Confessions of a Former Meat Eater

This is the story of my childhood eating animals and why I stopped.

My parents brought home a Bedlington terrier for my sister and me on my second birthday. We named her Marshmallow Jellybeans Gumdrops Kirschner—a marriage of our favorite candy. We loved our dog as much as any person ever loved a dog, but we never made a connection between our family dog and the animals we ate. My mother taught me not to pull my dog’s tail or pet her eyes—my earliest memory of learning that animals have emotions and feel pain. Marshmallow died when I was 16. It would be years before I realized the importance of extending my respect and love for my dog Marshmallow to all animals.

My father worked in a Bronx, New York deli in the 1950s to pay for college. He carved animals with a knife for a living. Every Thanksgiving, family and friends would comment on how well he carved “the bird.” I grew up in a culture that took pride in eating animals and the art of serving them. Whether we marveled at the redness of the roast beef on rye or shared our pleasure over the tenderness of “white meat,” we ate animals often and without pause—chicken, steak, turkey, fish, bacon, hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, and cheese. I did not know any better. I thought I had to eat animals to survive.

My father frequently took me fishing as a child. A traditional American father-son activity, I cherished that time with my Dad. I wrote poems about how he untangled my fishing line and used it as a metaphor for how he untangled my life when I needed his advice. I yearned to see my bobber sink beneath the surface and to feel the tug of a fish at the end of my line. We reeled in and ate everything we could catch. I do not remember ever feeling sympathy for a fish. I killed animals for food. I thought nothing of it.

I loved my goldfish. I perched myself in front of his bowl and stared at him endlessly as he swam in circles. One day I came home from school and found him floating at the top of the bowl. I buried him in one of my Dad’s cigar boxes in the backyard. I missed him so much that I dug him up a few days later to say goodbye again. It is my earliest memory of feeling sad about the loss of an animal. It reminds me that I could show compassion for animals at a young age, but I did not extend it to all animals, likely due to a lack of exposure. I never recall interacting with a cow, chicken, or pig until adulthood. I wonder how much my decisions would have changed if I had visited a farm sanctuary as a child—one of the reasons I have been such a vocal supporter of them. After meeting turkeys for the first time, I could never imagine eating them.

I rarely ever saw the face of the animals I ate—no eyes, ears, or noses. I never thought about them. I saw slabs of unidentifiable meat. I cringed as I cut the veins out of chicken and felt disturbed by occasional blood splotches—a result of a weak stomach rather than compassion, though. I grew up in New York. We did not have any farms near us. As a child, I learned animals lived happy lives on outdoor family farms where they roamed freely. When they got older, they died a painless death. Finally, we ate them because we needed to eat them to survive. It sounded logical and humane. I thought nothing of it. I ate with confidence and without regret. I could not have been more wrong.

My earliest memory of any concern for the welfare of animals happened when my mother cooked lobsters on New Year’s Eve. I recall her anguish as she dropped live them in boiling water. She debated if she should lull them to sleep and let the water heat up or kill them instantly in hot water. I remember my mother dropping them in the pot and hearing a hissing sound. I could not watch the killing. It triggered a new response in me. I felt sad, but it did not translate into making any changes. My mother talked about how bad she felt, and then we ate them.

I became more health-conscious in my teens, or so I thought. I exercised regularly but succumbed to the protein myth, which meant eating chickens and fish. I thought those were my best options, so I ate them confidently and proudly. Ironically, I simultaneously volunteered for animal and environmental causes in my community. I reflect on those years with disbelief and shame that I spent so much time criticizing others for abusing dogs, whales, elephants, and other animals while simultaneously contributing to the pain and suffering of so many others.

In high school, I wrote a column for the community newspaper called Kirschner’s Korner. I frequently wrote about environmental issues, lobbying my school to abandon styrofoam cups, plastic, and chlorofluorocarbons, among other climate topics. In college, I worked for a nonprofit environmental lobby group in Washington, DC, primarily focused on preventing oil drilling. I helped plan Earth Day on the National Mall in 1990. I met River Phoenix at the event—one of my earliest inspirations as a climate advocate. A volunteer handed me a leaflet about factory farming at the event that forever changed my life—a reminder of how a small act can make a big difference. The decision to never eat animals again remains the best decision I have ever made. Never again.


15 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Meat Eater

  1. I feel the same way. I never made the connection about eating animals until my son became vegan 2 years ago and gave me the book Skinny Bitch for my birthday. I read it on a plane and when I landed 3 hours later I said I would never eat meat again! After reading the truth about the cruelty on factory farms, about the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture and all the steroids and antibiotics that are injected in the animals that cause people so many health problems, that did it for me! How can I know the truth and just look the other way! I could never eat another animal or any animal product for as long as I live!

    Everyday I learn more about animal cruelty and I suffer every time I see a video or pictures of them being tortured! I don’t know how some people knowing the truth behind eating meat and can still eat meat like it was nothing! I can not be around people eating meat or even talking about it! Some people even get offended when I say I’m vegan, when it should be the opposite! I am saving animals from cruelty! I am so happy that I am vegan! I feel good physically and mentally! It’s the best decision I have ever made! I just wish I would have done it sooner!

    Thank you Andrew, I wish I was a good with words like you are! Every time I read anything you write I say to myself, wow that’s exactly how I feel!!!

  2. We are all on a journey. I too wish the light had come on for me sooner, but my children are listening now. I have a grass roots group to avert an impending cull in my region and some members felt it was important to insist that other members consider vegetarianism, if not veganism. I insist that we can indeed use their help in any capacity that they are willing to give it; for the deer who desperately need a voice today. As for the others – they talk about how much they love animals, they work with some of us vegans, and no lecture is necessary. They will think more deeply soon. I can count on it.

    Thank you, Andrew, for being you and for inspiring others.

  3. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I’ve sent your post to my meaty friends, hopefully it will change the way they eat.
    I became a veggie at the age of 20. I had to pull apart a whole dead chicken as the oven had broken, so we needed to fry it up instead. I then saw it for what it really was, a dead animal. While eating the curry we had conjured up I saw the bits of veins that had survived the cooking process, this made me feel physically sick. Two nights later I had a nightmare where I was repeating that preparation process, except this time I was pulling my pet cat’s spine and ribcage off her body. I woke up crying and gave her cuddle and kiss. I told her I was sorry for being such a moron. I realised there should be no difference in importance between animals and the roles they play in our lives, that it is WRONG to label some animals as pets and others as food.
    A couple of years later I decided to focus my 3rd year dissertation on diet choice, as a result I discovered the book ‘Eating Animals’ by the legend that is Jonathan Safran Foer. That guy converted me and my boyfriend vegan. We’ve been at peace and felt free ever since; at peace with the animals we share this planet with, and free from all the lies we are subjected to by the greedy corporations who’s sole aim is to make money. The blinders are well and truly off…

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Amber. I highly recommend that book for the aspiring vegan. It’s a good starting point to learn about the factory farming industry. I appreciate your compassion for animals.

  4. What a wonderful example you place before us. I’ve been vegan over two years but stopped eating meat about ten years ago. My house rabbits have taught me much. My dilemma though are the house cats and the feral cats I care for. Cats are predators and eat other animals. I understand that. But, I need to buy cat food which is based on tortured killed animals. How do I justify this? Anyone with cats and dogs feeds animals that have been tortured and murdered for our food and theirs. Until we stop killing cows, pigs, chickens, fish etc for all consumption we will not be truly vegan. Your thoughts Andrew?
    Piper Provost

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