Melissa 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.