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Ford column: Veggie tales

A truck full of pigs turned me into a vegetarian.
Not right away. It took a few years.
But the sight of those live animals, stacked two and three deep in the back of a farm truck, hooves and snouts and tails going every which way, made an indelible imprint on my 10-year-old mind.
The farmer was taking them to slaughter, and my elementary school carpool had pulled up behind him at a stoplight.
Our driver was close to tears.
“Daddy would have never hauled pigs like that,” she said, as we stared at the silent swine 20 feet away. The only movement I saw was the blink of a pig eye.
I never ate another hotdog.
As a freshman in college, I bit into a chicken sandwich at a fast food restaurant. My teeth hit a rubbery mass and when I pulled away, something green and purple oozed out of the center of the patty.
Speechless, I shakily showed the girl behind the counter. She took one look and said, “Oh no, not again!”
I never ate another chicken.
I began to read about factory farming, where thousands of animals are raised in close confinement in conditions so bad that their owners would face felony charges if the animals were cats or dogs.
Does a pig feel less pain than a cat? Is a cow less deserving of a humane existence than a dog? I couldn’t see how.
I learned that feedlots and giant livestock farms are so dirty that animals require daily doses of antibiotics just to stay alive, antibiotics that end up in our steaks, filets and even bacon.
Growth hormones can turn them into freakish creatures, sometimes too huge to even support their own weight, hormones that end up in our meat and milk.
About a year later, I ate my last meat, a slice of pepperoni pizza.
It wasn’t a momentous occasion, just a typical Tuesday night in the college newspaper office, gorging on Domino’s at 3 a.m. so we could stay awake to get the paper out.
For whatever reason, I was done.
Done with pigs stacked three deep. Done with innards in a chicken sandwich. Done with the pain and misery that seemed requisite to providing me with a slab of flesh on my plate that wasn’t really all that good for me anyway.
It’s been 18 years, and while I don’t prepare meat at home, my family eats it at school or restaurants. This doesn’t bother me. I hope my kids will one day go veg, but that’s their decision.
I still cook standbys like tacos, sloppy joes, burgers and stroganoff, but I use meat substitutes like soy patties and crumbles found in the freezer section. This way, the kids get their favorite meals, but they’re healthier and cruelty-free.
Nellie’s favorite supper is still Thai tofu.
Some people think vegetarians are hypocrites because we wear leather shoes. But for me, wearing animal hide and consuming animal flesh are two different things.
I eat eggs and dairy, but I try to buy them locally produced. Organic Valley milk at grocery stores comes from a cooperative that includes Rowan County dairy farmers, and local eggs are getting easier to find. Although a friend says he’ll “never eat anything that comes out of a chicken’s butt.”
Katie Scarvey didn’t want me to read her column last week about eating meat because she thought I would think less of her.
Actually, it made me think even more of her.
Katie grew up on a farm and raised her own livestock. She’s been to a slaughterhouse. Shouldn’t we all know exactly what we are eating, whether plant or animal?
I’ve met people who didn’t want their kids to know that hamburgers are cows and nuggets are chickens. My kids have always known where meat comes from. When Henry was 6 or 7, he tasted steak and liked it.
“Grandpa, pass the cow,” he said.
Often, people want to eat less meat or better meat but they don’t know how.
The Bread Riot, Salisbury’s online natural foods co-op, has a page on its Web site (www.breadriot.org ) devoted to local farmers who raise livestock naturally, on grass and woodlands, with as few pesticides and antibiotics as possible, and no hormones.
These growers sell their meat at farms just outside Salisbury and area farmers markets. They love to talk, and each farmer has an e-mail address or phone number on the Web site.
Since 1991, I’m sure I’ve eaten meat accidentally. The vegetable soup that the waitress didn’t know had been made with chicken broth. The remnant of a hamburger on a utensil used to flip my veggie burger.
Once, I chose to eat meat.
I had spent more than an hour with an elderly couple from my church, interviewing them for a newsletter. They told me about their courtship and life together, their children and grandchildren, their heartaches and joys.
After the interview, the woman, 84, asked me to stay for lunch. She proudly removed a cloth covering the table, revealing a meal of potato chips, sweet tea and grapes.
And ham sandwiches.
I did the right thing.
nnn
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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