Thursday morning greeted me with a dozen wild turkeys hiding in a quiet forest of rolling fog, a Thanksgiving scene of perfection. It was so silently peaceful, so naturally beautiful. You could actually hear the turkeys with their little gobble gobbles, stepping carefully through the trees. Like I often do when I see something pretty, I snapped a photo to share with 12,000 of my closest friends accompanied by this harmless (or so I thought) caption:
There’s like, 100 turkeys in there, but you just can’t see them. And I’m gonna eat ‘em all. Happy Thanksgiving!!
A few hours later my ever-protective mother, aka, The Mom Police (who also fearlessly took on the infamous Bullies of the Internet the Day My Instagram Blew Up) huffed at a comment from one of my followers. I don’t always read the comments or know they even exist because all those Insta notifications do negative wonders for my phone battery, and you know how I feel about that, so I was forced to disable them.
Here’s the comment:
joiabenson Gonna stop following. Friends not food
Well, that’s not so bad, right? Hey I get it, @joiabenson, you don’t eat turkey. You’re a vegetarian, or a vegan. I have a lot of friends who are both. Heck, my own Dad is a vegan, though less because of his beliefs on animal rights and 100% more for his personal health needs. But they haven’t kicked me out of their lives (yet) just because of my affinity for bacon every now and then.
It’s not the comment that concerned me. It was her in-depth explanation of why I was an asshole that caught my attention:
I started following @theotherforkintheroad because of these beautiful nature photos. They are amazing. But for me nature means all of the things in it, from the trees to the little bugs on the ground. I love nature so much, it’s my connection to a higher power. I can’t imagine killing something that I love, and decided to stop following because I can’t align philosophically with someone who would enjoy the beauty of nature yet want to destroy a life in it. A soul, in the form of a turkey is just doing his thing until some asshole comes and decides to kill it and eat it, ruining it’s chance to live it’s destiny. If you check out my feed I encourage people to reconnect to their love of all animals. We are all one – the life force in us all is the same but we get confused by looking at our outer shapes. If we look inside, we can see the light within us all 💗🙏🏻🐮🐔🐷✌🏼️
My first thought was, uh, where’s the turkey emoji? Step up your game, @joiabenson. My second thought was to encourage her to re-watch (or possibly watch for the first time *gasp*) The Lion King, and focus specifically on the part where Mufasa explains the Circle of Life:
Mufasa: “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.”
Simba: “But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”
Mufasa: “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”
It is possible to have complete respect for an animal and also eat it for dinner. At least that’s what Mufasa, Native Americans and I believe. I mean, who is @joiabenson to think she knows the destiny of all those turkeys? Maybe that IS their destiny, their purpose. I mean, remember Curly?? I WAS HIS MOTHER. And I still accepted his fate.
Regardless of your beliefs on meat eaters or religion or politics or whatever (you name it), her reaction is sort of the problem with America today: the immediate dismissal of those who are not exactly like us. We’ve closed our minds. We’ve built walls around ourselves, letting only those who match our idea of Good and Right inside our locked doors. And we’ve stopped listening. But boooooy do we judge, because obviously we know it all, and not only do we already know everything there is to know about everything, our beliefs are the right beliefs, dammit. And don’t you question me. Instead of trying to understand, instead of seeking knowledge or having a good ‘ole-fashioned discussion of viewpoints, it’s all, “Oh, you don’t think like I do? You’re dead to me.”
So I eat meat and @joiabenson doesn’t. I could be a pediatric brain surgeon, rescue old ladies from burning buildings, foster abandoned puppies, cure cancer, discover world peace. But none of that would matter. Because I also eat bacon and turkey sometimes. Defining the goodness of anyone, the worth of anyone based on a difference in opinion is tricky business. Yes, I said difference in opinion, @joiabenson, because no matter how strong your beliefs are, beliefs are still just thinly masked opinions. They are neither facts nor truths for all mankind.
Fact: Some people eat meat; some people don’t.
Opinion: All people who eat meat are terrible assholes; all people who don’t eat meat are perfect angels.
And seriously, was I really going to eat ‘em all? Maybe she envisioned me as this bucktoothed, Northwoods Wisconsinite decked out in blaze orange pointing a shotgun at our feathered friends, pecking them off one by one with a goofy grin on my face and a beer in my hand. Though honestly, even if that’s exactly who I was, I’d rather eat a turkey I shot myself than one who was born and raised in Jennie-O’s “farm fresh” factories.
But as much as I love blaze orange, I don’t hunt turkeys. I don’t shoot any animals. I actually rarely even eat meat. Does my comment made in jest make my nature pictures any less pretty? Does it mean I love nature any less? Does it make me the devil with a shotgun pointed at all the turkeys?
Back when Emily and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail, we were once sort of kidnapped by our B&B host and forced to eat at Burger King. It’s a really long, really weird story, one which I hope to retell later, but the important point for now is that Emily and I split a burger and our host got chicken.
In the right mindset, I would have consciously put a few things together, mainly that our host had just very recently moved to America from India and many faiths from India do not eat beef. I would have consciously decided not to eat a burger in front of our very gracious host. (I also would have consciously chosen to NOT eat at Burger King ever, regardless of any situation, however, I wasn’t given that choice.)
But I wasn’t in the right mindset. I was tired from hiking 20 miles a day for months, confused as to how the heck we ended up at Burger King and were forced to order something (and I do mean forced; it became more polite to order something than continue to refuse), when all we had been looking forward to for six solid days was a relaxing night in, eating cheese, drinking wine, playing cribbage and watching The Bachelorette, all from the comforts of an actual bed. For which, not to mention, we were currently paying. Time was a ticking.
I was horrified at the idea of wasting even one second studying BK’s disgusting menu, so realizing we were trapped, Emily and I quietly agreed the quickest way outta there was to split a plain burger. There could not have been less thought involved. Until he joined us at our table.
“Oh. You got a burger?”
I secretly glanced at Emily’s face, which said the same thing I was thinking: Uhhhhh, dude, you brought us to an eatery that literally has ‘burger’ in the name. You can’t be that surprised.
But instead of calling us assholes and kicking us out of his B&B, he ate his BK chicken while enlightening us to the ways of his world. He explained how he was Hindu and Hindus view the cow as their mother, and would you eat your mother? Well, shoot. No, of course not. Not if I believed the cow was my mother.
But I don’t believe that.
And yet we were still able to co-exist in peace, some of us eating chicken, some of us eating beef, both with different beliefs, yet sharing at least one thing in common, even if we didn’t know it: we were all assholes in @joiabenson’s book.