America, We Can Do Better Than This
This weekend, I attended my fourth craft fair of the year at a small farm in Northern Connecticut. I enjoy craft fairs, for the most part, and did well at the other three, so I had high hopes for this one. On Saturday morning bright and early, I loaded up my car, put on my “Road Songs” playlist, and drove the half-hour to the farm.
(The farm, as I’d found out a day prior, was a family-run dairy farm with their own creamery. Needless to say, I was already having second thoughts.)
Usually at craft fairs, you have no say in which spot you’re assigned and are shown to your booth upon arrival, as was the case with this event. I dragged my heavy cart, which contained three boxes of books, a table, chair, tent, weights, and lunchbox, across the grassy terrain, struggling to keep up with the attendant, until we reached the location of my booth. He left me to survey my surroundings, and when I did, my heart sunk.
Directly across from me was a truck selling Caribbean food with two large flags swaying in the gentle breeze: one promoting fried Oreos, and the other pulled pork. Flanking the truck on both sides were half a dozen or so more food vendors: loaded baked potatoes and fries, fried dough, churros, cannolis, and hot dogs, and just around the corner, corndogs and smoked bacon.
Somehow, as if by some cruel joke, the vegan had ended up surrounded by meat and animal byproducts, and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t change my spot. I couldn’t block it out. I couldn’t even vent to my neighboring vendors because they clearly didn’t share my feelings of disgust and apprehension. One of them was already snacking on cheese fries—at 9:30 in the morning!
A wave of panic overcame me but I forced myself to remain calm. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe I could stick it out, mind over matter, power through the pain. (Spoiler: I couldn’t.)
The smell of deep-fried dead animals was what bothered me initially. Even my brother cooking an egg irritates my nose nowadays—and this scent was a lot more intense than a couple of over-easy eggs. Then, as crowds of shoppers began to amass, the dialogue about food started, and that was what ultimately did me in. I took notes on my phone so I could remember some of the more problematic things I overheard.
“Have you had the pulled pork? It’s to die for.”
Quite literally, as you can’t make pulled pork without first slaughtering a pig.
“Smoked bacon candy. Not much could be better than that.”
Yes, what could possibly be better than imprisoning, mutilating, torturing, and gassing to death a six-month-old pig (the typical age of slaughter for pigs) for two minutes of sensory pleasure?
The event coordinator said to me, “I’d hate to be in your spot,” and I thought finally, someone understands! . . . until he continued, “If I had to sit here and smell all this food all day, I’d gain twenty pounds!”
I’m not sure what it is about fried flesh and coagulated cow secretions that so many people find so aromatic and appealing. If you know, please enlighten me in the comments!
Two hours in, I was finding this whole ordeal incredibly overwhelming—and also sad. To see hundreds, if not thousands, of people having no care for the animals, the environment, and their bodies was more disheartening than I could have ever imagined. Most didn’t look very happy or healthy either, as is often the case after years of eating the Western Diet. It struck me then: this is America. This exploitation and slaughter of innocent animals and disconnected, robotic-like consumption of unhealthy, unethical foods is not just socially acceptable in my country; it’s normal. It’s expected. It’s even protected—and why? So people can wolf down a hot dog at a craft fair? Grill up butchered animal parts for a barbecue? Add cow’s milk to their morning coffee? If humans don’t need to eat meat, dairy, and eggs and there are plenty of delicious vegan alternatives available to most, then why do we continue to treat animals in this barbaric way?
Two hours in was also when I reached my breaking point. I excused myself to the bathroom and called my mom, on the verge of tears. As I was speaking to her, I turned around, and lying in the grass behind me, confined inside a wooden fence, were two beautiful cows. I was struck by the juxtaposition of these amazing sentient beings living and breathing within feet of hamburgers and beef sausages. The tears came, and I realized then how much this—veganism, animal rights—means to me. I realized then that I want to do something more than simply eliminate animal products from my diet to save the animals we ruthlessly and needlessly murder. I’m not sure what that something is yet, but I know I can’t just sit back and be okay with the status quo anymore. That’s not how change happens. That’s not how the oppressed become free.
It’s easy to judge people for the choices they make. I’m guilty of this. Most of us are. Yet, not everyone knows what goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms and on the bloody floors of slaughterhouses. And even those who do don’t always know how to make smarter and kinder food choices when they’ve been eating a certain way for their entire lives. There have to be strategies for reaching people; for educating them on the horrors of the animal agriculture industry; for showing them that vegan food can be easy, accessible, and taste amazing too; for teaching them that just because we’ve been doing something for centuries and it’s ingrained in our culture doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the right way.
This craft fair was a real turning point for me. It made it clear how, in a mere three months of being vegan, the issue of animal rights has become so near and dear to me. Right now, as I’m grappling for answers to all these questions I have, the only thing I can really say is: America, we can do better than this. Every day is a new day to choose health over sickness, perseveration over destruction, kindness over cruelty, life over death.