Have I ever mentioned how much I love food? You may know this already since half of our posts are about cooking for dogs, and even making dishes that we can share together. Yes, I even had a business at one time, making “cook for your dog” mixes.
Yes, I. Love. Food.
You may also know that I grew up in the south. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and extra gravy with my gravy were my favorites! Oh, how I loved spaghetti with meat sauce and a nice steak. Having grown up in a rural area of Florida, my grandfather raised cows. And when I went with him everyday to feed them in tow with my cousins, we always wondered…who was going to be next? Who would be the next cow to disappear? Hopefully it wouldn’t be the one named after me, I thought. Yes, he named the cows after us, and when they “went away”, we got a little money, and then, well, I opened up the freezer one day to see a package of meat with a simple label. “Rachael”. And that was my first taste of reality. There was no way in the world I would have ever ate what was in that package. And although I had a steak from the store the next day, it seemed different to me. But I never forgot opening up that freezer. It just didn’t stop me as a child from doing what I was used to doing.
You may have already guessed that I do not eat meat. But what you may also not know is that I don’t judge you if you do. Just for me personally, as we share all of the ups and downs in our lives and our dog’s lives, I feel it is important, especially on the weekend edition of this blog, to let you know why we do some of what we do. We want to show you what drives our passions, what makes us who we are, and what has molded us into the persons we are. And for me, not eating meat did not happen overnight. But it did happen as my life’s path changed directions.
When I started 2 Traveling Dogs in 2011, it wasn’t for animal rescue. I wanted to show people, as we moved across the country, that moving with your pets was possible, and that there was no need to leave them behind. We wanted to show people it could be fun to travel with their pets, and we did that. But after seeing the popularity of the blog, and the interest people showed in my dogs, I realized that this website could not be “everything to everyone”. In my attempt to appeal to everyone, I was missing out on our true passion…animal rescue. All of a sudden, a platform was opened up to us to try and use our popularity to save animals, just like someone saved Brickle and Digby.
I was one of those persons who refused to look at animal shelters’ websites, or go into one. “Our of sight, out of mind”, I thought. But now, I was forced to comb thru picture after picture and post after post on Facebook of animals who needed help, and fast! I dedicated each morning to sharing an animal that had 24 hours or less to live in a shelter, and as I was doing that one day, I saw it. There were some farm animals that needed help too! Oh. No.
I already at this point had cut beef out of my diet…cows. How we dissociate what we are eating by calling its meat something else, I will never understand. I had done this for health reasons though, not for any other reason, not even because of seeing my name on a label of meat in the refrigerator all of those years ago. But now, this particular morning, I saw farm animals that needed help. Their plea for help was the same as the dog I had just shared to Facebook. Their face was the same too. Even the chickens on this post begged for recognition. What was I doing? How was I able to try and save one animal while eating another one for dinner?
It was in that moment, just like any other Tuesday, that I made up my mind. I was now giving up all meat. I was giving up my fried chicken. I was giving up my spaghetti with meat sauce. And well, I was pretty bummed about it. But unlike some, who try to give up things in stages, there was no stage for me. Because in life, I believe you either think something is wrong enough not to do it, or you don’t. And for me, I was done.
I expected when I told my husband that he was not going to be happy about this. We liked to cook out on the grill, we liked to try exotic foods and meats. But to my surprise, he told me he had been waiting for this decision. And if I wasn’t going to eat meat, well, he didn’t need it either. And that was that.
But. We still ate fish for years after that point. I mean, I had to be balanced and everything. I didn’t see any fish that needed rescuing, and so, I figured that they certainly didn’t have feelings. I wasn’t crazy like that, I told myself. And oh, I loved sushi. I really loved sushi. So we ate fish for years. Until. One. Day.
There we were in our little trailer by the water in Florida. Every morning, after we ate breakfast, the dogs and I would go outside to the seawall and look over. And every morning, fish would come up to the seawall and look up at us. The first few times, I thought maybe they were different fish. I mean seriously, they couldn’t possibly be greeting us every day, right? They didn’t want to see the dogs, and the dogs didn’t want to see them…right? Wrong. As I took notice, I saw their personalities, I saw their recognition of us. And I recognized that I was being selfish. Did I love to eat sushi so much that I would eat these fish? NO way! And that was the day. I told Boy Person…and he said he already had decided it for himself. And that was that.
Was it hard to change to this new way of eating? I will tell you that sometimes I smell fried chicken, and although it sure doesn’t smell bad, what I remember is the memories associated with it like family times. But I also remember those farm animals that day on Facebook who needed help, and I would have done anything to help them like many others. How could I do that, and then eat another for dinner? It wasn’t right for me. I couldn’t rationalize saving some to kill others. And although I would never, ever tell anyone how to eat, or guilt them into doing so, I feel the need to tell others why some make this decision. For me, it was the right one. And I feel better for it, emotionally and physically.
Do I still feed my dogs meat? I do. I do not believe in putting my human standards of right and wrong on them, and recognize the nutrition they need. But I do have an open mind to feeding them more ethically as I can afford, which is why we stress so much organic meats.
Animal rescue for me is what makes me whole. There are many times I put the needs of animals above my own to save them. It takes my time, my energy, my soul. And if I am going to devote all of that to recognizing them as living beings with distinct personalities and give them value, then I will value the other things I can eat.
Some may wonder if I think less of my Pappy for the cows and their untimely ends.
As a child, I saw my Pappy with tears in his eyes when that truck came to take them away. I listened to him tell me that in order to keep their tax status, they had to have cows and sell some of the meat to pay for those taxes. And I saw him cry about it. But never once did I see him eat any of that meat in the freezer. Now I know why.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person of 2 Traveling Dogs
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2 thoughts on “Why I Changed What I Was Eating When I Became An Animal Rescuer”
Oh my heart. You are so right, with the “all or nothing” mentality. I was a cigarette smoker for years, and there is no “weaning” from anything you put your mind to. It either IS or it ISN’T. I even went so far as to be Vegan while I lived in NY, but because I’m allergic to nuts and HATE beans, it almost killed me, I was so hungry, but I did it for two years!! Since then, I’ve lived as vegetarian as much as I can, but truth, I still struggle with eating seafood because I love it so much!! So this was very enlightening to me. My pappy was a fisherman, and I grew up on the freshest seafood on the planet, LOVED fishing and all that that entails, that’s not healthy either. And I grew up with aquariums, named all of our fish, so I need to re-think that as well. Thank you. I needed that. Love, Jackie :'(
You are so right. One day you just realize you’re eating what you spend hours a day trying to save- an animal, and you just stop. Thank you for all you do..