My Journey Through Cognitive Dissonance in Eating Animals
From the parents of Italian grocers, and the grandparents of grain, bean and potato farmers, I was born into a "food world”. Food was extremely important to my family; from how it was grown to how it was prepared to how it was served. I spent my years growing up in a suburb of Boston with my parents who were coming into their own ideas as newly immigrated to the United States from small villages in the southern outskirts of Rome, Italy. And I spent my summers in those small villages having an old-world Italian farm experience.
There was not a lot to entertain myself with in Italy, so I spent most of my days playing with the chickens, pigs and cows on the land. And, it wasn’t too long before I became aware that these summer playmates of mine were soon to be served as food. In the case of the pig, he was there one summer and gone the next, slaughtered and butchered for the yearly neighborhood meat. Soon a new pig arrived and the pattern continued. I remember asking my grandfather about the pig from one previous summer and his frank honesty about how the pig is killed for food. It was a normal part of life to watch chickens being killed, feathers removed, cleaned and cut into parts, later, served as dinner. I struggled eating the meat. But, it was not an option NOT to eat it. I spent many dinners, moving the meat around the plate and picking at it. Each day I walked across the street to the neighbor’s to get my bucket of fresh-squeezed raw cow milk. I couldn't bare the taste of this milk and for this alone, I counted the days until I would return home to America.
Other days, my grandfather would wheel in his corn, wheat grain and barrels of beans that I would clean from their pods and then loads of other vegetables from the neighbors were being dropped off and traded for goods we had grown. And I began to see, there was a natural flow here of cooperation, community and living fully off the land. It was beautiful in so many ways, yet, I started to become a quiet and introverted child on those summer visits. This farm life that I had been dropped into each summer, was tradition, a way of life that I was engaged in as part of a natural cycle. Farming of plants and animals was the perfect way to live in this time so why did it concern me? In retrospect, I believe I quieted because a set of contradictory values were beginning to develop within me and I was challenged to understand how they would coexist.
I was grateful for the rooster my grandfather had. He, of course was never killed, he could be counted on to be there every summer. He was a fascinating rooster who was very connected to my grandfather and announced his arrival to the household every evening upon his return from work! A whole welcoming routine and dinner began with the rooster’s announcement. I would reference this with curiosity as my years grew, noting how the male rooster was so protected and valued.
Back home in America, I was relieved for that there was distance between my afternoon friends and the food at the dinner table. We did not stop eating meat, but, my father began to learn butchery in his grocery stores and so the meat would come home in packages. Soon associations to my food being my friends was not being made within me anymore. And, this provided a comfortable emotional distance for me. My mother prepared classic homemade Italian meals made from scratch each night consisting of 3 courses, with at least one meat dish. It was important to her that we ate healthy meals so eating out was rare and buying already prepared foods was not part of our routine. Things like cereal, fluff, soda and packaged chips were never found in our cupboards. My mother was very attached to this homemaker position and felt it was her duty to provide in this way through food. And I felt very cared for in regards to our health.
So, of course, in this environment I was taught to cook at a very young age. I learned a lot from my mother and my grandmother who spent every other winter with us. Cooking from scratch, smells wafting through the home all day and consciously consuming healthier foods were a way of life for us. We canned tomatoes every September so we had fresh tomatoes for sauce all year long. Pig legs were often hanging in our basement to cure into Prosciutto. Homemade sausages were being mixed and stuffed into casings. Wine was made each year in October. I learned how to make homemade pasta’s and breads and sauces. We had a small garden in our yard each summer, and we would often head out to the fields for wild dandelion picking and the mountains for wild mushroom picking. We made fresh cheese. And my mother always had a recipe book out trying to learn new cooking techniques. She managed a nice balance from breaking away from the hard work of farm life by being able to consume some of the conveniences of our grocery store, like eggs and meat, and maintain the things she loved like preparing and growing fresh foods. Through all of this, I began to acquire a love and great reverence for many of our family foods and traditions. There seemed to be so much care in our meals and my care for animals early in life seemed to have gone “forgotten”. It served to protect me from the early years of confusion.
And so, as I moved into adulthood, I started to wonder and experiment with my only beliefs about food. I ate out more. I tried junk foods, some for the first times in my life. I started to see how fewer people were able to take that wonderful balance in farm life that my ancestors created and I was aware that animal agriculture changed. I became interested in natural healing with foods. I began to notice in myself, the things I wanted to take from my lineage and the new traditions in food I wanted to make. There was new information being learned in the world about how certain diets and nutrition effected the body. I wasn't always clear on how to to honor my family traditions and reverence for very specific foods and the new knowledge I was gaining about foods and the possible threats to our health systems and where these would sometimes contradict. So I began to poke around in my own kitchen to preserve these recipes by assuring that same original taste, while updating them to include even healthier options. I felt that if I could make this happen, it would be a win win. I had not yet begun to reconsider the choice not to eat meat as an adult.
Like my mother, food became especially important to me once I had children. I wanted to pass on my family’s food traditions while keeping my children’s immune systems healthy and growing in the most protected way. And soon, distant memories began to awaken in me. I became very connected to my distaste of milk and stopped consuming milk. Each time I tasted it, I felt that I was ingesting a cellular memory of my childhood repulsion. I chose not to feed my children dairy and their early solids did not contain meat. I recall my parents thought I was not well for denying them “real” ice cream. My first child hated it when they first shared their joy with him, but, over time, like me, I saw that the familial strong influences took over his instincts as well.
When food allergies became a concern in our home, I began to look at food more carefully and explore the causes of allergies, immunity and even psychology on our health. I was curious about what made certain people sensitive to foods and not others. Gluten and Dairy were foods that were taken away completely. And now, it seemed that curiosity began to create circumstance for my cognitive dissonance to ascend at a faster pace.
I was suddenly excited that my new mom friends were vegan and something new sparked inside of me. As a passionate cook, I began to try out and take pride in my ability to veganize the comforts of my Italian food roots. Then one day, I recall serving my son a steak when he was 4, which was becoming a weekly event as I had bought into the council that steak once a week would provide sufficient iron. On this day, dinner was served, dished were done, and I was helping him out in his bath. I noticed he was chewing something, and I asked him what it was. He said it was the steak. He couldn’t get it down, and he quietly just sat with it in his mouth. He was too scared to say anything, and suddenly I remembered myself in those moments over and over in my life as a child. My awareness into why I consumed meat began to come back into my consciousness that evening.
It was not until I opened The Rabbit Hole Cafe in 2012, where I allowed myself to become consciously curious about animal agriculture and what my true beliefs were. When we opened, we served some meats that were organic and all natural. But the conversations began about our mission and who we were and why we were serving meat at all. And something big began happening to me, I was becoming so sick by the smell of eggs and tuna being prepared in my cafe and the memories of those repulsions lying in childhood began flooding back. The memories of playing with the chickens and pigs and hating the cow milk, it was all there for me to look at and become a conscious adult about my choices.
At the cafe, we screened the film Cowspiracy, and we knew from then on, that we wanted to be on the side of the conversation of becoming more curious about the meat industry, how it had grown and how it was effecting our health and environment in negative ways. We changed our business and became a vegetarian cafe with mostly vegan menu items. I became inspired to take the experiences I had around food as a child and allow them to guide me in my style but not define me anymore. I challenged myself to make anything I loved and veganize it without sacrificing comforting flavors.
And so, Rabbit Hole Foods began, and my journey toward animal advocacy, environmental protection, veganism to protect from disease and preparing food in the high vibration of love. Providing healthy options to a greater market so that others who may have had a long journey towards this transition like me, could find options that they were familiar with and would be satisfied with in terms of health and taste is something that keeps me excited on this journey.