“Why are you vegetarian?”
I get this question all the time. Long after I became vegetarian, a memory from my childhood surfaced. It is a surprising story about Sundays on my grandfather’s farm. I know that my love of vegetable gardens comes from my dad and grandpa. Every year we plant a garden at my home. This past year, during the heat of August when the tomatoes were fresh off the vine, I wrote this short story at a Spiritual Women’s Writing Retreat. I share it to you below.
Some of my progressive pastor friends may think I am vegetarian because of the original commandment from God to Adam and Eve in the garden--“God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” Genesis 1:29. Much to people’s dismay, I wanted to marry someone who was vegetarian. At the time I was vegan, until I was introduced to paneer–indian cheese often served with spinach and an amazing blend of spices. Yum. I became vegetarian because my friend Adrienne shared with me health statistics of cancer rates among those eat meat and those who don’t. The vegans had the lowest rates of cancer, and so I gave up meat and dairy at that time. So that is why I became vegetarian. It’s because of my husband being Indian that I gave up being vegan…the paneer and ghee was just too delicious.
A better question is why I stayed vegetarian. As I learned how to prepare a vast repertoire of international vegetarian dishes, I craved less and less the dishes of my childhood. When I did crave them, the vegetarian market for protein substitutes worked well with traditional recipes. Then, when I met others who chose to be vegetarian for religious, health, or animal rights reasons, it just seemed to continue to be the right decision for me.
Yes, our kids are veggie too. I still believe it is a better health choice overall and I hope that our children are more compassionate and conscious of what they eat because of it.
Whether you eat your veggies or not, I hope you enjoy my short story below! Be warned, there is a surprising ending…
Silver Buttons, Pink Pigs, & Innocence Lost
by Rev. Tanya Sadagopan
The car didn’t seem to go fast enough down that country road lined east to west with corn taller than the station wagon my dad was driving. I did not like that corn—it was too high to see around. I was afraid that someone would steal me away if I wandered in between the corn-rows, so I stayed clear. Nose pressed up against the window, I watch for the corn to end and the farm-houses to begin. Sunday’s at Grandpa’s farm were the best! Grandpa lives on county road J. A funny name for a road, just a letter of the alphabet, but there is a K and L road too. I wonder if roads A, B, and C start in some other county. But I only care about county road J and how long it would take to get past this corn.
I know we are almost there when I see the chicken coop passing by, long and stinky, and grey. Every time I went in there I looked for chickens, but I never saw a one…only pigs, huddled around troughs sloughed full of flys and slop and grain. “Hogs” my dad called them, not pigs. I guess there used to be chickens in the chicken coop that laid eggs. My sisters told me they used to work for Grandpa grading eggs before he delivered them around the state in his refrigerated truck. As we passed the coop, I imagine the chickens laying eggs and my sisters picking them out from under cackling hens and using black permanent markers, grading them… “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”. I wish I could have graded eggs like my sisters. My dad says chicken poop stinks worse than hogs. It’s hard to imagine anything stinking worse than hogs.
At the end of the chicken coop was Grandpa’s house! We pull into the long driveway and around the back of the house between the back door and the big red and white barns. I jump out the car and run to meet my cousins—they are all older and mostly all boys. I have one cousin who is a girl younger than me, but she just acts like a baby all the time. So I play with the boys, in the barn, in the hay, and if I feel especially brave, I climb up the open ladder and watch my cousins jump from the barn window and swing on a rope squealing like a pig all the way down. Back and forth they’d swing like the pendulum on the old grandfather’s clock in the house, ticking away the time until the pot-roast was ready. I wanted to be brave and jump. I think I did once. But I do not jump today.
The boys are laughing and talking so loud we almost do not hear the bell ringing wildly as my uncle Jim hollars, “supper’s ready!” My cousin takes off out the window, soaring out high on the rope and lands proudly on the dirt. I have to ease my way down the ladder one rung at a time because I am too afraid to jump, my heart is racing as if I had jumped after all. I didn’t care if I was last, Grandpa didn’t say grace until we were all there anyway. We run in the driveway past the cement stand where we put the hand crank ice-cream maker every year on the 4th of July. The ice-cream maker isn’t there, but I taste the sweetness in my mouth as I run by nonetheless. The screen door slams behind me as I round grandma’s stove. The silver button catches my eye and I stop at the corner reaching my hand out to play with it. “What does this do?” I wonder as I push it down and watch as it springs back up. Up down up down up down up down, until grandma yells at me, “Tanya!” She has the coolest stove. It is silver and folds in half. I have never seen a stove fold in half before, but sure enough, her stove folds. It sticks out when she is cooking and folds down when she’s done. I love that button. Each Sunday I run in the house and press that button, trying to figure out what it does and how they could invent a folding stove in the first place.
All the aunts & uncles would stand around the smorgesboard of food we all brought from our own homes… my mom’s potato salad was a favorite. I hated it when she made macaroni salad. Grandpa says “grace”, a long prayer that I always pretend to listen to carefully while my cousin Tim makes google eyes at me across the way. Kids’ eat first! We fill our paper plates and eat quickly and then play under the table on the porch—card games, or jacks, or what ever grandma had in her game box while the grown ups sat on the davenport talking and laughing and telling their boring stories.
My dad poked his head in, “Wanna come with us to the barn?” “Sure” we all sing together jumping up and running back through the kitchen. I pass the little silver button and push it as I round the corner out the screen door. My two uncles and dad walk briskly beside us as they talk excitedly about hogs. “’Swanson’ will be by in an hour to pick it up”. I know they mean “Mr. Swanson”. They talk like that always forgetting to say Mr’s and Mrs’s and calling my dad “Smitty” when everyone knows perfectly well his name is Robert Smith. We walk past the red barn where we were jumping earlier and walk toward the smaller white barn just to the west.
As we round the corner and open the closed door of the white barn, I hear my uncle Tom say, “I betcha she’ll be 350 lbs or so.” We all huddle round a pig that is bigger and shorter than me.
“Yea, I reckon she’s a big one.” My dad says. The pig nuzzles the ground, grunting and walking about penned in by my uncles’ legs. It’s pink and hairy and only a little stinky. Pigs are clean animals, my dad always told me. This one didn’t look too bad. “Kinda’ cute,” I thought.
“Let’s take bets on her weight.” Says uncle Tom.
“365 I’d say,” pipes in uncle Jim.
“No, you’re foggetin’ about the pee, better take a few pounds off for the pee.” Uncle Tom seems to know what he is talking about.
“I’m bettin’ 345 lbs.” Uncle Tom makes his final guess.
I look around at my cousin Tim who is unusually quiet and he whispers to me, “Their gonna’ kill it.” “This should be interesting,” I think to myself. Uncle Tom takes a black gun out of his lower pocket and cocks the trigger. As the click rings in my ear, I am realizing what is going to happen, and I am stuck in that hot barn, caught beside my cousin Tim, too afraid to run off and be made fun of.
Uncle Tom lowers the gun and puts it right between her red eyes . Time seems to stand still. I do not want this to happen. I jump at the sound of the gun-shot and the pig shutters and then falls on its side. I watch stunned as the pee lets go and runs into a muddy yellow puddle in the middle of the swept dirt floor. I can’t move.
I do not see them drag her onto the scale, “345 lbs right on the money!” Uncle Tom exclaims and my dad and uncle Jim hand him their $5 bills. He tucks them into the top pocket of his overalls.
Tim and I walk silently back to the house, past the ice-cream maker stand, though the screen door that does not slam and I do not push the button as I pass. I do not sit on the floor with the kids to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. Instead I sit on the davenport and think about chickens.