A Letter to My Former Self

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Dear Rachel,

In 1995, you were three. You loved the zoo. You loved the aquarium. You loved the petting zoo the most. What kid wouldn’t? The pigs, the goats, the sheep, the stingrays. They’re all so cute! The pigs are three times the size of you. The sheep are soft. The stingrays are smooth. The goats have horns and chew funny. Animals are awesome. When it’s time to leave the petting zoo, it’s obvious how disappointing it is for you. But your parents take you out for dinner afterwards or we will all go home and order Chinese food. Your favorite dish – beef and broccoli.

In 1997, you were five. Upon watching the heart warming movie Air Bud, you promptly cried and made your way to your parents room sobbing. That little boy from the movie loved his dog so much! And you had so much love in your tiny heart, you felt you couldn’t bear the weight of it and needed a pet to love. Having generous parents, you were at the pet store picking out fish the very next day. When one fish went “missing” (found a hole in the treasure chest and snuggled up inside it for hours at a time), you were frantic. Those fish were precious to you. What else is precious to you? Quality time with family at your favorite restaurant, JD’s. Your favorite dish – 21 fried shrimp.

Later in 1997, you were in kindergarten. Your sister convinced your mom to get a cat. Paws was her name. We all loved Paws. What else did we love? McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

In 1998, you were in first grade. On a trip to the zoo with your schoolmates you fell in love with one of the chickens at the petting zoo. You remember the one! Red feathers, liked to be hugged. You didn’t want to share her with your fellow class mates. Your mom snapped a few photos. You had the biggest grin on your face. What else made you smile like that? Going to Bunny’s cafe with your dad and ordering chicken¬† “fingers” for lunch.

In 1999, you were seven years old. You and your friends find something amazing right in your own backyard (literally). A creek! How have we never noticed this creek before? So many amazing animals live in this creek! Some scary ones, like alligators and HUGE snakes. But some you just can’t take your eyes off of, like turtles and huge frogs. The best though, by far, were the three otters who lived there. One time you even got to feed them by hand.

Whilst walking a nature trail with your class on another field trip, your mom found a birds egg that had fallen on the ground completely unharmed. You couldn’t believe your luck! What a precious find- a baby bird could be inside. Then another girl in your class walked up to you and smashed the egg in your hand. Your little heart completely broke for the baby bird (you didn’t know at the time that the bird was most likely dead already).

In the year 2000, you were eight. You loved to play outside. While walking home one day from your friends house down the street, you find a cat attacking a bird in the road. You chased away the cat and picked up the bird and brought it home. Sadly, the bird died. Your little heart broke again. It wasn’t all bad times though. Your family eats breakfast for dinner all of the time. Bacon, sausage, pancakes, and scrambled eggs.

In 2002, you were in fifth grade. Your fifth grade class took a field trip to the beach to study different oceanic life. In the water you could see some sort of animal, opening and closing it’s “mouth” or whatever it was. You were fascinated by it. You must’ve stared out at it for fifteen minutes or so. Then a little boy from your class threw a rock at it and presumably killed it. Your little heart broke again, and you shoved that boy into the sand in a rage. Poor unidentified creature, how could that little boy be so cruel?! You eventually forgave that boy, and you all went to buddy’s buffet on another field trip and you ate your weight in pork fried rice and baby back ribs.

In 2003, you moved to a new city.The first week of living there, a new person in your life made you dinner of lamb chops. You turned to your mom and said “mom, lamb? As in ‘Mary had a little’?”. You ate maybe one bite, disgusted at the idea that someone would eat one of your animal friends. Why couldn’t they have made a dinner of chicken for you, like a normal person?

That same year you received a bunny from a pet store as a present. His name was Oreo. You loved Oreo. You also got to take care of other animals that you or your stepdad found. Mockingbirds, wild bunnies, a baby squirrel, baby geese, stray cats and dogs. Your favorite –¬† a baby hog. Your stepdad left him on the back porch for you. You named him Snuggles. He was covered in ticks, but you loved him. He wasn’t yours for long. I don’t remember exactly what happened to him, but I think he became the dinner of a worker on the farm. Which left a sadness in you that I think sparked something that later ignited in 2013. But alas, you moved on with your life. You hung out with friends, you read lots of books, and you ate a lot of sausage soup at Olive Garden.

In 2006, you moved back to where you grew up and started high school. You had a friend who told you about how KFC treats their chickens like garbage, throws them on the ground, kicks them, punches them. Outraged, you told everyone at school to boycott KFC. Not even a week later you were at KFC eating a chicken, cheese, and mashed potato bowl.

That same year you purchased a dog from a breeder, not knowing where it came from. The truth behind that is still a mystery, but it’s likely your beloved pet came from a mother who was forcefully impregnated until she “expired”. The sad truth of getting the “perfect” breed of dog that no one ever told you.

in 2007, a girl in your speech class was a vegetarian. When she did her informative speech regarding the different kinds of diets and how to go vegan, you rolled your eyes and reminded yourself of the USDA’s food pyramid you’d learned just the year before. You reminded yourself what your parents had told you, verbatim – “We have dominion.”¬† You excused yourself once again from the feelings of empathy that you felt creeping up your neck, tucking them away in a drawer in your heart and covering your eyes with apathy that you had come to know so well.

In 2008, after two years of a diet mainly consisting of fast food and sometimes eating TWO pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream per day, you ballooned up to 146 pounds. You were tormented by people in school, one guy pointed at the stretch marks on your legs, and one guy flat out told you that you should get liposuction. You turned to bulimia, which didn’t work fast enough, and then to anorexia. After landing at 109 pounds by eating mainly McDonald’s hash browns and Arizona iced tea as sustenance for six months, you realized you had a problem. A problem you didn’t really overcome until you learned the true value of health almost four years later.

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In 2009 you were still struggling with your eating disorder, and meanwhile you judged a girl you knew in high school for being pescatarian. Or rather, you judged her parent that raised her that way. What kind of parent would deprive their child of beef? How dare they!

In 2010 you worked at a pizza shop. You would frequently eat cheesesteaks, chicken wings, ultimate pizzas, and bacon cheeseburgers at work. When you weren’t still dealing with your anorexia and going on water fasts, that is. You wrote on facebook “I don’t understand how vegetarians do it. I love bacon cheeseburgers.”, and a lot of people liked that post. Eating meat made you likeable, and you knew it.

In 2011 you worked at an animal hospital as a receptionist. You judged every person who came into the building that was obviously mistreating the animals in their care, meanwhile you would sometimes eat two mdconalds cheeseburgers per day.

This same year you yelled at a family member who made light of the time they burned a dog on it’s rear end with a motorcycle tailpipe. This was the second time they’d brought this up in front of you, and you were determined to make it the last. It was completely unfathomable to you that anyone would harm an animal on purpose like that. You yelled at this family member over dinner, as you consumed a plate of grilled chicken.

In 2012, you met Yesenia. Yesenia eventually grew to become vegan. You would frequently become annoyed with her “vegan propaganda”, and would ask her to remember that we shouldn’t judge others. Because judging others is worse, in your mind, than needless death. You wanted Yesenia to be wrong about you so much, in fact, that you went looking into information about health and factory farms hoping to be the one to prove her wrong. It became clear very quickly who was actually the one who was wrong. It wasn’t Yesenia.

Here I am now in 2015, realizing how judgmental and broken of a person I have been and sometimes still am. Here I am looking back at you and your broken heart over all the animals you wanted to save, yet now my heart breaks over all the animals I didn’t save just for the sake of family dinners and an addiction to chicken fingers. Here I am struggling with having a completely different mindset on what “we have dominion” means than my family. Here I am struggling thinking back to all the good I could’ve done and the kindness I could have spread had I known then what I know now. Here I am struggling with knowing how many times I was faced with the opportunity to change, and instead judged the person presenting me with information. I struggle with the thoughts of anorexia, yes, but don’t give in anymore. I know why – because I’ve made studying nutrition and the importance of health a priority instead of giving in to the addiction of being skinny. Wouldn’t it have been great to have been taught actual nutrition while in high school? Could your eating disorder have been prevented if you had been taught adequately? Could girls like you who are in school now struggling with it now be saved from the damage by being taught about adequate nutrition? Here I am struggling with the damage and murder caused by my own apathy that I try to make amends for now, but still have to watch people I love every day give in to the apathetic lifestyle even knowing the damage it causes. Here I am struggling everyday to love everyone and not judge them for funding industries I know to be cruel and unhealthy, which is so incredibly difficult when you are passionate about animals and health. It is difficult living knowing the majority of people around you just don’t care about anything, their apathy being a disease you want to cure so everyone can live happily. Here I am now seeing what I wish I saw so long ago: the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong in the world.

Sometimes I am crushed by the weight of what might have been and what could be. But I’ll tell you something else.

Here I am, happy. I know the truth about the food industries and I know how to change it. And I am making a difference. And that makes me happy.

I have new friends who live as compassionately as I try to, and I get to be around them and fellowship with them and drink in their positivity. And that makes me happy.

I am an actual, honest to goodness ACTIVIST. Rather than paying lip service and talking about what I wish would happen, I’m actively doing the best I can to make the world a better place. There’s something so empowering about that. And that makes me happy.

I get to try new foods that I would’ve turned my nose up at before. I get to thank my mother for not allowing me to eat Kraft macaroni and become addicted. I get to go to cooking school and learn how to make gourmet food without harming any creature I love. I get to be the healthiest I’ve ever been. And that makes me happy.

I get to be who I always was deep down – an animal lover. But a TRUE animal lover, not the kind that would pet Snuggles and then eat sausage soup. I get to hug, kiss, pet, play with, adore, and tell people all about these amazing animals that God made with His own two hands. And that makes me happy.

I get to praise God every time I see a new animal or see them do something new or make a new friend or make a funny noise. I get to share this world with them and be their friend, their advocate, their comforter. And that makes me happy.

I get to educate people on health, wellness, and current issues and tell them how we can help ourselves and each other. And that makes me happy.

I get to be free of the chains of anorexia because plant-based foods have allowed me to be more comfortable in my body than I’ve ever been, and that makes me happy.

Most of all, I get to be myself for the first time in my life. And how blessed am I that I have a husband that supports me being who I truly am? I am a wife, I am a recovering anorexic, I am a follower of Christ, I am a vegan. I am happy.

And looking back, I am thankful that everything has led me here.

Love, Rachel.

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