08 October 2012

Why I became a vegetarian

I’m one of those “sometimes I love animals more than people” people. If you agree with me, you also know that I’m stretching the truth by saying “sometimes.”

I can’t think of a single animal that I wouldn’t want to pet, squeeze or just enjoy being able to observe if I couldn’t get close enough to touch it. My story makes me think of nature versus nurture. I grew up in Alabama, spending my early years in the central part of the state and my adolescence in the southeast. It’s an interesting dichotomy of culture and a wonderful place to visit for a weekend. The sky is incredibly blue, the grass is vibrant green, the speed of life isn’t so breakneck, and the cows look happy to graze in fields that spread toward the horizon. Although farming there is reminiscent of the more compassionate animal husbandry of yesteryear, fried chicken, barbeque, steak and hamburgers are Southern cuisine staples. I spent my high school days having adults ask me if I would be attending Auburn or Alabama and wondering if they realized life existed outside the state line. I also brace myself to be asked questions such as, “Do you eat turkey for Thanksgiving?” whenever I go home (truth is, I was asked that question here in Pensacola, but we’re so close to the AL border that people consider us to be in “Lower Alabama” anyway.)

Let’s move on to nurture. I was raised by a mother who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and a father who grew up in Kansas and has cowboy roots. They bonded over a love of horses, travel and nature, and they made sure to pass that on to their children. I may have been raised in the South, but I have visited some of the most beautiful places in this country and outside of it because they believed in exposing me to what the world had to offer. I learned to be in awe in everything, from soaking in the expanses of the Grand Canyon to delighting in listening to the chirps of and spotting tiny pikas in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen my mother make shoebox nests for abandoned baby squirrels and go to the vet with our animals only to come back with an extra one that she adopted. I’ve been my dad’s accomplice in numerous turtle-in-the-road rescues, an action that has become automatic for me now. They even allowed me to have pet chickens and let some of the eggs hatch so I could see that innocent miracle unfold in front of my eyes.

I was 17, recently graduated from high school, and with my parents in Washington, D.C, when my “going veg moment” hit. I was marveling at the architecture when I noticed PETA flyers splattered around. I saw the question, “Does your food have a face?” and then locked eyes with the cow whose face was poking out between bars. Why had I never realized the absurdity of loving my pet chickens and yet eating other ones? I made a silent pact that I would no longer eat my friends, and I announced my decision to my parents the next day. That was in July 2001, and I never once wavered from that decision, regretted it, nor “missed” meat the way other people say they have or would. Pardon the pun, but going cold turkey worked for me. I also look forward to a day when I can step out my back door, call, “Here, chicky, chicky, chicky” and have a small flock run toward me for their daily petting. How did my parents react to the change, you wonder? My mom simply stated, “I’m not surprised. When you were young, you always ordered the Whopper Jr. ‘without the Whopper’ anyway. You just wanted the lettuce and tomato.”

Erin Fergus | Facebook
Pensacola, FL Erin works as an adjunct instructor in Human Performance at Pensacola State College and group fitness instructor and personal trainer at the YMCA. She holds a master’s in exercise science and is entering her final year of a master’s in journalism. She became a vegetarian in 2001 after viewing PETA demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and she has transitioned closer to veganism since 2008. Some of her previous work has been featured on livestrong.com. Her favorite activities include vegan cooking, going to the beach, playing piano and spending time with her Cocker Spaniel.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/locomotion