Birds, Lamb, Produce and Compassion

A true story about a bird I loved, lamb and produce.


I am remembering a dear cockatiel named “Babe” sat on me or beside me on any available perch she could find, most evenings when I wrote or cooked. She had a habit of trying to remove my glasses and earrings when she landed on my shoulder, much like another dear bird, Minky, a lorikeet in the photo. Before I had my two children, birds were part of my family, and Babe was the baby of the family. One festive holiday when she was about 2 years old, I attempted to cook Cornish Hens. When I thought they ought to be about done, I took them out of the oven and set them on the table. Each of the hens was not much larger than Babe was. I looked over at her where she sat on the back of a wooden chair, and she looked at me. She fluffed her feathers and cocked her head. All at once I knew eating birds was finished for me. It was over 30 years ago. Some call it compassion. I had a deeply emotional reaction that couldn’t be undone.


Paul McCartney tells a story in his new promotion of vegetarian diet for once a week, about lambs. He is working on “Meatless Monday” for school children, to promote reduction in meat eating and variety in the diet. For him, becoming vegetarian was a change he made after watching lambs run around in a field on a day when he was eating, yes, leg of lamb. 30 years ago he changed and has been vegetarian ever since. If you have ever caught yourself eating a relative of an animal you adore at the same precise moment, you’ll know what he means. Unsettling for sure. 


Walking home around Union Square on Farmers Market days, I feast my eyes on beauties like these radishes, garlic, peaches and plums among other lovely herbs, fruits and vegetables. I can’t count the number of times friends and relatives have felt sorry for me when I turn down a meat dish. People ask, “I’m so sorry, what do you eat?” When I was young, I would be obnoxious and say, “Everything but cows, lambs, pigs, birds and fish.” Giving up meat rules out 5 kinds of things, but the varieties of fruits and vegetables and grains seems endless, and wonderful.

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In the fictional story “Rain Dream” in my short story collection “Death and the Dream” a young scientist examines a tank full of lobsters in a restaurant, while drinking and waiting for her meal. Compassion, yes, and maybe even an obsessive attention. If you have a look, let me know what you think.

Have you ever felt your stomach turn, while eating in front of animals?

7 responses to “Birds, Lamb, Produce and Compassion”

  1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for the post. I think we often believe we are a nation of animal lovers, but really we’re cat and dog lovers. If we really loved all animals, we wouldn’t let the horrors of factory farms exist, either through our own demand or our laws protecting them.

    Linda McCartney’s vegetarian cookbook was one of the first in my collection when I stopped eating meat so many years ago. I’ve never felt deprived. I like what he says in the video. Going meatless might not be for everyone, but certainly people could cut back even for a day. I was at the shore looking for vegetarian fare among the seafood shacks and got some strange looks I’m not used to getting!


  2. Your post really makes one think. I’m an avid lover and my pets are totally spoiled. I was a vegetarian for four years and never been happier. Although I don’t eat a lot of meat, what meat I eat is too much. I’ll be turning back the clock. Thanks for your post and your reminder.


  3. Sharing a comment from pianist Wayne McEvilly:
    “Ah Jennifer!
    My admiration for your writing is boundless. This morning I thumbnail typed a comment on this post in my blackberry, I was rather infatuated with it in fact, since it was one of those early morning effusions that come unfettered with the mechanics of intellectual mentation-the reading of this post was mixed with my various ruminations on your capacities to balance and be expressive over a wide range of subjects, and to accomplish so much in a life spread over a variety of duties, calling you forth into the world as a scientist, then back into the world of the dream, and now another advocacy platform statement on the politically charged subject of vegetarianism. I resonate in harmony with your story here, for the, to me, obvious fact of the mystery of the sacred in all living sentient beings does not allow me to comprehend how most of the rest of humanity are happy being carnivores.
    Ah well, a poem comes to mind from a writer whose name escapes me now:
    which I paraphrase:
    \”I heard this morning singing birds sweet-
    sold in the shops for the people to eat-
    sold in the shops of Stupidity Street\”
    Your presence in my consciousness has been a boost for my own return the the novel long since dormant-it lies within like a gestating creature and although there are thousands of pages of manuscript I see now that \”readiness is all\” is true of all things, and that the moment has come when that readiness is mine.
    You have contributed to that process, for which I offer heartfelt thanks.

    Thanks Wayne!


  4. I am glad to have grown up with pets, and it contributes toward my tenderness towards animals and outrage at any kinds of abuse. There are so many reasons to cut down or cut out meat in ones diet: not necessary for nutrition, animals mistreated, meat related disease and viruses, added hormones, low preparation standards, and yours adds the oft overlooked great reason that you can still by all means have a rich and varied diet without meat in it, and as a non meat eater by medical necessity I can attest to the deliciousness of such a lifestyle. Thanks for this great heartwarming and positive post 🙂


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