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Location: PDX, United States

Thursday, September 20, 2007


When I was four, my family moved from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. Regrettably, it has since become a suburb; even ten years ago it was impossible to get a salad for under $10 in one of the numerous restaurants that have sprung up in the town of Winslow.

In the mid ’70’s, Winslow was a tiny town with one traffic light. I loved the Scotch Broom Parade that went down the main street every year, and was really excited the year I got to be part of it, riding in the back of a truck filled with hay and throwing candy at the crowd. There was a little diner my family used to go to occasionally, The Lemon Tree, and I wanted to be a waitress there when I grew up.

The only other restaurant I remember was The Island House. My parents would go there for their anniversary, and it was on one of those anniversary dinners they got the call from my babysitter informing them that I had stuck a peanut up my nose and couldn’t get it out.

The Island House saved buckets of leftovers for our pigs, who always had the same names: Sausage, Bacon, Ham and a name I can’t remember. We got four pigs every year. They were cute when they were young and ran all over the garden, which took up an acre of the property. When they got older, and the garden no longer needed rotatilled, we moved them in to a much smaller pen. Retrospectively, this seems unfair; while they were small they had a ton of room to run around, and when they became bigger, we stuck them in a really confined space.

I didn’t think about this at all at the time. By the time they had been moved to the smaller pen, I hated them. They were much bigger than me, made a lot of noise, and were really intimidating.

I remember the slaughtering days as really exciting. We got to stay home from school and invite a friend over to watch. I have no memories of ever knowing I was eating our own pigs. It was something that if my parents talked about all, they did it when they were alone.

We moved back to Seattle when I was nine and our pigs, chickens, rabbits and horses were replaced by a series of Springer Spaniels, all of whom were named Sam.

I’ve dabbled with becoming a vegetarian for a month or week or day at a time off and on occasionally as adult, but I always come back to meat. I don’t eat a ton of it but sometimes I really love a medium rare steak and there is nothing like the combined smell of bacon and coffee in the morning.

When I was in Vietnam last winter, I had a couple of experiences that made me again question my animal consumption. The first was seeing the baskets of live puppies and rabbits for sale as dinner in the markets in Hanoi. From Hanoi, we headed out to Halong Bay to stay on an island for a couple of nights, and I began to seriously envy my vegetarian brother and mother. We weren’t able to order food, it was all served family style and we were divided into carnivore and vegetarian groups. Each lunch and dinner for the meat eating crowd included whole grilled frogs. Maybe if it had just been the legs it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I just couldn’t do it, and longed for the greasy vegetarian alternatives being served at the next table.

As soon as I returned to Portland, I dismissed my brief flirtation with becoming a vegetarian. I didn’t even think about it until a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Tillamook and visited a couple of cheese factories that won't stop haunting me and makes me question the orgin of everything that I eat.

The first was the Blue Heron, which I have recently learned is the state bird of Oregon. The Blue Heron has a petting farm of goats and visitors don’t actually go into the cheese factory, just a little store full of seasonal decorations, a deli, and a cheese tasting counter. I really enjoyed their smoked brie.

I headed to the Tillamook Cheese Factory next. I walked into the factory in a great mood that took a nose dive as soon as I started the tour. I was horrified that the workers were entirely visible to the public, that the glass wall that allowed us to observe the cheese making and packaging process put the people who worked in the factory on display, as if they were in a zoo. I was incredibly saddened to be confronted of the full reality that goes into cheese making. It requires the factory workers to spend the whole day on their feet doing monotonous tasks like placing blocks of cheese into slicing machines. I was so depressed by the time I left the factory that I couldn’t even eat the ice cream cone I bought on the way out.

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