Perhaps the title of this article is not entirely true because I’ve always been an animal lover. I studied zoology, entomology, and ichthyology in college. The first word I ever said wasn’t “mom” or “dad”; it was “fish”. I grew up in rural Texas with a gaggle of dogs that would nip at my heels as I ran through wide, open cattle fields. One of our favorite games was seeing who could throw cow patties the furthest. And we would spend our summers trying to bum horseback rides at the stable down the block.
We lived on the last street before open land and it was a child’s paradise. In fact, my mom called it “The End of the World” because it was so remote. We always had dogs, cats, and fish as pets. But our family also enjoyed exotic animals such as a cockatoo, chickens, finches, turtles, frogs, snakes, tarantulas, an American crow, rabbits, a ferret and many other wonderful creatures. If you combined “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot with “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, you would have the Bender household.
So, I guess, it might come as a surprise to say that I was raised on meat. Actually, we ate a lot of it. Coming from Texas, meat is inherent in the culture, and so is hunting. Each meal we ate consisted of meat (that took up most of the plate), a vegetable, and a starch. I loved chicken fried steak, fried chicken, and old-fashioned meatloaf. We even joked about eating an “all-meat diet.” But whenever a show on television did an exposé on the atrocities of the meat industry, my mother would cover my eyes and say, “Oh no, don’t look!” We would blindly go on, loving our pets, and never really looking at where the meat for our meals came from.
Many people think the way I used to. I thought of meat as coming from its “natural environment,” – the grocery store. There it was carefully packaged into convenient styrofoam packages with clean, clear plastic covers. I would walk down the meat aisle slowly perusing what it had to offer for the day. Today, I imagine myself as a Stepford Wife when I was doing this, blissfully unaware of where meat really came from. And whenever I saw blood on a plate from a steak, it wasn’t bloody, it was “juicy”. My father and I would fight over who got to suck the marrow out of lamb bones and I even ate fried fish eyes because I’m of Asian descent and this was cultural. I just didn’t think about what I was doing.