Guest Post: From Factory Farm to Vegan, Angie Hammond’s Story

by JL Fields on July 16, 2010

It’s not just about the food, stupid.

To be clear, the “stupid” in this scenario is me. I am not sure if you have noticed but I don’t often say I am a vegan. I say I am a dietary vegan or that I am going vegan.  I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan for dietary reasons.  My car has leather seats, I wear leather sandals, and I know there is beeswax in some of my lip balm.  However, since going vegan in my diet, I am beginning to think much longer and harder about my consumerism.  I am addicted to lip balm and now spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what’s in it and considering if an animal may have been harmed for my silky, smooth lips.  I am a handbag fiend and I have only purchased one purse since going vegan and it is made of hemp. My new running shoes (Brooks) are vegan.  Hey, it’s a start.

I don’t yet fully commit to saying “I am a Vegan” because I know it is not accurate.  However, the more I learn about veganism the more I stumble upon disturbing facts that have a profound impact on me. Case in point:  one afternoon on Twitter someone I follow threw out a question to the Twitter universe. “Why are you vegan?”  I responded that I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan for dietary reasons. I asked her why she was a vegan. When she told me, I asked her to write a guest post for this blog. 

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Guest Post: Angie Hammond

I grew up in a small town in north Alabama. When I was nine years old my Dad bought a chicken and cattle farm. I know now that what we had was a chicken factory farm.

We had four chicken houses, each with approximately 20,000 chickens in each house. They aren’t small houses—they are about 500 feet long and look more like really long sheds. If you have seen Meet your Meat or Earthlings you will know what they look like. Also, as for the poultry section of these movies, I know from personal experience they are 100% accurate.

My job each day before school was to go through each of the chicken houses and pick up the dead ones. I put them in a bucket and then my Dad put the bodies into an incinerator to burn them.  The smell inside the chicken houses was terrible, the ammonia from the chicken’s urine was overpowering.  At least I could wear a mask and eventually leave, but the chicken’s had to live in it. I was also asked to kill any sick chickens I saw so they wouldn’t eat anymore food and cost my Dad money.  I refused to kill them, my Dad got upset, but I told him that he could make me pick up the dead ones, but there was no way I would kill any of them just because they were sick. He finally just said ok and left me alone.  I knew they were all going to die anyway, but at least it wasn’t going to be by my hand.  As soon as I turned 16 I got a job so that I wouldn’t have to work in the chicken houses anymore. My Dad said if I had a job that he wouldn’t make me work in them, so I got one as soon as possible.

As sad as this was I still ate meat because my parents told me I had to or I would get sick or I could possibly die. They convinced me to eat it and to just go along with what everyone else ate.  I tried not to think about it and basically just put it to the back of my mind. I still, however, had weird issues with meat, such as I didn’t like to eat any meat still on the bone, like chicken legs/wings or whole fish. That just looked too much like an animal for me to be able to eat it. I would mainly eat boneless chicken breasts, fish fillet, or hamburgers. These were processed enough so that I could ignore that I was eating an animal, even though I was.  Also I wouldn’t really wear leather, like leather jackets, and I only owned one pair of dress shoes that were leather.  It always just seemed strange to wear the skin of another animal and I didn’t want to spend the extra money to buy it anyway so most of my possessions were synthetic. 

 (Angie and Molly)

I also hated hunting and fishing all my life.  And living in the South these are very common activities. I would always be upset when one of my cousins would kill a deer and then bring over some meat to my family. I always thought even if we “had to” eat meat, why would someone want to personally go out and kill an animal. It never made sense to me.  Strangely enough my final push to be a vegetarian and eventually vegan was an argument with a hunter on Facebook.  More on that in a little bit.

In January 2009 I moved out of the South and to Boulder, Colorado.  I got a job after a month or so and one of my new coworkers was a vegetarian and she had been for about 15 years.  She was healthy, thin and had tons of energy. She had way more energy than me and she was 10 years older than me, I started to question my way of thinking regarding vegetarians. Maybe we really don’t need meat to be healthy.  She was probably the healthiest person I knew and it got me thinking. Over the next few months I talked to her about what she ate and I started doing some research on my own about vegetarianism and nutrition. And what I found out was that many of the nutrition “facts” I had been taught were not correct. I still didn’t go vegetarian, but the seeds had been planted and I began to reduce my meat intake.  I eventually left that job and went on to another one.  Still ate less meat, but not yet a vegetarian.

In March 2010, I posted a status update on Facebook that was anti-hunting.  One of my friends, who I actually graduated high school with, commented on it and this led to an argument.  After going back and forth for a while, he asked if I ate meat, which I did, and he said it was the same thing as hunting.  He was, of course, hoping I would agree that it was and then condone his hunting.  Instead it got me thinking, and I realized that eating meat was the same as hunting. How could I despise hunting so much and continue to eat meat? The answer was that I couldn’t.  That night I spoke to my husband about my feelings and about the argument on Facebook and, as an animal lover too, he and I decided to stop eating meat the very next day, March 13, 2010, my first day as a vegetarian. 

(Angie and Brian)

Luckily it was a Saturday, which is grocery shopping day, so we actually had no meat in the house to decide whether to eat, throw away, or donate. We just went shopping and bought lots of fresh veggies, rice, noodles, and a few other things and went on our way.  We looked up lots of recipes on the internet.  My husband is a fantastic cook so it was a relatively easy transition.  I didn’t even miss the meat at all.  I immediately felt better, like a weight had been lifted from my conscience.  I knew within a week, I could never go back.

Within a few weeks I started looking up more information on how animals are treated for milk and eggs to see if it was ok to still eat organic or free range products. What I found shocked me.  I found out that veal is made from dairy cow babies that are taken away from their mother so that humans can have the milk; I decided to stop drinking milk and eating cheese soon after. Then I found out that egg laying hens, even “free range” are kept in tiny cages and that the male chicks born are killed immediately at the plant before they are even 1 day old. I couldn’t support that and to be honest, I never really liked eggs and only ate them if they were in a cake or cookies, so I decided to give them up too. I thought that the best way for me to live would be as a vegan.  I want to cause the least possible harm to all living beings as I possibly can and being vegan is the best way for me to do that.

I don’t see veganism as a “diet” it is my lifestyle. Sure part of it involves what I eat, but it goes far beyond that.  Being a vegan means using no animal products in my life, as far as is possible.  I wear no leather, fur, wool, or silk. I also don’t use personal care products, like soap and lotion that are tested on animals or that contain animal products.  I am trying to live my life in a way to do the least harm possible. I am not perfect, none of us are. We can just try our best and that is what I am trying to do.

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Thank you, Angie, for sharing such an important story. I am in awe of you!  The name of this blog is “JL goes Vegan” for a reason. I’m “going” vegan; it is a process.  Stories like Angie’s push me further along in the process.

So, dear reader, why are you vegan? Or vegetarian? Or are you considering either?

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