!), creating a 1/2 inch hem at the top for the drawstring.

Next I used aluminum foil to line my oven rack and cut to size a piece of parchment paper to go inside the bag to keep the two layers separate. This way I could do 1 side at a time without them fusing together 🙂

Oven preheated to 200F, it only took a few minutes to melt into the cloth...keep an eye on it! When it looks all melted, pull it out of the oven and let it cool ~ I like to pick it up and wave it around 😉 Once it is cool, it is ready to use!

They aren't perfect or overall as pretty as I would like...but that's what trying something new is all about! Next time, I want to choose some fabric that is more colourful and create some sandwich/snack bags for school lunches ~ when I have done them, I'll post some pictures!I find that they keep my vegetables fresh for waaay longer than plastic bags!

Here's an example of mushrooms that I bought in a plastic container, removed the plastic and replaced it with a Beeswax Napkin:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO weeks later....

a little bit brown but Still Edible! That's a WIN!

Happy Creating!

~Debbie

Go Rogue: Subversive Ways to Battle Climate Change

The rogue or thief is one of the standard playable character classes in most editions of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. A rogue is a versatile character, capable of sneaky combat and nimble tricks.

So there are times when the current state of the world in politics, corporate hegemony and the biggest existential threat our world has ever known -- climate change -- get me so angry and freaked out that I just want to run into the streets and scream at everyone. Which would be super weird because everything around me just rolls along as usual. I suppose if I turned off the news, stopped reading books and articles, I could just nestle in and pretend these issues have gone away.

But of course, they haven't.

And so, as I frantically try to figure out what I have to offer to this fight, it occurs to me again that there is a very subversive way to live our lives that can truly 'stick it to the [corporate] man'.

Now, for most of my life, I've had this frustration while watching movies: A car/truck/train is barreling down a road/track chasing someone who is running for their life. They are running flat out in front of this terror. And all I can think is --

"For the love of God, jump off the road!"

That one person is not going to be able to either: a. Outrun that vehicle or b. Turn around and stop it.

So here is my challenge to everyone who sees what is happening:

Get off the road!

Now I realize that what I'm about to say is really nothing all that new [with the exception of eating animals -- environmentalists seem slow to pick up on that one], but here is where I would suggest it is still important enough to put into bullet form: the changes we need to make are not little pretty changes that make us feel good. These changes must be profound and deep. But before that scares anyone away, consider this: we get to forge a new and better way of living that is less dependent on stuff and potentially much more satisfying. So here are my bullet points:

  • If everyone that could stopped driving and took public transit, demand for oil would drop. And demand for better public transit would lead to better public transit!

  • If everyone stopped eating animals and their by-products, demand for the cruel and environmentally devastating animal 'agriculture' would drop.

  • If everyone stopped using plastic, demand for plastic would drop.

  • If everyone stopped buying so much cheap, useless and essentially disposable crap, demand for that crap would drop.

No government or overseeing trade organization can force you to drive, eat animals, or buy something you don't want to buy.

Instead, how about we:

  • Ride a bike, walk, take public transit. And yes, support a taxi driver when the other methods won't work.

  • Grow a garden, buy local produce, eat plant-based [it's cheaper and healthier too!]

  • Find more beautiful ways to store our lunches, cover our left-overs, sip on our drinks, furnish our homes and kitchens. Forego single use plastics -- they're blah anyways.

  • Spend less on cheap, disposable stuff, and more on quality goods and actual experiences. Buy local, buy carefully, buy only what you deem beautiful and/or useful in your life. Minimalism is a powerful trend that could really have an impact on our wallets and our psyches, and it has as many different versions as people who adopt it. You don't have to live in a stark white home with one set of clothing to embrace the mindset of minimalism.

  • Buy used. Second hand finds are the best!

  • Compost plant-based left-overs. Use the compost in the garden.

Take one step at a time and master it, then go on to the next. I'm not saying this flippantly; this is exactly what I have done myself, so I know it is doable. I'm still working on plastic and so much crap! Oh -- and gardening. I really want to grow an awesome garden next year. I've had some successes in the past that help mitigate my fails, thank goodness, but it is not my strong suit. I'm determined though -- I sooo want to master this skill! In the meantime I've subscribed to a local produce delivery company:

www.mamaearth.ca

If you want to see your progress and get some hard numbers on the results of your efforts, there are sites out there that can measure your carbon footprint. But the site that I stumbled on a year or two ago was One Million Women, and I encourage you to sign up for their carbon challenge. It will calculate your carbon footprint and will add your name to the movement they've started:

https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/

It's time to stop pandering to those who just won't believe the evidence when they see it. If you see it, then it's all hands on deck!

Be subversive, become a Rogue, live a different life and show the world how it can be done.

Until next time, fellow adventurers!

Carla

“Just a Fool’s Hope”: A Review of a Chris Hedges’ Lecture

Hello folks,

Well, I watched a YouTube video yesterday of a talk given by journalist Chris Hedges that is really powerful and I can't stop thinking about it. It is a no-holds barred, eyes-wide-open and unflinching look at the condition of the United States and touched also on climate change. Hedges has just published a new book called "America: The Farewell Tour." So first, here are some links:

The book:

http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/America-The-Farewell-Tour/Chris-Hedges/9781501152672

The lecture:

Now, as one of the undoubtedly many non-American people around the world who are watching with panic and horror at the train wreck of the American political system, this talk rang very true. He isn't pulling any punches. I could summarize, but it would be better to just watch it yourself and get the full story.

However, I wanted to highlight three things that stuck out for me. The first is that while he wasn't able to get into a full discussion of climate change in that particular lecture, apparently it is addressed more fully in the book and he really gets it. One man stands up in the Q & A and, voice choked up, tells Hedges that because of him, he has become vegan and it has changed his life completely. I wanted to applaud. Hedges became a vegan when he found out the environmental cost of animal agriculture and he responded that it was the biggest impact any one person can have on the state of the environment. Furthermore, once you understand the impact on the environment, it also gets a person thinking about these exploitative corporations that churn living creatures into a consumptive object. This has become my litmus test as to whether an environmentalist truly understands the crisis we face as a species; are they vegan or transitioning to become so? If not, then we need to let them know and help in any way we can to support them in transitioning. As Hedges points out, we may feel like we can't as individuals do much, but every single person can wake up every morning and change the world by eating a plant-based diet.

The second thing I noted was a comment he makes that I made myself in a Facebook declaration about four years ago. Hedges says that this fight to halt climate change may be a losing battle. We may not make it through this crisis intact, if at all. But he wants his kids to know that he did everything in his power to stop it. That's how I feel, and maybe you can relate too. I thought instantly of Gandalf, talking to Pippin on the eve of battle: "There never was much hope ... Just a fool's hope." It is the bravest thing of all to fight to the very bitter end, for our loved ones, with no glory, just the knowledge that we do what we must. How far would we go to save our children? As far as it takes. How many hours of vigilance? As many as it takes. At what point can we give up? Never.

Which leads me to the third point that is sticking with me. And it resonated deeply because I have been thinking the same thing. It is the issue of hope. Another man stood up during the Q & A and said he agreed with everything that Hedges says but wonders what Hedges could offer in the sense of hope because it's of no use if we fall into debilitating despair. Hedges answer surprised me and likely the audience that day. He said that he doesn't "share the culture's mania for hope." As a war correspondent for two decades, he saw indescribable horrors and the basest of humanity; that must knock the rose-coloured glasses off of even the most devoted wearer. No one is coming to save us. Not through technology, not through political leadership [see Part II of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, if you have any lingering hope for that].

Instead, he says the only salve is in the resistance itself. It reminded me of being in labour; all the hours waiting, with waves of pain coursing through our bodies. There is nothing we can do except endure. But then the time comes to push, and even though the pain is at its peak, at least you feel like you can DO something. And that helps, weirdly.

He also said that this resistance must be done with others because if we deal with all this knowledge alone, we will succumb to despair. And, he adds, he means REAL connections to others, in real life, not just electronically.

And in the spirit of resistance, I did something today and I encourage you to do likewise. I saw a great IKEA ad on YouTube that actually did a social experiment in one of its stores. It raised the heat to 4 degrees hotter than [I'm assuming] the outside temperature. The customers were agitated and sweaty, asking workers if the heat was on in the store. But then it was revealed that this was what a 4 degree global rise in temperature would feel like. I thought 'kudos, IKEA!' and sent them the following email:

"Hi! I just saw your ad about Climate Change and I wanted to say AWESOME!! I'm glad to see that your company is raising awareness about the existential crisis we all face. I would also like to offer you a challenge. Your restaurants are renowned especially for your meatballs, but the reality is, animal agriculture has the greatest impact on global warming. In fact, it beats out fossil fuel use. There are many studies showing the statistics and what an impact it would have if IKEA led the way in switching their menu to a much healthier, humane and sustainable plant-based one. You would truly be a trail-blazer, and it would be much cheaper for you as well. There are so many fantastic substitutes for animal based favourites, a transition would be completely feasible. In the meantime, perhaps you could start offering a variety of plant-based options because many of us have already transitioned to plant-based and would very much like to support your efforts!!"

It was a small gesture, but it was something. I'm going to try to do something like this a couple times a week and I encourage you to do the same. No one is coming, so we must take action, even if it seems small.

A fool's hope, indeed. But what other choice to we have?

Till next time, my fellow hobbits,

Carla

A Renewed Quest: Zero Waste

Hello folks,

Having moved our family to 'car-free' status and switching to veganism, there was one last challenge to master on the home front: PLASTIC.

This is perhaps the most difficult challenge yet, simply because we are literally surrounded by plastic everyday and even our most basic needs are either made of it, or covered in it when we buy them.

This is an incredibly pressing issue, right up there with Climate Change. All of these abhorrent excesses in our society are linked, but it seems to me that we have CO2  and Methane [animal agriculture] emissions on one battle front and plastics killing the oceans and waterways on another front. Here is just one documentary about this issue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D35YnZ7_WxM

It's enough to make a person weep with despair. How has it come to this? Every single decision each and every one of us makes every single day. But it is hard; we live in a system of consumption that makes it terribly hard to make better choices. Yet once you are aware of the problem, you have to start to change your habits. I don't know about you, but I resent the fact that I seem to have so little control over the plastic that my family uses and discards. I try really hard to choose products wisely, and then life gets busy, and all my resolve flies out the window and we back to unconsciously buying convenience products.

Enter Bea Johnson and her Zero Waste Home.

I came across one of her Ted Talks on YouTube, and what a revelation. She did it! She found ways to reduce her family's waste to one mason jar's worth of plastic waste A YEAR! For a family of four, plus a dog! Here is one of her talks:

In 2016 - 2017, I took this challenge seriously and omigosh, is was doable! We weren't down to Bea-level zero waste, but we cut down our waste so dramatically that we were down to a grocery bag full each week only. That was with seven people! And we still could go much further. Then our ceiling caved in [long story], I lost the will to live in our small rented house and we had to move to a new place that better suited our family-- all in the heat of summer, the hardest part of the year for my cold-loving self. It took a lot of work moving and we threw out a sickening amount of stuff in our quest to simplify. I hadn't realized how much crap we had packed into that tiny house. I was so ashamed as we threw out years worth of nonsense stuff, and so much of it plastic. It was time for a big shift in thinking.

But life happened and the move was arduous and we were short on time and energy most days. I didn't have a composter in this new place yet, and we quickly slipped back into our old habits. I lost my focus and we were back to producing garbage like champs again. Sigh.

So this is my commitment to get back on the path towards zero waste. Here is a link I'm going to be visiting a lot, and maybe you would like to check it out too:

Zero Waste Canada

There is no other option when you know the facts; it compels us to act. It may seem like 'one small step for man' when your efforts seem puny in the face of so much destruction, but this is where it starts. Environmental activism must begin at home in order to give credibility and authenticity as we move into the public sphere, and I believe Bea Johnson is the living embodiment of how powerful such a commitment can be.

Until next time,

Carla

Introvert as Activist: A Hobbit’s Eye View

          "Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea -- any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Goodbye!" -Bilbo Baggins

What is a certified homebody to do when their conscience compels them to DO something in the public sphere? Especially when the thought of going to a new place, with new people, and maybe even demonstrating [!] sends them into a cold sweat and stays their feet before they make it to the front door?

Well, I'm not entirely sure. Start a blog for one. Change the way you live at home for another. Talk about issues with the people in your life enough to get them thinking, but not too much that you become annoying [I hope!].

I have been house-bound for a couple years with little ones, but I can't use that as an excuse anymore. The time has come for me to branch out, get involved in the larger environmental movement and meet like-minded people who are as freaked out about the issues and committed to changing the way we live as I am ... and unfortunately, that is well outside of my comfort zone.

One day, riddled with guilt and frustrated by my own limitations, I googled "Activism for introverts" and lo and behold, I found I wasn't alone! There are many out there who want to do more but whose natures limit them from taking on the stereotypical 'activist' role. And much to my relief, I found a talk that valued introverts precisely for what characteristics and approaches they bring to the table.

As someone who has also retreated to bathroom stalls to re-group, this talk was a balm on my frayed nerves. I must find ways to effect change that utilize my strengths rather than wasting time fighting my limitations.

I have since found blog posts and websites with lists of helpful suggestions. I have no similar list to offer yet, because I want to actually do the things myself before recommending them to you.

If you feel likewise, I hope you will join me on this, another quest made necessary for those of good conscience in our day and age. Maybe with a little patience and kindness towards ourselves, we will start to embrace, as Bilbo himself did after his own adventures, his gleeful warning to Frodo: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you will be swept off to."

Until next time,

Carla

My Confessions: A Tale of Three Farmgirls

         “You put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car.” -Harvey Diamond

Hello!

I am so excited to have finally shifted our family to a plant-based diet. It makes me so happy, I watch vegan videos on YouTube to lift my mood if I get down. I enjoy cooking a gazillion times more now. My cooking has gotten so much better too, maybe because I am taking much more pride in it. But there is another reason that cooking this way has been so exciting: it has put me in alignment with several issues I have struggled with for probably my whole life, even if I didn’t always put words to my discontent.

I don’t hurt or kill animals to eat. Simple as that.

Now, I feel the need to stress that I am not a pet person at all. I have had pets that I loved, pets that I still think about today, but I’m not a ‘pet person’. I am really allergic to cats, and I’m mostly terrified of dogs. I grew up on a hobby farm in northern British Columbia and we had a menagerie over the years. Most animals kind of freaked me out. I am skittish at the best of times, so animals were intimidating to me. We had, at various intervals, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, steers, rabbits, pigs, and horses.

When I was nine, Debbie and I helped our parents kill 20 chickens and process them in one day. It was an experiment never to be repeated because even for my meat-eating parents who had grown up on farms themselves, the whole thing was disgusting. Apparently we didn’t actually eat the chickens for months because they couldn’t get the sights and smells out of their heads either.

So, I have held a still-warm beheaded chicken in my young hands. I saw them flop around on the ground till the life-blood was drained from them. I know what their insides smell like and I can still remember the colours of their guts as we helped my mom strip their internal cavities. I have plucked feathers from their cooling bodies and squeezed pin feathers from their pinkish skin. I played with their cut-off feet, because if you know where the tendon is you can pull it and make the foot close like a claw.

As a huge fan of the Little House books and with a romantic view of the ‘Olden Days’, I swallowed my disgust at the reality of slaughtering animals that day and in the days to come because I thought that it was what had to be done and also that I wanted to be like Laura Ingalls.

At nine, I also witnessed the slaughtering of pigs at a neighbouring farm. I was excited because I loved the people that we were going to visit, and there was going to be a big dinner and it felt very Laura Ingalls-ish. I remember hearing the terrifying squeals of the terrified pigs. I probably covered my ears because it made me so sad and sick to my stomach. When I was allowed to go — after the squealing stopped — I saw the men dipping a big dead pig into a trough of steaming hot water and then heaving it onto a slaughtering table. I remember the bloody neck where the knife had sliced through, silencing the screams. I remember them taking knives and scraping the skin quickly to remove the coarse, white hair from the body. I think I ran back to the house then, because my next memory is going back to the yard and seeing several severed pigs’ heads sitting against the base of the barbed wire fence. It was pretty gruesome. But it was life, right? I mean, we need meat right? Isn’t that what everyone thought?

Then the sides of the pigs were strung up and I could see the insides of their bodies. I remember seeing the ribs and thinking that they would be sliced up for someone’s dinner. I remember later looking forward to ‘cracklings’, the bits that were left after the fat of the pig was rendered down into lard. It was a treat that my mom would make us. She would fry it up with salt and we would take pieces of bread and scoop tiny bits of the crispy flesh and eat it. I guess that helped me forget the squealing and the lifeless heads sitting there on the cold ground.

But the truth is, it didn’t help me to forget in the end. I think I have a better-than-average memory of my childhood, with some stretching back to age 3. But even so, those memories are strongest that were deeply emotional in some way. I don’t know what you remember of your 9th year, but chances are, they are the traumatic or dramatic memories that you remember in technicolour detail. And these fit the bill. I wish I could convey how vividly I remember everything about these two incidents in particular.

If someone had told me that year that I didn’t have to eat meat – or eggs or dairy – to live a healthy life, I probably would have become a vegetarian right then and there. But I didn’t know anyone like that and I didn’t even know what the word ‘vegetarian’ meant. Even in Charlotte’s Web, only Wilbur was saved. Fern’s family didn’t turn their backs on farming and eating animals. I think if Fern had known of such a thing, she would have become vegetarian too.

The funny thing is, these were chickens and pigs who had a ‘good’ life. The chickens were in a large pen in a wooded area on a rural property, with lots of places to scratch and peck and do all those chickeny things that they are born to do. They were fed scraps from our kitchen. The pigs had acres of land to root around in. They were killed quickly and didn’t have the trauma of being carted off to a slaughterhouse with all its sights, sounds and smells of horror.

But it still felt wrong to do it. It takes some conditioning to normalize such a brutal practice, and we have all been conditioned to suppress our revulsion at the thought of killing animals. That’s why it is uncouth to bring up the subject of animal slaughter at a table where meat is served. No one wants to know or think about itImage result for charlotte's web. No one has that objection to someone who says that they picked the carrots fresh from the garden that day! 

There is a kind of joy that comes when your actions and values align, and thus my excitement for this new way of plant-based cooking. Indeed, if there’s any take-away from my experiences, it’s that I wish I had made the switch to veganism sooner.

Cheers and Salutations! Carla