Vegan Conversion Narrative: Melissa Tedrowe

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Vegan Conversion Narrative: Melissa Tedrowe

By Melissa Tedrowe as posted on James McWilliams
November 2012

vegan conversion vegan texasMelissa Tedrowe teaches in the writing program at the University of Denver.

One Sunday Morning in the Kitchen: A Vegan Turning Point

Before I went vegan, chicken was my meat of choice. Personal health was the motivation—I’d subscribed to the popular notion that eating chicken was the cleanest, healthiest way to get a little extra protein a couple times a week. I didn’t connect emotionally with chickens, nor did I give a thought to how they lived or died. Chicken equaled poultry: a food item, an ingredient. End of story.

But people continue to evolve and sometimes the path breaks open.

Ten years ago I was newly married and following a weekly dining routine: My husband and I cooked one tofu dish and one chicken dish each week, eating the leftovers most evenings and treating ourselves to one dinner out. We prided ourselves on being health- and eco-conscious, so the chicken we purchased always came from Whole Foods. It was expensive but worth it on many levels, we told ourselves.

One particular Sunday morning I took on a new challenge for our weekly chicken dish, a whole bird roasted with a side of potatoes and vegetables. It was my first time cooking a “whole” chicken, and I opened the white packaging carefully. With the paper flattened, I beheld a small pale carcass resting quietly in the middle.

What happened next took me completely by surprise.

For a few seconds I couldn’t take my eyes from the counter; soon I was crying so hard I nearly choked. My husband came running downstairs to find me bent over the chicken, bracing my hands on each side of it while I sobbed. What is it? he asked, assuming I’d received terrible news. For several minutes I couldn’t answer; then all I could mouth was the chicken. It took me a good twenty minutes to calm down.

For the rest of the day, I did not cook that chicken. I turned my attention to other things, and wondered if I was going crazy. Whatever the answer, I understood on some level that a permanent shift had taken place, that my world as I knew it was over.

In the years since, I have worked to understand what happened that Sunday morning. I have come to believe that while my grief was sudden, its approach was not; I believe that everything in my life up to that moment led me to reconnect with my own innate compassion, a compassion that knows no bounds. Some of you reading this will laugh and others will nod your heads, but I’m convinced that, triggered by the sight of a “whole” carcass, I connected with the spirit of the being who once inhabited it and my heart broke open wide. Now I know that I wasn’t going crazy. I was finding my way home.

As part of this journey I’ve since added an intellectual dimension to the emotional and spiritual aspects of my veganism; there are tangible, material reasons I was hit so hard that watershed morning, as even a cursory look into chicken farming will tell you. All animals suffer at human hands but none on a more massive and horrific scale than the animals who become “poultry.” Today I eat none of them and none of their eggs—nor do I consume or wear products made from any other animal. I am vegan for life, all because of one tiny chicken whom I never will meet. At every meal, I bless her with thanks.