Ellie, the Veal Calf

I was thinking back the other day to the first time I remember actually being concerned and grossed out and truly saddened by the idea of an animal being killed.

I grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania, where we got a day off school each year for opening day of hunting season. I, along with all my classmates, had a hunting safety class in 6th grade. (I never got my license, though.) I grew up hearing stories of how my mom always went hunting & fishing with her dad when she was growing up, and how these times were great bonding experiences.

I had a great bonding experience of my own when I was about ten. I had a friend whose aunt owned a farm (pretty common where I grew up, actually). One day, while I was visiting her, we went to her aunt's farm to see the cows.

There was a terrible stench in the barn. I remember the pungent smell assaulting my nose as I walked in. I didn't understand then why it smelled so bad. Now I know that veal calves are kept on liquidy diets so they always have diarrhea - this helps them to be more lean for when they are slaughtered and turned into veal parmesan.

My friend and I walked through the rows of calves tied up in small stalls. I petted their noses as I passed by, thoroughly enjoying their warmth, soft fur, and the affectionate way they would nuzzle me as I stood in front of them.

One particular calf seemed to like me a lot. And I liked her. So much so that I named her Ellie.

I loved Ellie. I had all these dreams about owning Ellie and petting her and grooming her and just taking care of her. I think I mentioned this to my friend a few weeks later, and she looked at me like I was crazy.

"Ellie's dead," she said bluntly.

I was in shock. She explained to me that Ellie was on her way to being chopped up for someone's dinner. I went home and cried. I didn't understand how, after meeting her, someone would want to kill her.

Sadly, it wasn't until 2 1/2 years ago I stopped eating meat. I wonder how many other deaths like Ellie's I contributed to over the years.

I still think of Ellie sometimes, her big, sad brown eyes looking into mine as she nuzzled into my side.

And sometimes I still miss Ellie.