I had planned the Memorial Day weekend trip to Oklahoma for the big family reunion for several months, working out the logistics of taking my parents, who at 86 and 91, make travel challenging. Little did I know that the trip would coincide with my fervent conversion to animal activism. Various ideas that had floated around my mind for years about animals and meat- eating coalesced just a few weeks before the trip when I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer; that book explained that “speciesism,” i.e., favoring the human species to the cruel detriment of other species, is immoral, just as other self-serving and oppressive views, also ending in “ism,” are immoral.
One material way I expressed my epiphany was in donating to organizations and acquiring pamphlets and tee shirts. One had the message “Compassion Over Killing,” with a paw print. I began to consider the trip as an opportunity for activism. I was headed for a gathering of people who did not even consider questioning the culture of animal production for meat or of hunting. Some of my cousins had grown up on a farm and had raised “prize” animals for the FFA without any qualms about the animal’s destiny at auction. Maybe I should wear my tee shirt. I debated with myself at some length about wearing it on the plane and to the first night’s potluck dinner. When I dressed for the flight, I wore a silk shirt and tossed the tee shirt in the suitcase.
We gathered Saturday evening for dinner, which, according to tradition, included milling and chatting before dinner and a time for each family representative to update the group on the latest news. Amidst a lot of hugs and nice-to-see-yous I nailed my cousin Andy, who works for the Department of Agriculture, wanting to ask him if he had any experience with factory farms. He did. To him, some were okay and some were “pretty bad.” Then, changing the subject, he wanted to show me photos on his phone of two pigs that his son Luke had bought as part of an entrepreneurial project. He thought that it would show initiative and look good for college applications. I told him that pigs are smarter than dogs. He agreed, adding that they have lots of personality and loved to have their bellies scratched. I suggested that he keep them as pets and not sell them.
After dinner where every dish was laced with meat, we took turns standing to update the group. Hungry, I talked briefly about my husband and kids and, for myself, I stated that I had become very interested in animal rights, particularly opposing the cruelty of factory farming. Next to speak, sitting right beside me, was my cousin by marriage who focused, as mothers will, on her son, who plays soccer, football and… he hunts. She proceeded to graphically describe his prowess at shooting the squirrels and harmless trundling armadillos in his backyard, “right between the eyes.” At that point she did realize rather suddenly that I might have found her anecdotes offensive; I chuckled and said that the slaughterhouse anecdote was no doubt next.
The next day I wore my tee shirt. We reconvened for breakfast and for a repeat pot-luck at the cemetery where we met to put flowers on the graves. I appreciate my cousins. I have fond memories of things we did as kids; I remember their kindness at my brother’s funeral at that same cemetery, and I believe I will count on them to help me out when I show up there for my parents. But I think they can stand the challenge of a new idea without taking offense — or they might take offense. It’s an offensive world, especially for people with ideas outside of the mainstream like not treating animals like commodities. It turns out that a couple of cousins that last day did ask my about my vegetarianism because they were truly interested. Maybe my expression of concern for animals, either spoken or worn on my tee shirt, will be one little notion that, added with others, will someday make them question the practices of our culture towards other species