We ended Part Four with the question, “If you were so passionate about animal rights, Ella, why weren’t you out there taking action and protesting?” To answer, we have to take it back to my middle and high school years. As I kept uncovering the reality of abuse taking place behind the closed doors of not only factory farms but also science labs, zoos, and circuses, I found more and more ways to speak out for the rights of animals. As I learned the horrific practices of the fur industry and the merciless methods for testing the safety of laundry detergent, shampoo, and mascara, I set out on a mission to expose the systemic savagery to the masses.
Exposing the System
You see, in my young mind, I thought, surely, if people only knew what was taking place, they would “see the light” and stop supporting the brutality in the name of a meal, a coat, lipstick, or an evening of entertainment. With that logic in mind, I became heavily involved in the animal rights scene. In fact, I was a leader for our local animal rights group. Before I had a license to drive, I was organizing protests and leafletting all over town.
I was tireless in my quest to be a voice for the voiceless.
What blows my mind today is thinking about the actions I took despite being a painfully shy person. To give you an idea, when I was five years old, my natural reaction to meeting people was to run and hide. My parents would role play with me so that I could practice saying hello to people they introduced me to.
Yet, when it came to standing up for my belief in the rights of animals, I was fearless.
I didn’t hesitate to organize demonstrations on the streets of Chapel Hill where I would sit inside tiny cages, displaying the cramped conditions of chickens. Chickens who had so little room to move that their feet would grow around the wires of the cage, and whose beaks were chopped off without anesthesia so that they wouldn’t peck each other to death from the stress of their conditions.
I never had a second thought about standing on the side of the road, holding signs, and chanting in protest of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. I led campaigns urging L’Oreal and Revlon to stop testing on animals. I would wear anti-L’Oreal buttons to middle school every day and pass out pamphlets to all my classmates and teachers. I traveled to Pennsylvania for an annual pigeon shoot event where we ran out into the line of fire in the fields in protest of the mass killing.
“Why weren’t you out there taking action and protesting?”
My answer — I was! In fact, I even won the Bill Rosenberg Award when I was sixteen. This award is given each year by the Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) to “people under the age of eighteen who have made outstanding contributions to farm animal liberation.”
Now I don’t want you to get the idea that I was this young animal rights activist who missed out on her childhood. As a kid, I was a competitive swimmer and gymnast and had a great group of athletic friends
I was also your typical teenager in many ways. I went through the awkward adolescent phase like most everyone. I dyed my hair dark, gave my parents one-word answers, broke curfew, drank Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and went to math class high. (What can I say… math was right after lunch!) I met this drug dealer who gave me his brand new, decked out red Jeep Wrangler to drive around for over a year on the condition that I would pick him up and “drive him around” on occasion. I was sure I could fool the authorities by playing dumb if we ever got stopped.
My relationship with my parents wasn’t doing well.
When I quit the volleyball team in tenth grade my relationship with my mom disintegrated. I had a new pothead status. Before I tell you more about that though, it will help if I give you a little background about my family.
I was born in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and I spent the first four years of my life living in a little log cabin in the woods. I was even potty trained in an outhouse, can you believe it?
My mom was the director of a preschool, and my dad was a self-employed stonemason. My older sister, ten years my elder, suffered from mental illness and began self-medicating with drugs when she was just ten years old. I have few memories of her during my youth, as she spent quite a bit of time in hospitals when she was not running away from home.
When my mom got pregnant with my younger sister, my parents decided it was time to move to Chapel Hill for the quality school system. My dad got a stable job at UNC, and I got a real working toilet.
I couldn’t be more thankful to have been blessed with two of the most loving, supportive parents imaginable. I mean seriously, when I said, “I’m never eating animals again,” at the age of seven, for example, they didn’t try to talk me out of it even once they realized it was not a “phase.” I really wasn’t going to ever eat meat again. Big time parenting brownie points!
My parents divorced when I was fourteen. They held their marriage together as long as they could. I was so ready for them to separate at that point. For a period of time, they tried to figure out how to turn our attic into a separate room with a separate entrance for my dad. Needless to say, it was a relief when we all sat down for “the talk.” Not to say it wasn’t tough. Divorce is never easy, but it was clearly the right move.
A New Beginning
Getting back to the collapse of my relationship with my mom. She was understandably intolerant of drug use in her home due to the struggles of my sister. Being a teenager, I was sure I was immune to addiction and was convinced I could party without negative consequences. Being the strong-willed, determined individual I’ve always been, when my mom gave me the ultimatum to stop using or leave her house, I bet you can guess what I chose.
Moving in with my dad gave me more freedom. He was apt to give me the benefit of the doubt in most situations which worked out for a while. I did not appreciate my dad back then as I do today. Eventually, though, I grew up a bit, missed my mom, put my big girl panties on to work things out, and moved back in.
This was a new beginning that eventually led to the place we’re in today.
I can honestly say my mom is my best friend. And as for my dad, I not only appreciate him today, but I’m also inspired by him. He took a journey down the path of embodying zen principles to the extent that he now volunteers to teach meditation to death row inmates.
I believe that the strong foundation of unconditional love from my parents and my extreme devotion to animal liberation has saved me from spiraling out of control countless times over the years.
This is Part Five of a five-part series.
Part Two: Journey into Diet La La Land
Part Three: Finding the Way to Plant-Empowered Living
Part Four: Changing Your Exercise Routine