Scene from a Restaurant

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Scene from a Restaurant

by

Phoenix Hocking

You’re going out to breakfast at your favorite restaurant. A waitress approaches your table, and the following conversation takes place:

Waitress: Hello, my name is Hope. May I take your order?

You: Good morning. I’d like some bacon to start.

Hope: Do you want two slices of dead pig, or four?

You: Excuse me?

Hope: Two slices of dead pig, or four? The pig spent his life in a steel prison so small he couldn’t even turn around. He had his testicles and tail cut off when he was just a day or two old. So, two or four?

You: That’s disgusting. Maybe I’ll just have a couple of eggs.

Hope: Eggs, one or two? And do you want the ones from the battery hen that had her wing caught in the wire cage she shared with three other hens, or the eggs from the hen with the deformed foot? They both had their beaks cut off as babies so they wouldn’t peck each other to death.

You: Um, maybe I’ll pass on the eggs. How about some coffee?

Hope: Black?

You: No, I’d like some cream please.

Hope: Sure, I’ll bring some breast milk of another species who had her baby taken away when he was just a few hours old so that her milk could be stolen.  Her baby ended up being locked in a crate and killed at just a few days old for veal.

You close the menu and grimace. Then,

You: Ick. I don’t want that either. But, I’m hungry. What CAN I eat that doesn’t involve someone being treated so harshly?

Hope: I’m glad you asked. How about a nice bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, with a touch of brown sugar and some fresh blueberries and salted almonds on top? We can throw on a splash of almond milk if you like.

You: That actually sounds pretty good. Toast?

Hope: We have some lovely Dave’s Killer Bread. It’s made with seeds and grains, and it toasts up nicely. Add some nice fresh strawberry jam and it’s perfect.

You: Wonderful. But, what about my coffee? I like cream in my coffee.

Hope: No problem. We carry So Delicious French Vanilla Coconut Milk coffee creamer. I think you’ll like it.

You: Thanks, Hope.

Hope: No, thank YOU. Because of your food choices today, you’ve made the world a little less cruel.

My Name Is Belle (a short story)

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My Name is Belle

by

Phoenix Hocking

My name is Belle, but my captors don’t know that. My mother whispered my name to me before I was taken away from her.

I was allowed to suckle just once, before I was grasped and muscled away from her. I cried for her, and I could hear her crying for me, but it did no good. I remembered the taste of her milk, though, and the stuff they gave me so that I would live was no comparison.

The first year, in the light of those that followed, wasn’t too bad. I was allowed to go outside sometimes, but mostly I was kept confined. I was near the door, though, and when the door opened, I caught a whiff of fresh air and felt the warmth of an occasional ray of sunshine on my backside.

Then came the day, about a year into my confinement, when my life changed completely. I was locked in a cage, (I later learned they called it a “rape rack”) and bound tightly so that I couldn’t move, while my captors did unspeakable things to me. It hurt. It hurt a lot, and I thought I might die. Perhaps it would have been better if I had.

A few months after that I began to feel things happening inside my belly. Rumblings, and moving, and kicking. One of the older girls whispered to me that I was pregnant. At first, I was overjoyed. A baby! I was going to have a baby!

When the time came for me to deliver, again I thought I would die. The baby came in the middle of the night, and I had him on the cold concrete floor. I was able to suckle him just once, before they muscled him away from me. I cried for him, and I could hear him crying for me, but it did no good.

As they dragged my baby away, I cried out his name to him: Meadow! Your name is Meadow!

And then, horror of horrors, they put some sort of machine on my breasts, and they stole the milk that was meant for my baby. Four times a day my captors did this, while I stayed inside the confined space, never leaving, eating what was put in front of me, urinating and defecating on myself until someone with a hose came to spray it away.

I was granted a couple of months respite, a time when my captors did not try to steal my milk any more. But then, I was led to the chamber of horrors once again, and more unspeakable things were done to me. And again I became pregnant. And again my baby was stolen from me, and the milk that was meant for my baby was taken.

Again.

And again.

And again.

For four years I lived thus. Each day I grew more and more sad, more and more angry. I began to act out, trying to kick my captors, or fight against the machine that sucked me dry. But all that did was earn me beatings and shouts.

I was tired. My breasts were sore and they were often infected. Pus would sometimes ooze from them, but that didn’t seem to matter to the beasts that help me captive.

I named all of my children before they were taken away. Meadow, Flower, Sunshine, Rain. Words I’d heard, but rarely experienced, words that evoked something in me. Something that spoke of a life beyond this one. I knew wherever it was, it had to be better.

Then one day, they came for me again, but this time they didn’t take me to the horror chamber. This time I was loaded into a truck with others like me, mothers who were too tired and too worn out to be any more good to those who kept us captive. We were shoved into a truck so that we had no room to move around. We were given no food or water, and the constant movement of the road beneath us made many of us ill. A few of us died, but as there was nowhere for them to go, the bodies stayed standing up, wedged between those still alive.

The stench when the truck stopped was overwhelming. Different beasts yelled and screamed at us, prodded us with sticks that hurt terribly. We were all so afraid, we cried and screamed to each other. None of us knew what was happening. We were terrified.

But me, I knew. I had a feeling. I had a feeling that whatever pain I’d suffered in the past five years was going to be nothing to what awaited me here, in this place, where the smell of blood stank the very air I breathed.

I was not resigned. No, I was not resigned to my fate at all. I tried to run, tried to fight, but I was too weak. I stumbled and fell, more than once, but each time I was beaten and and prodded with a stick that burned like fire. I fought. I fought as long as I could.

Ahead of me I saw other mothers like myself being hoisted into the air by their back legs, only to be shocked with something that made many of them limp and insensible. But not all. Not all were granted that blessing. Some struggled and fought until their bellies were ripped open, or their throats cut. It made me sick.

And then, it was my turn.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

I wish I could tell you that Belle’s story is unique, but it isn’t. The truth is that on factory dairy farms and slaughterhouses across this country, similar scenes are being played out thousands of times a day.

Female calves are kept to provide milk as they grow; male calves are usually sold for veal. The male calves are stuffed and chained into crates so small they cannot move. They are forced to stand in their own feces, fed a substandard diet in order to keep their flesh white and milky. They can be slaughtered from just a few days to a few months old, having spent their entire lives confined and miserable.

Cows are highly intelligent, social, often loving animals who enjoy scratches and pets and play. They feel emotions, such as happiness, pain, fear, terror, loneliness. They cry when their babies are taken away from them, just as a human mother would cry if you took her baby away when it was only a day old.

I understand. All of our lives we were told that “milk does a body good.” Unfortunately, that’s a lie. As it turns out, milk doesn’t ‘build strong bones.” In fact, it leaches calcium out of our bones and makes us more prone to diseases like osteoporosis.

And yet, thousands upon thousands of these sweet, gentle creatures are abused and tortured every single day in factory farms across this country. Long gone are the days of the small farmer who keeps a few cows for his own milk consumption and to sell a little to his neighbors. And if you think the myth of the “happy cow” is real, then I would invite you to watch any of the videos that are available on the internet.

We are a party to this horrific abuse every time we pour milk on our cereal in the morning, have ice cream in front of the television, or order extra cheese on our pizza.

There are alternatives. You can put almond milk on your cereal in the morning, vegan cheese on your pizza, and not one of God’s creatures has to die in order for you to stick a spoon into a pint of So Delicious Coconut Chocolate ice cream.

I know, this probably hasn’t been easy for you to read. Believe me, I turned my face away from the truth for a long time myself. But once you know, you can’t UN-know, and then it becomes a choice to continue to be a party to the abuse and slaughter of thousands of innocent creatures, or not.

I choose not.

Just Stop It.

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I’ve been trying to formulate in my mind just where the disconnect around food comes from. Now, as anyone who has struggled with food issues will tell you, your brain knows that if you eat that Snickers bar, extra poundage is going straight to your thighs, but somehow there’s a part of ourselves that refuses to believe it. Down the hatch. And then we wonder why we’re fat.

The same thing happens when we can ooh and aah over pictures of cute little piglets on the internet while eating a ham sandwich. We turn our eyes away from the television when the ad for the SPCA comes on that shows those poor animals, cold and scared and injured, and then get up to fix ourselves a plate of leftover turkey dinner. We can wince when we hear that male chicks hatched in a factory farm are ground up alive, while we put eggs in a pan and make ourselves an omelet. And somehow we can pour milk on our cereal in the morning and not hear the newborn calf bellowing for its mother as it is taken away from her. Somehow, we just don’t make the connection. We don’t seem to see that that piece of meat/poultry/fish on our plates isn’t just a piece of meat. It was once a living, breathing, sentient, conscious creature that had a face, a mother, a bowel movement.

Animals are just like us.  They feel emotions, discomfort, pain, boredom, loss.  They cry when their babies are taken away from them.  The get angry when locked in a crate for days, months at a time, with no outlet to do the things God has created them to do.  They feel sorrow and depression.  And they feel fear, they feel terror.  They feel hopelessness.

Obesity is an epidemic in this country, and we complain because the schools are trying to serve healthier meals. Meat/poultry/fish/dairy has been PROVEN to be detrimental to our health and health of our very planet, but God forbid that anyone should suggest that a plant-based diet is better for us, for our children, and for future generations. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes…all can be avoided/treated with a switch to a plant-based diet. But heaven’s no, we can’t do that. That’s too extreme. We can’t ask people to give up their steak, their hamburgers, their frittatas.

When are we going to wake up? Billions and billions of animals are killed every year in the most gruesome way imaginable. They live lives of torment every single moment they’re living, and we turn our heads and refuse to see. When we stand at the judgement seat of God, what are we going to say? “Oh, I knew it was going on, but I wanted milk on my cereal?” or “Oh, those things don’t really happen. Besides, I liked my cheeseburgers too much to give them up?”

A friend of mine once took offense when I tried to bring the truth to her attention. Basically she told me to educate myself. So I did. Rather than isolated incidents, cruelty is standard operating procedure. There are none so blind as those who will not see. And God help us, that seems to be most of us.

So, what can we do? It’s so simple. Just stop it. Stop eating meat/poultry/fish/eggs/dairy. Just stop it. There are alternatives that aren’t going to kill one of God’s creatures and will be better for you and the planet at the same time. Just stop it.

Educate yourself.  Watch the videos.  Read the literature.  Don’t turn a blind eye.

The season of Lent is right around the corner.  It’s the perfect opportunity to make the change.  Do it for yourself.  Do it for the planet.  Do it for the lives you’ll save.

Difficult subjects

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Today is Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015.  I have a writer’s critique group meeting this evening at a local restaurant.  The problem is, what I’m writing these days is definitely NOT dinner-time fare.

I have recently become a vegan.  I’m sixty-six years old, and for pretty much my whole life I’ve turned a blind eye to the realities of the piece of meat, or poultry, or fish, or dairy on my plate.  But once you know, you can’t NOT know.

The packages that appear on your supermarket shelves look so neat and tidy, don’t they?  They rarely bear much, if any, resemblance to the living, breathing creature it came from, and even if it does, we don’t think much about the life it lived before it came to the store.  We don’t want to know that it suffered before it died.  But 99.9% of the time, it did.

The realities are harsh.  Virtually ninety-nine percent of the meat, poultry, fish and dairy products that Americans consume come from factory farms, where conditions are more reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno than Old MacDonald’s Farm.

Chickens are being bred so that they produce more white meat, but this means that they are so deformed that they can’t even stand up.  They are kept in crates so small they can’t even flap their wings.  Once hatched, male chicks that are useless to the egg industry, are put through a meat grinder, alive.  Chickens that lay eggs are kept in tiny cages where they can’t move, and often become entangled in the wires.  As babies, their beaks are burned off, with no anesthesia.

Bacon.  Ah, we all just love bacon, don’t we?  More!  Give me more bacon!  Really?  Female pigs are kept in gestation crates that are so small they can’t even turn around.  At birth, their tails are cut off, and male pigs are castrated, all without anesthesia.  When a female pig gives birth, she is put into what is called a farrowing crate which is no bigger than a gestation crate.  Baby pigs are often crushed in their mother’s efforts to at least turn over to find a more comfortable position on a cold concrete floor.  At slaughter, many pigs are not stunned first, or the stunning is incomplete, and go through the process of gutting still conscious and struggling.

Milk.  It does a body good.  Nope, sorry.  Of all the atrocities in the industry, the dairy cow has one of the worst lives.  A dairy cow will only give milk after birth.  Therefore, they are impregnated once a year.  The calves are taken from the mother within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after birth and the mothers will often cry for them for weeks.  If the calf is female it is fed a diet of milk replacer untl it’s old enough to endure the horror of the “rape rack,” in which the cow is bred, sometimes by use of a bull (or many bulls), and sometimes by artificial insemination.  If the calf is male, it will probably be sold for veal.  A veal calf is locked into a tiny crate, not even big enough for it to turn around.  It is fed a substandard diet, and will be slaughtered at a few days to about a month old.

A friend once told me that the dairy processing center at which she works processes eight MILLION pounds of milk a day.  How many cows does it take to make eight million pounds of milk daily, just at one small processing plant in California?  How many, then, throughout the country?  They’re not all living on Old MacDonald’s farm.  How many calves, then, were stolen from their mothers so Americans can have milk on their breakfast cereal?  Dairy cows are milked sometimes as much as four times a day, creating a painful condiiton known as mastitis.  They are forced to stand on a cold, concrete floor for hours, hooked up to machines, so Americans can have extra cheese on their pizza.

Okay, so why am I venting this here, on this forum?  I belong to two writer’s critique groups.  One meets at a restaurant, and anything I might write about this topic is not exactly dinner-time fare.  The other, well, the last time I brought this topic up, it was not well received.

But, I cannot keep silent.  I became, literally overnight, a vegan.  Or at least, as much of a vegan as I can.  I have shoes that I’ve worn for years that are leather, and a car I just bought (before I became a vegan) with leather seats.  Not much I can do about that.  But I no longer purchase or consume anything that used to be, or was produced by, a living creature.

So why here?  Why now?  Because silence kills.  I understand.  Really, I do.  I didn’t really want to know all these things about where my food came from.  But once I knew, once I realized, i knew I couldn’t just keep my mouth shut.  The animals cannot speak, but I can hear their cries.  I hear their terror-filled voices on the way to slaughter.  I see the fear on their faces as they are prodded and hit and punched when they are being herded into cattle cars and tractor trailers on their way to slaughter.

So, I may not be able to bring a piece like this to either of my writer’s groups, but I will not be silenced.  I will not be quiet.  I will continue to share what I know, because I can’t do anything else.  I will add my drop to the bucket that says, “No more.  Enough is enough.”

I encourage you to educate yourself to the realities of the food industry.  Watch the videos, read the literature.  Educate yourself.  Then join me as I speak for those who have no voice.  I read recently that for every year I remain a vegan, I’ve saved the life of one-hundred animals.  So, yes, that drop in the bucket matters.  I can make a difference.   Together, we can make a difference.