Last week Julian and I were in Winnipeg visiting my family. We had a great week and before I get to the story I wanted to share with you, I have to give a shout out to two great restaurants we dined at several times while we were there. One is Boon Burger, an all-vegan burger place that we first tried last year when we went to Winnipeg. We ate there three times last week and the food and service was just as excellent as it was last time. There is also a Boon Burger just outside of Toronto in Barrie that a friend took us to a few weeks ago and I’m pleased to say we have now eaten at every Boon Burger location in Canada! Okay, so there are only three at the moment but still, they have consistently great food and as a vegan, it’s always a thrill to be able to choose any item from a menu and not have to read the fine print. It’s an added bonus to be able to look at the picture of a cow on the wall and know that the animal’s image is not a euphemism for ground up flesh but rather to celebrate them just as they are – whole, living beings.
The second restaurant we dined at was called Stella’s and wow. It’s not a vegetarian or a vegan restaurant but we ate there FOUR times in one week at three different locations – including the one at the airport! And oh boy – I wish other restaurants would take a page from their book. Stella’s not only serves all day breakfast but offers two different vegan breakfasts. They had multiple vegan options ranging from pasta to burgers to sandwiches to curries and we were by no means limited to the same old veggie burger. The food was fresh and delicious and the place was packed. I’ve mentioned before how some places in Toronto don’t even have veggie burgers and yet there we were in Winnipeg – a city with far less people than Toronto – with more menu options than usual. Toronto restaurant owners take note: it’s not that hard to offer a few more vegan options!
But of all the delicious food we ate last week, none of it could compare to the moment where my brother shared with me something he did not too long ago on behalf of animals. My brother is a proud omnivore, and in the words of Liz Lemon, really only likes the term “Lovers” when it’s between the words “Meat” and “Pizza”. He’s not as militant as he once was about it (both he and his wife have stopped eating pork) and he’s aware of at least some of the suffering animals are forced to endure for our “food.” But since I don’t see him regularly, I don’t really know his day-to-day life or his exact stance on the eating of animals. I know he can be stubborn and obstinate and I know he can be generous and compassionate. He is all of those at once sometimes which is why it is impossible not to love him.
On the second last night of our stay, the day before we were scheduled to go home, five of us headed to a local park after dinner and drinks to throw a frisbee around. It had rained during dinner and the ground was still wet. Julian and my dad had gone ahead of us and my brother, his wife and I trailed behind catching up. As we were walking, out of the blue, my brother – who knows I’m a vegan – tells me this:
So, Nic. The other day I was in the grocery store, one of those big Super Stores and I was in the seafood department. I noticed two huge tanks with live lobsters in them. One tank had only three or four lobsters in it and the other one was crammed with them – the lobsters were piled on top of each other in the water.
(A quick aside: my brother also used to work in the restaurant industry, as I did, and knows some of the horrors “fresh” lobsters go through before they end up on dinner plates. They aren’t fed at all and are kept in Styrofoam coolers until someone orders them. Likewise for the lobsters you see in grocery stores – they aren’t fed while they sit in those tanks since that’s considered a waste of food).
My brother continued with his story:
I couldn’t figure out why one tank was filled to capacity and the other wasn’t so I went up to the seafood counter to ask. The guy working asks if he can help me and I say, “Yeah. Are there any differences between the lobsters in those two tanks?” The guy says no.
My brother says, “So there’s no difference in price or kind of lobster?”
“No, Sir,” says the guy behind the counter.
So my brother says, “Then wouldn’t it make sense to take some of the lobsters out of the overfilled tank and move them to the one that’s practically empty? Wouldn’t it make sense to give them a little more room to move in the other tank? Their lives are pretty horrible already – couldn’t you at least give them a little extra space before they die?”
What’s that expression? You could have knocked me over with a feather? I teared up immediately and my heart got an instant case of the soft-and-mushys. I gasped, squeezed his arm and said, “You spoke for the animals!”
When I asked him what the guy at the counter did, my brother said he just looked sort of blank and eventually shrugged. He’s pretty sure the guy didn’t do anything about it but I told him for that moment, at least he had forced him to consider the animals. For that brief instant, the guy behind the counter actually had to consider what was being asked of him. He couldn’t deny the lobsters were alive so how could he deny the idea that this might also mean there were capable of feeling discomfort? How could one be true and not the other?
I don’t know why my brother chose that moment to share this with me but I was so glad he did. Walking to the park that night, the beautiful Winnipeg sky above us, the wet grass beneath our toes, our time together winding down, an already memorable evening became locked in my memory upon hearing that my only sibling, some 1,400 miles away, took the time to stop and not only consider the animals but to speak up for them, forcing someone else to stop and consider them too.