Sabine

Sabine wandered aimlessly through the aisles of the public library before stumbling upon a magazine which caught her interest. Instead of the usual flashy pictures, it basically had no more than three words, two numbers and an arrow. It looked something like this:

Een blik terug...

1990 <<< 2290

"Een blik terug" een terugblik naar de wereld van vroeger

Nummer 4, februari 2290

Sabine took a nervous glance at her watch and decided she had a few more minutes. Her train from Leiden to Paris would leave in a half hour.

"Een blik terug", she grinned. That meant "A look back" in Dutch. Throughout her entire twenty-three-year-long existence, she had always been fascinated by history. In that respect, she was different from her Dutch friends who were more concerned about making money, going out, and not thinking too hard.

She settled into a comfortable chair and leafed through the magazine. The glossy pictures, and detailed maps and illustrations contrasted greatly with the simple, black and white cover. She turned to the introduction:

Introduction and Greetings from the Editor

Welcome to "Een blik terug", the magazine which takes you, the reader, back through time and serves as a guidebook to orient yourself. This issue, we will take a giant three-hundred year step backwards to 1990. Just take a moment to imagine a world without miniplanes and visiphones, where electric cars are almost non-existent and where their gasoline-powered counterparts belch carbon monoxide into the air already polluted by chemical factories of every sort. Imagine our Europe still hemming and hawing about whether to abolish its borders and establish a unified currency. Imagine a world without superconductors, where a train trip from Amsterdam to Paris takes six hours instead of 1?. Imagine a world where "personal" computers weighed several kilograms, cost a small fortune, and were less powerful than our wristwatch versions, where people cherished their pet dogs and cats, yet slaughtered less fortunate "food animals" by the billions. In short, imagine a world completely steeped in paradoxes.

Through some unexplainable phenomenon, you have fallen into a small hole in the space-time continuum and have landed in 1990, in Leiden. The first thing you notice is the foul-smelling air, the noisy gas-powered automobiles and the numerous butcher shops recognizable by their signs displaying smiling caricatures of the murdered animals inside...

"Sabine, it's 1:30. Your train," her wristwatch whispered to her. With a jolt, she realized she had just fifteen minutes to get from the library to the platform. In a split-second, she assessed that the check-out desk was free. Magazine in hand, she ran to the desk checked out the magazine and bounded for the door, her jacket still unbuttoned. On her way out, she could faintly hear the librarian warning her to button up. That it was cold outside...

Once outside, she sprinted toward the arch which led to the ancient castle on the hill. Once under the arch, she veered right and headed toward the Haarlemmerstraat, the shopping street which would lead her to the Stationstraat and finally the train station.

In the small alley parallel to the Haarlemmerstraat, she stopped in her tracks several meters in front of her favorite microdisc store. She had noticed a strange smell coming out of it and worried that it might have caught fire. Out of breath, she threw open the door and asked the manager if everything was okay.

To her surprise, she found herself face to face with someone she'd never seen before. On top of that, the store had been totally transformed. It seemed to be a food store, although she couldn't quite identify various slabs and bizarre objects. And there was that strange odor...

"Why wouldn't things be okay?" the manager replied, puzzled.

Taken by surprise, Sabine simply responded that she thought there was a fire and asked what had happened to the microdisc store. "The what store?" was the manager's perplexed reply, whereupon Sabine, completely disoriented, closed the door and looked at the sign above it. Poelier was what it said. The word was as understandable to her as microdisc was to the man inside.

Sabine began to have the eerie premonition that catching her train was the least of her worries. She walked further to the Haarlemmerstraat and noted that the entire street was transformed. She thought back to how the shopkeeper's accent was equally transformed. He seemed to speak a more hardcore version of Dutch.

"What year is this?" she asked her watch after ducking into an alley. Her watch responded that it was 2290. "Where are we?" - "Haarlemmerstraat, sector G27," it replied instantly. "But everything has changed. This can't be 2290," she insisted. Her hapless wristwatch, which only responded to simple commands, found it wiser not to answer.

The Haarlemmerstraat was filled with shops and caf? of every kind. Leafing through some bookstore calendars and listening in on caf?conversations, Sabine confirmed her suspicion that she had three hundred years to kill before her train left. Still in a trance, she joined the stream of people which oscillated between the two extremities of Leiden's busiest shopping street.

Since she loved history and Leiden's transformation seemed quite convincing, she decided to suspend her disbelief and squeeze everything she could out of this deception.

The swarm of people into which Sabine had inserted herself took no notice of her. If an observer had watched her from their top floor apartment window, they would have seen a tall, beautiful blond-haired woman looking hesitantly around her in the midst of others who were more confident of their destination. They would have been captivated by the contrast between her striking features and her lost puppy dog look. More keen observers would perhaps have noticed that she was somewhat oddly dressed; her navy blue overcoat, yellow scarf and off-white sneakers were obviously not brand new, yet showed no signs of wear. Her braid was intertwined with colorful string. Maybe that was the new fashion from Paris.

No matter how keen the observer, they couldn't have noticed that the string was slowly, yet constantly changing color. They would have had to follow her down the entire length of the Haarlemmerstraat for that.

Sabine paused for a moment at a store whose sign read "Free Record Shop" in English. She hadn't remembered her guide saying anything about stores which gave away merchandise for free. She went inside and discovered it was a music store which sold gigantic microdiscs and other rectangular objects which she couldn't identify. She saw people paying at the counter, which seemed to be in contradiction with the sign, but didn't have the courage to ask for an explanation.

Once outside, she turned into the Vrouwensteeg where her favorite snack shop "used to be". The sign outside said "Brandnetel: Natuurvoeding". Brandnetel was the name, and "natuurvoeding" meant natural foods. "In contrast to what? Artificial foods?" she mused to herself.

She found the inside of the shop disorderly, but it had character. She found it disconcerting that this store, like the two others, had the same dimensions as the counterparts she knew, yet with totally different interiors.

"Hello, can I help you?" came the greeting from the young shop worker. She found him quite handsome and was immediately attracted to his sheepish smile. He was alternatively dressed and had short, red curly hair. He had used the Dutch informal form of "you" instead of the formal one.

"I'm not sure," Sabine replied coyly. "Can you explain to me what 'natural foods' are?" She hoped that her accent wouldn't cast suspicion on her.

The shop worker noticed that although her Dutch was fluent, she had a strong accent. Maybe she was English.

"Natural foods are free from preservatives, artificial flavors, colors and other junk. Most of our products are also organic," he responded.

"Organic?"

"Organic means grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizers."

She felt like asking what was wrong with pesticides, but was more anxious to ask a more burning question. She was relieved that this fellow, in addition to being quite becoming, was intelligent and easy to talk to.

"Do you sell foods that are... made from animals?"

"We don't sell meat if that's what you mean. All of our cheeses are vegetarian."

"Cheese. That comes from a cow, doesn't it? What do you mean by vegetarian cheese?"

"Most supermarket cheeses contain rennet, an enzyme which comes from a slaughtered calf's stomach. All of our cheeses are rennet-free and most of them are organic."

Sabine wondered why the storekeeper wasn't more suspicious of her naive questions. She concluded tentatively that natural foods must be a new thing and that others from this time period must have asked this fellow the same sort of questions.

Sabine flashed one of her melting smiles to the fellow and thanked him. She retreated to a secluded part of the store, took out her magazine, and began intently reading the articles on animal farming. The store worker watched her with a mixture of bewilderment and fascination. A half hour later, she came back and said triumphantly:

"Your cheese is made without rennet, yet cheese is a milk product. And milk products are not only unhealthy, but cause intense suffering to the female cow who must be continually kept pregnant and pumped with hormones. Moreover, if the cow gives birth to a boy, the boy is murdered and eaten. The name 'vegetarian cheese' seems a bit misplaced, if you ask me."

"I agree with everything except the hormones. We only sell milk products where the cows have eaten grass free of pesticides and haven't been fed hormones. As for your other points, you are completely right."

"Why then, do you sell milk products in a store called 'natural foods'?"

"If we didn't, we wouldn't have any customers. What's more, if you went outside and told a random person that milk products were unhealthy, they would think you're crazy."

"That's true," she murmured, "most people of this time do believe milk products are healthy."

The two stared at each other for a moment in silence.

"Are you, uh, vegetarian?" Sabine asked.

"I'm even vegan."

"Vegan..." she repeated, while she searched her mind for the definition she had just read. "That means that you don't eat anything that comes from an animal. No meat, fish, birds, eggs or milk products. Tell me, are there many vegans? And why do you know that eggs and milk products are unhealthy and not the others? Are you someone special?"

The young man smiled at the last question.

"I'm not special. I don't know how many vegans are in Holland. Several thousand, I suppose. The knowledge I have is available to everyone, but since it's not in the mainstream yet, people are reluctant to disregard their doctor and do something strange. Most people know that meat is unhealthy, and that's quite some progress compared to twenty years ago. Nowadays, if you tell a meat-eater you're vegetarian they'll probably reply apologetically that they hardly eat any meat themselves and avoid red meat completely. Even people who eat meat almost every meal say they 'hardly eat meat'. It's a start, I suppose."

"And the doctors, don't they say that animal products are unhealthy?"

"They say to 'cut down' on meat and eggs, but insist that we drink our milk for strong bones and teeth. The government lobbies for animal products are very strong, and new research is difficult to accept by researchers whose behavior goes against it."

Sabine noted wistfully that the word "government lobby" had withstood the test of time.

"So you're saying that doctors grew up thinking milk products are healthy, and this makes them less inclined to believe research which states the contrary."

"Exactly."

"Doesn't that go against the scientific method? What happens if you confront them with a scientific report against milk? If you ask them why the majority of Africans and Asians are allergic to milk? If you ask them why ethnic groups with the strongest bones and teeth drink little to no milk? How do they react?"

"I can't speak for every doctor," the young man said, hesitating, "but I suppose most of them ignore such findings, or refute them in ways which make it obvious that they haven't understood them. Some will maybe produce a report with the opposite conclusions, even though their report fails to refute the findings against milk. I can only guess their possible reactions, of course. I'm not a psychologist."

Sabine reflected upon his answer for a moment before launching into another question.

"People still have dogs and cats, don't they?"

"What do you mean, 'still have'?"

Sabine blushed, slightly off her guard. "I mean, people keep dogs and cats as pets, don't they?" she answered quickly, evading his question.

"Yes, some people have dogs and cats," he answered, perplexed.

"When meat-eaters see a cow or lamb in the field, do they feel the same sort of tenderness as for dogs and cats, or does their mouth water and their stomach rumble?"

The young man smiled again. "I can't speak for every meat eater, but I think most feel tenderness and not hunger."

"How is it, then, that these people continue to eat meat? Don't they see the link with the factories which murder these animals and chop them to bits?"

"That," he said "is one of the greatest mysteries of this day and age."

At that moment, a older woman came in the store and the young man smiled at Sabine before going to help her. She brushed past him on her way out, flashing him a disarming smile. The look he returned her could be roughly translated as "It's too bad we were separated like this. Come back any time."

Butcher shops (slagers) are found in the same areas as other shops. Many are identifiable by signs which depict smiling, anthropomorphic caricatures of the murdered animals inside. Butchers transform the large cadavers into smaller pieces suitable for individual purchase. This transformation also decreases the likelihood of an association with the original animal. Butchers possess a macabre variety of powerful cutting and grinding equipment for their task. Customers may select from the precut portions underneath the counter or request a certain quantity of a cadaver be specially cut, in much the same way as we order a kilo of beans. Recall that the product sold is named differently than the animal, thereby further diminishing the association. For example, a piece of a pig's body is called "ham". For cows, the word is "beef", for calves "veal". Also recall that food animals are never referred to as murdered, but "slaughtered". This misleading, double vocabulary is quite extensive, but a full treatment of it is beyond the scope of this guide....

-- Een blik terug

Sabine was back on the Haarlemmerstraat and had decided to check out some butcher shops.

She didn't have much trouble finding them. The guide was right about the signs. She picked out one which had a smiling pig standing on its hind legs next to a smiling cow. With a shudder, she went up to its front entrance.

Rather than going inside, she decided to first listen in on snatches of peoples' conversations as they left the butcher shop. She half expected to hear them reveling in their deed, like hardened criminals taking delight in their cruel acts. She was almost disappointed when the few bits of conversation she could understand resembled the chatter of normal people from her time.

She entered the shop and found it had a smell which was different from, but as bizarre as the one in the Poelier's. (In her guide, she had found that one buys chicken parts and eggs at the Poelier's. She had winced at the thought of stealing eggs from a chicken and then thanking it by suspending it upside down on an assembly line to be electrocuted, decapitated and scalded.)

She saw the counters with the precut animal parts. She was surprised to note that many items had no resemblance to an animal at all. Behind the counter, several employees were taking the orders of other customers. A stocky, smiling man in a white apron smiled and asked if he could help Sabine.

Sabine found herself at a loss for words, despite her previous mental preparation. As with the people leaving the shop, she had expected to find herself face to face with an assassin type. She guessed that since the people of this time had no qualms about what they were doing, they would probably not mind answering questions about it. Mustering up her courage, and speaking softly so as not to draw the attention of the customers, she asked:

"Excuse me sir, I'm not from here. I was wondering if you could tell me where your products come from."

"From the farm, of course," answered the man, frowning.

She noticed that he didn't mention the slaughterhouse part. "Could you describe the circumstances surrounding the death of the animals whose body parts you sell?" Sabine asked, frowning as well.

It was an honest, ingenuous question. She had tried to formulate it as politely and inoffensively as possible, but was handicapped by her lack of psychological understanding. She realized her blunder when the customers looked up at her, startled, and the stocky man's face turned red with anger.

"So you're trying to be a smart, eh? You animal fanatics irritate enough people outside of my store, and I'll be damned if you're going to do it inside!", then suddenly realizing that his customers were getting edgy, he replaced the intensity of his voice with an equivalent dose of sarcasm: "I have customers to attend to, ma'am. Unless you plan on buying something, I suggest that you don't waste their time and mine any longer," he concluded, indicating the door.

With tears of rage forming in her eyes, Sabine headed for the door, trying to avoid the stare of the others.

Outside, the temperature had dropped and the darkening sky announced an upcoming storm. Sabine wandered aimlessly up and down the Haarlemmerstraat for the next half hour, recovering from her confrontation at the butcher shop. She was a low-key person in general who valued her anonymity. She had always felt uneasy being the center of attention, and she cursed the butcher for having drawn everyone's attention to her. She felt her stomach rumble from hunger although mentally, the very thought of food made her nauseous. "Besides," she thought cynically, "the few ECUs I have on me are worthless here." She was beginning to have enough of this illusion and wanted it to stop.

Food animals are reared in factory farms, which are designed for maximum production at minimum cost. Chickens for egg production (called "layers") are packed up to five in a cage in perpetually-lighted sheds so that they lay constantly. Panic-stricken from their cramped conditions and the impossibility of establishing a pecking order in a shed of up to 10000 birds, the chickens peck at each other and would cause even more serious damage if they weren't "debeaked" as chicks. "Debeaking" is a painful process involving the removal of half of the chick's beak with a hot iron, without anesthesia. Chicks destined to become meat chickens ("broilers") also live in cramped conditions and are debeaked. The male chicks which do not meet broiler standards are often tossed live into large plastic bags, atop a writhing heap of bodies, for later disposal.

Female pigs ("sows") are made pregnant in "rape racks", where they lie completely immobilized so that a virile male pig ("boar") can sexually enter them at will. Once they have given birth, they are once again immobilized throughout their entire lactation period so that they do not accidentally roll on top of their young in their cramped quarters. Pigs are as or more intelligent than dogs, but a cruel twist of fate has allowed dogs to become favored domestic animals. Humans who treat dogs the same way that pigs were treated on factory farms can be punished by law...

Beef and milk cows graze outdoors for the most part, but similar attempts at confinement are being tested in this period and will continue to improve. Milk cows, whose normal lifespan is 10-15 years, are continually kept pregnant in order to assure a constant milk production. The average milk cow is exhausted after four years of intensive exploitation and is then sent to the slaughterhouse. The newborn baby ("calf") is immediately separated from its mother at birth, and the mother mourns the loss of her child several days. If the child is female, she becomes a milk cow like her mother. If it is a male, he will be killed for meat ("slaughtered") after spending several miserable weeks confined to a tiny box where he cannot even turn around! Restricting his mobility assures that his muscles do not develop and that his flesh stays white. (Consumers consider the white flesh to be a delicacy.) To further assure the whiteness of his flesh, his diet is deliberately poor in iron, and the veal calves often desperately lick at nails and metal bars in an attempt to ingest this mineral.

The food animals' miserable lives end at the slaughterhouses (slachthuizen). The executions, which in the past were carried out on a small-scale, have been modernized in order to maximize quantity and minimize cost and time. This modernization has had nightmarish consequences for both the transportation of the animals as well as their execution ("slaughter"). It is economically cheaper to transport animals near to their point of sale rather than kill them where they are raised and then transport them via expensive, refrigerated trucks. Therefore, the law permits animals to be transported for up to twenty four hours without food and water, in closed-up, cramped trucks which can reach forty or more degrees Celsius in hot weather. Of course, many animals die during transportation, but the economic equation is nevertheless more favorable....

Once arrived at the slaughterhouse, the cows and pigs are goaded out of the truck with kicks, shoves, and electric prods. The chickens are yanked out of their cramped cages and suspended upside down from their legs on a moving assembly line....

-- Een blik terug

The illusion didn't stop, and eventually, Sabine's historical curiosity began to come back. Although it would have been wiser to worry about food and shelter, Sabine decided that she wanted to see a slaughterhouse firsthand. She knew of course where she could find one.

"Wristwatch," she asked furtively, after ducking into a secluded alley, "pulse me to the Dierenmuseum (The Animal Museum)."

The wristwatch began to emit a series of pulses which she could feel in her wrist. Almost every inhabitant of 2290 was familiar with these pulses and knew how to distinguish the ones which said to go right from the ones to go straight, etc. Sabine worked her way through the crowd with an assurance that she lacked an hour ago....

She felt an increasing uneasiness and tension long before arriving at what the wristwatch thought was the Dierenmuseum. Normal civilization seemed to have vanished and been replaced by a grim, industrial atmosphere. Trucks arrived by the dozens with the same destination. When she arrived at the front of the slaughterhouse, she peered through the imposing fence at the workers unloading the trucks.

Although the vehicles contained species from different rungs of the evolutionary ladder, she knew that several perceptions and sensations linked her to them. Pain and suffering was one of them. Fear and panic in severely cramped conditions were another. She suddenly had a flashback of childhood school class where she learned that in the older, darker times, people had been speciecist. That is, they cherished the irrational beliefs that animals were inferior beings and because of this alleged inferiority, that humans had the right to buy, sell, torture, kill, experiment upon and eat them.

She had asked the teacher "Why were they all so mean?" She never forgot how he frowned, came specially up to her and kneeled down beside her desk as the entire class turned around and cast their gaze upon them. He looked at her earnestly and said "Sabine, these people weren't mean. I want you to stop for a minute and ask yourself where you got your notions that people from different ethnic groups are our equals, and that animals should be respected and left alone. Did you arrive at these conclusions through your own reasoning or were they gifts that our society bestowed upon you? Acquired beliefs are those which society gives to you, whereas earned beliefs come from conclusions you draw yourself. Few, if any of us, earn our beliefs. Most of us acquire them from a society whose collective consciousness evolves with time. In three hundred years from now, people might look back to our society with horror for reasons that we are not yet aware of."

And indeed, she found the horror mounting within her when she saw a man unloading the crates of chickens. He yanked them out of their crates grabbing them any way he could, jerking them upside down and attaching their writhing, fear-ridden bodies to a conveyor belt which would lead to a decapitating knife.

In a daze, Sabine walked further on. She felt like the world had started to spin. When her thoughts drifted back to reality, she realized that she had stopped to watch three workers unloading a truckful of pigs. They brutally kicked and shoved the pigs onto a passageway which led into a shed. Sabine could see far enough into the shed to see the terrified pigs being showered. Further on, the passageway narrowed and the pigs ended up on a moving ramp which transported them, squealing, to their imminent death.

Terrified, she ran further on. She stopped cold when she saw a team of workers unloading a truckful of cows. One of the workers had a stick that emitted an electric shock when the frightened, disoriented animals went "too slowly" for his taste. One of the cows, presumably exhausted from the grueling trip, collapsed to the ground. The workers immediately began cursing, kicking and shocking the cow, who screamed in pain. Inside the shed, she saw a man apply what appeared to be an electric drill to a cow's head. The last thing Sabine remembered before she fainted was that the confused cow's eyes seemed to be saying "Why?" to the man before the muffled explosion caused the cow to crumple to the ground....

When she regained consciousness, she found herself face to face with a smiling, motherly nurse. She felt herself on a comfortable bed. She saw her jacket on a coatrack next to her bed. She still had her clothes on, though they had undone some buttons.

"Water," was all Sabine said.

The nurse brought her some water and with a smile said, "So would our little adventurer like to tell us what she was doing at a slaughterhouse? And you were in a restricted access zone too!"

Sabine's stomach turned. So this was still 1990.

"Your blood sugar is terribly low," the nurse continued. "It's not surprising that you fainted. How would you like something to eat?"

Sabine nodded vaguely and closed her eyes.

She awakened with a start when the nurse, smiling, put a tray in front of her. Although she could not visually identify all of the items, the smell from the Poelier came back to her.

"Get this away from me!" she shrieked.

The nurse frowned worriedly and whisked the tray away from her. "How dumb of me," she said apologetically, "I should have known that if you fainted at a slaughterhouse, you probably wouldn't want to eat this."

"How could you want to eat this?!"

"I like animals," said the nurse hesitating, "but I like meat too. I know that eating too much meat is not healthy, but I would be lost if I had to eat just vegetables. But that's not the point, what can I get you to eat?"

"Some fruit, nuts. Nothing too heavy, I'm feeling completely nauseous. For God's sake, nothing that comes from an animal. No milk, cheese, eggs. Even just an apple, if that's all you have."

In her exhausted state, she fell asleep again. She reawakened with a start when the nurse came in. She had prepared a fruit salad with chopped apples, grapes, pineapple, kiwi fruit and banana slices. She had mixed in walnuts and almonds and had topped the whole thing with slivered coconut. A delicious-looking bowl of custard accompanied the salad. The main meal consisted of steamed rice and vegetables and a sort of burger.

The nurse smiled warmly at Sabine and said in a conspiratorial tone: "I didn't have the time or ingredients to do this, but you looked so hungry and pitiful. I called my daughter, who eats like you do, and asked her what I could make. Luckily, I had done some shopping for her during my break this afternoon. I think she'll forgive her missing groceries since it's for a good cause. Don't worry, there are no animal products in any of this." She set the tray in front of Sabine and looked at her worriedly, wondering what her reaction would be.

"I don't know what to say," said Sabine, staring at the food and taken aback. "You're too kind."

"Stop talking and eat up," said the nurse with a smile of relief. "Otherwise you might faint again!" She left the room.

As Sabine devoured her meal, she kept thinking about that meat-eating nurse who was anything but mean. No, she was kinder than most people Sabine knew in her own time.

After her meal, Sabine sat alone in the room, in a daze. The few thoughts she was conscious of were simple questions: How am I going to pay for this place? Where do I go afterwards? How much longer will this all go on?

After an hour or so, the nurse came back in.

"Has your meal and rest brightened you up a bit?" she asked with her matronly smile.

"Yes, thank you," Sabine affirmed. "I can't thank you enough for the special effort..."

"Think nothing of it," the nurse interrupted. "You can rest as long as you like, but you may also leave if you're feeling up to it."

Sabine hesitated for a moment between this safe, comfortable hospital bed and the cold, lonely world outside. But she realized that she would only be postponing things if she stayed.

"No thank you, ma'am. I think I'm ready to go," she said decisively.

At the front desk of the hospital, she told the receptionist that she didn't have any papers with her. They asked her if she lived in Leiden and when she said yes, they typed in her address and told her she could stop in later with her medical identification card. As she left the hospital, she told herself guiltily that she hadn't really lied. She did live in Leiden, after all.

As soon as she stepped outside, she was greeted by a chilly gust of wind and realized to her dismay that it was cold, dark, and she had nowhere to go. Then she thought of the handsome fellow in the natural foods store. She didn't even know his name. It was a foolish idea, she thought. What would she say to him? She hesitated, but decided to go there for want of a better idea.

She buttoned her jacket and then buried her hands deep in her pockets. As she walked past the train station, a familiar gust of cold wind blew out from its entrance, just like in her time. Links like this were even more cruel and disorienting to her now, and she cursed her fate that she hadn't landed in a totally alien world.

She crossed the crosswalk near the train station. She stopped for a moment at the supermarket on the other side when she saw the posters advertising ham and beef.

With a shrug, she turned away and walked on. But slowly, the memories of that afternoon in the slaughterhouse began to resurface. The words from her guide began to repeat themselves over and over in her head: ...a piece of a pig's body is called "ham". For cows, the word is "beef", for calves "veal", a piece of a pig's body is called "ham". For cows, the word is "beef"... These words were interspersed with the images of the chickens suspended upside down, the pigs squealing with terror on the moving ramps....

She walked on for a few minutes, but felt helpless as the terror slowly engulfed her. She stopped, took a few deep breaths and said to herself in an angry hiss:

"If you go insane, you'll be good for nothing. Neither the animals, nor yourself, nor the people who are hurting themselves in their ignorance."

The terror didn't go away, but she had it momentarily in check. She saw that she was in front of a cheap eating place. She saw the food items on display: ham and cheese sandwiches, hamburgers, roasted chicken. The panic began to increase. She closed her eyes and whispered out loud.

"Don't panic, fool! If you go insane, do it later. Those young people in there are about your age. Go in there and talk to them. Find out why they're doing it. Even if they spit in your face, it might at least be therapeutic."

Europeans are pretty reserved, and Sabine's European reluctance to address a group of total strangers was worsened by the fact that she hated being the center of attention. Yet it was this or insanity, she thought. She swallowed hard and went inside.

There were six of them. They were eating, laughing and chattering. They all stopped and looked up with surprise when they saw Sabine.

"Ex-, excuse me for disturbing you," she said falteringly and apologetically. "I couldn't help notice that you are eating meat. Now I'm not attacking you or saying what you are doing is wrong. I'm not trying to judge, but to understand. I am not from here, and I so badly want to know how you feel about animals, whether you like them, despise them, or don't care about them, how you feel about slaughterhouses. Please don't be angry. I just want to understand."

The youths were even more confused after her long-winded question, and looked at each other helplessly. Finally one of them, who seemed to be the most outgoing, answered. He had greased-back blond hair and an animal-skin jacket ("leather", she recalled from her guide). He spoke with a thick accent, but Sabine had little difficulty understanding him. He flashed her a friendly smile.

"That's a mouthful, what you're asking. Where do we begin?"

Sabine realized that she had asked a lot. She reflected for a moment and then answered.

"How do you feel about animals?"

The youth answered: "I can't speak for the others, but I like animals a lot. We have a dog and two cats at home. I know that what I'm eating here is an animal," (he held up his sandwich) "but I don't eat much meat. In fact I hardly eat any red meat at all."

"You eat here every day," his female companion said chidingly, "and the ham sandwich you order almost every time is red meat, if you ask me."

He blushed momentarily but chose to ignore her. "You're vegetarian aren't you?" he asked Sabine. "Don't you have to watch out for what you eat? It must be pretty difficult, getting enough protein and stuff."

"Not at all, in fact it's more difficult to be healthy with a meat-based diet," Sabine answered, puzzled. "I don't understand. I thought this information was well-known in this period."

The youths looked at each other, confused. One of them, a brawny-looking fellow, finally got up the courage to say:

"Vegetarianism may be okay if you don't lift weights, but I need lots of protein for what I do. Killing animals might seem ugly, but we're carnivores. Lions and tigers kill animals too: meat makes them strong and healthy. "

"You really believe that?" said Sabine, astonished. "Your body is totally different from theirs! First of all, they don't sweat. You do. You've got lots of skin pores. Also, you may have canine teeth, but they're far from being as well-developed as dogs' and cats'. Your intestines are three times longer than theirs; their intestines need to be much shorter to get rid of the rotting meat they eat. And if you look for other animals who sweat and have long intestines, you find the likes of horses, gorillas and chimpanzees, which are totally or almost totally vegetarian. What's more, there are many famous vegetarian athletes in this time," she insisted, taking out her guide. After ruffling through it quickly, she read aloud "Andreas Cahling, gold-medal swimmer, Carl Lewis, a runner, who's even vegan. Not to mention famous celebrities like Christie Brinkley, William Shatner, Donna Mills...."

The fellow with the greased-back hair smiled at the brawny one and said: "She's got you there, Bart."

But Bart's girlfriend, who with her heavy makeup, costume jewelry and designer clothes seemed the total opposite of Sabine, didn't appreciate her boyfriend's defeat:

"We don't need someone high and mighty telling us what to do. The way you eat is your business and no one's going to stop you. But the way I eat is my business. Besides, I think it's pretty selfish to be so hung up about animals when so many people in the world are suffering."

Sabine was taken aback by this outburst: "I wasn't telling you what to do. I'm just trying to understand. But I disagree with you on two points. First of all, respecting animals goes together with respecting people. Nothing prevents me as a vegetarian from caring about people and helping them. Secondly, you say that what you eat is your business, but would you feel the same way if I ate other people? In this society, if I tried to do that, it wouldn't be my business, and I would be arrested. But for some strange reason, taking the life of an animal is a personal choice. I can't see the logic in this."

"You can't compare eating animals with eating people!" Bart's girlfriend sputtered. "People are more intelligent. They have a soul! I may die five years earlier if I eat meat, but at least I'll die happy!"

"How do any of the things you said justify our right to rob another living creature of its life?" Sabine asked, wide-eyed.

Bart's girlfriend began to get hysterical. "I've had enough of her Bart! Make her go away!"

But it was the boy with the greased-back hair who got up and whispered apologetically to her: "She flips out pretty easily. Maybe you should stop now. We'll think about everything you said..." he added uneasily, hoping she would get the hint.

She did, and with a nod, she left the eating place. She was as or more devastated as the girl, but didn't let it show.

Not only were these people irrational and impossible to reason with, but she was completely severed from her own world, with no hope of returning. She felt everything start to spin again, and her feeling of panic increased as the events of that past day flashed back in her mind. The slaughterhouse, the terrified animals, the nice nurse who unwittingly abetted the industry, the youths with whom she had nothing in common except her chronological age. And she was trapped, trapped! And her family and friends had vanished.

Terror-stricken, she sprinted towards the Haarlemmerstraat. The only thing that kept her from collapsing was the thought of the shop worker with the curly, red hair....

She burst into the health food store in a total panic. Fortunately, he was there, alone. He was kneeling on the ground and looked up startled from the packages he was arranging.

Her entire body was taut, like a high tension spring about to explode. She said with a high shriek. "I went to a slaughterhouse. I saw what happened there. The pictures don't show you that it's that bad. I've never seen anything so horrible." She was panting and speaking fast. Her accent was difficult to understand.

"I've been to a slaughterhouse too," he affirmed, standing up. "It's horrible."

"Then I, I tried talking with the people," she continued, starting to falter. "My words fall on deaf ears! Your people are fragmented bits of compassion, ignorance and fear. You can't reason normally with them!" She stopped with her eyes wide open in accusation, as if he, this representative of 1990, were responsible for everything she had been through.

"I'm very sorry that happened to you," he said soothingly. "Maybe you're going about it the wrong way. Most people do care, but are followers. They won't change their behavior unless the leaders do. We can only win by slowly changing the public opinion. That will take lots of time."

The words 'lots of time' suddenly hit home. In a split second, she felt the enormity of the gulf between her world and this one. The revelation caused the spring to snap, and sent her reeling to the ground in a sobbing heap of tears.

The young man ran to her and surrounded her with his arms, covering her head with tender kisses.

"There now, there now. Most people aren't as cold and unfeeling as you think. They're just scared. Deep down inside, they know they're wrong and that their behavior is inconsistent. But they've grown up in this system and are too afraid to change. They think they will lose their friends and the pleasures in life. They're too afraid of the unknown. You have to be patient with these people. You have to give them time."

Sabine continued to sob heavily, but moved closer to him, soothed by his words and his embrace.

"And not all people are like the ones you've seen," he continued in his soothing tone. There are plenty of others, like you and me, who care about the animals and are not afraid to act upon our beliefs. You just have to know where to find them. These people will make you smile, and give you the energy you need to face the rest of the world."

He continued to hug her, caressing her and kissing her head. Eventually her sobs died down. After a long moment, she sat up straight and stared helplessly, silently at him.

"There will be a demonstration tomorrow," he said, sitting next to her and holding her two hands. I'd be honored to have you next to me. There will be a lot of people like us. That'll be a change from the slaughterhouse. Would you like to come?"

She didn't respond with words, but nodded affirmatively. The two remained silent for a while longer. The shop worker contemplated her beautiful, tear-streaked face and Sabine was lost in thought.

"I have something to tell you," she said finally. "I'm from the future."

With a smile, the young man drew her close to him. She rested her head on his intensely comforting shoulder. He enveloped her with one arm and gently ran his fingers through her hair with his other hand.

"So am I," he said at last. "So are all of us that will be in the demonstration. We'll change things in time, you'll see."

A gentle rain began to fall. Alone with him in the store, Sabine slowly began to calm down and lose herself in the embrace. The young man continued to gently run his fingers through her hair. He was too focused on Sabine to notice that the colorful strings in her braid were changing color with every caress.

Copyright ? 1995-2003 by Mohan Embar. All Rights Reserved
May be used in unchanged form by avowed Animal Rightists if accompanied by this copyright message.

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