Thursday, January 17th, 2019

From Turkeys To Bestiality: One Street Corner Conversation

Published on November 23, 2011 by   ·   4 Comments Pin It

Just the other day, I was walking along a bustling stretch of Central Park West in the heart of NYC. The bleachers were already in place for the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade and I was reflecting on the holiday to come. I was walking at a brisk pace when I I cut into Central Park at 72nd to meet a friend at the boat pond. It was then that I had what by NYC standards was probably a fairly normal encounter. A man sitting at a bench said, “What are you smiling at..” as I passed.

I kept walking as any native New Yorker is apt to do. But I was taken aback because just moments before I was actually engaged in a very sad series of thoughts about the 46 million turkeys that I knew were being fattened in that moment for slaughter in the coming days. I was wrestling with my increasing disdain for the holiday’s inherent hypocrisy. And I had in fact just wiped away the tears that had been streaming down my cheeks.

So was I really smiling?? And if so, what could I possibly have been feeling positive about in that moment?

I stopped in my tracks and gave the man’s inquiry some thought. I had one of those ‘now or never’ moments, which informed the next choice I made.

I turned and walked back to the man on the bench who I will now refer to as ‘Park man.’

“You asked why I’m smiling and I’m happy to tell you if you’d really like to know, ‘ I said.

“Um…ok…,” He kinda squeaked out awkwardly.

Me: “I was thinking about Thanksgiving and all of the turkeys that will lose their lives in the coming days. I was feeling sad that these turkeys have nothing to be thankful for and that they wish to live as much as the rest of us do. In my despair about it, it occurred to me that at least one turkey has me to be thankful for… because I will not be eating him. He can be thankful for a choice I make everyday. This Thanksgiving I will be surrounded by great food and friends who make that same choice.

That is why I am smiling.”

He looked a bit uncomfortable and did what 99% of people do when you say something as simple as “I don’t eat animals.” He pointed at my shoes.

Park man: “Well now wait a minute…what’ s this…come on…”

Me: “Actually it’s fake leather – but even if it was real, I’m talking about just one of the choices I make each day- the one about not eating animals. If you are looking to find hypocrisy in me, you will surely find it- it’s in us all.”

I smiled and the comment that continued in my head was, ‘So we can talk about that, or stick with topic that made you uncomfortable enough to look for a way to dismiss the truth in my message.’

Park man: “Wow- you’re the real deal huh? So, maybe the turkeys should all run away then…”

Me: “I’m sure they would if they could, but they don’t have that option.”

There was a pause and he said, “I have some questions I’ve always wanted to ask a vegetarian* …now don’t get made though…”

*(I’m actually vegan but didn’t want to lose my audience on what to him would have seemed like a technicality)

Me: “I’m happy to answer your questions if you are genuinely curious…”

Park man: “Do you people eat vegetarian for health or because of animals?”

Me: “Well there really is no ‘you people.’ There is no ‘rule book’ or ‘secret society’ operating under the influence of some leader who dictates our actions.” It occurred to me in that moment that in many ways, that is in fact how the culture of eating meat operates – fueled by the influence of big business propaganda.

I also realized that one of the only generalizations one can likely make about vegans and vegetarians is that we have each typically given the topic a great deal of thought- the respective reasons people arrive at a choice not to eat animals differs as people differ.

I went on to offer, “I can however tell you what I do… why I don’t eat animals…”

Park man: “OK. Let’s hear it”

Me: “Well, while not eating animals is typically healthier overall, I don’t do it for health reasons. I do not need to take the life of another or participate in one’s suffering to live. So I don’t. It’s really as simple as that. I don’t believe in it and I don’t need to do it, so I choose not to.”

I smiled and Park man just kinda looked at me unsure what to say next…

Me: “Truth be told, I love junk food and am a scotch drinker. I even smoke the occasional cigar.”

Park man: “Yeah?! Me too. But it’s a tradition….Turkey Day….wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a turkey…”

Me: “Really?…That seems sad to me…for a family tradition to hinge entirely on a bird dying huh? With all due respect- seems to me there can’t be much more there if that is the critical ingredient needed to make a family come together and share a meal- or for a nation to stop and give thanks…”

Park man: “Well for me it’s really the wine and pumpkin pie I guess…”

Me: “I’m with you there… yum. I’m all about the stuffing”

Park man: “Can I ask you another question? You may think it’s weird…”

Me: “Well I’m here talking to a stranger, so my baseline is pretty weird to begin with…”

Park man: “What about bestiality….people who have sex with animals?”

Wow! I did not see that one coming! Yowser!

I suspect it was his attempt to shock me, perhaps in hopes I’d storm off like the bleeding heart activist he had me pegged to be. Perhaps it was another attempt to be able to dismiss me as reactive and crazy. That way the real message about suffering – the more painful one to really look at- could be swept under the rug and not put a damper on his status quo. Change is hard and people fight it at all costs. That’s nothing new.

So, in the spirit of inquiry and in my effort to model a rational, non-judgmental stance,

I stuck with my stride and did not even wince…

Me: “Not a weird question in context- as it relates to the treatment of animals. My thoughts on that are that it all has to do with consent right? I don’t believe in taking a life or using another being, human animals included, in a manner that they cannot, or would not, consent to. So that’s one of my guiding principles- it’s about consent. Make sense?”

Park man: “Yeah. I guess it does.”

Me: “Anyway- thanks for listening- at least you are thinking about it all which is more than most people- you have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Park man: “You too- happy… ‘Turkey Day’ I guess.”

Me: “Yes! It will be a happy day for at least one turkey.

I smiled, “I hope he spends it with friends and family.”

Dr. Pia Salk is a psychologist, animal welfare advocate, and expert on the human-animal bond. Pia frequently highlights the important role that animals play in our lives and how our societal treatment of animals conveys important messages to our youth. In her own work, Pia often credits the animals as being “the real therapists.”

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Readers Comments (4)

  1. lizzie says:

    whoa… no words to say here.

  2. Sonia says:

    Reading the title I wondered where the bestiality came into play…didn’t expect that one at all! Silly Park man.

    I wish I could be as brave as you. You are a true activist and a great role model. Thank you Chloe Jo-from me and all the animals you help each and everyday:D

  3. krissy says:

    You handled the new york moment like a champ. Everywhere you go there are crazy strangers trying to engage in conversation by saying something offensive or ridiculous and they are always are so surprised when someone responds.

  4. maureen says:

    Brilliant, well done! Now I’m smiling too;)

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