Herbivore No More

This is it! There’s no getting out of this. I’m starving! Like “haven’t eaten anything in weeks, wasting away, on the verge of death” starving! But that’s the least of my worries at the moment. I’m calling you from a bathroom stall on the third floor of my office building, locked away from a horde of savage fruits and vegetables trying to smash their way in.

The hunger has taken a toll on me. My muscles have even atrophied! I don’t think I can hold them back much longer, but I’m using the last bit of my strength to send this warning out to the world: Plants are sentient and they’re waging war on mankind!

You might want to explain this away as the hallucinations of a starving man, but I assure you that everything I’m about to tell you did happen…

The day began like any other. I was preparing my favorite breakfast meal: blueberry oatmeal with a sliced banana. I had made the same breakfast for nearly a decade, ever since I first became a devoted vegan.Oatmeal always got me started out on the right foot and ready to take on the challenges of the day. Best of all, unlike eating bacon, I never had to deal with the guilt of consuming another sentient creature. That was all about to change…

When I placed the bowl of oatmeal in the microwave and pressed start, I heard a sound that continues to haunt me. It was a shriek so shrill and filled with such immense desperation that I was immediately terror-stricken.I frantically turned the microwave off. The screams ceased.

I looked around the kitchen, not sure what I’d heard. Was I imagining it all? I opened the front door of my apartment and peeked out into the hallway to see if someone was in grave danger. When I looked, I only saw my neighbor calmly strolling down the hall.

“Kat, did you just hear a scream?” I asked with sweat still fresh on my face. “No, I didn’t hear anything. You alright Kev?”, she replied.

“Ya, just thought I heard something, that’s all. See you later.”, I said, waving goodbye before quickly closing the door and rushing back to the microwave.

With some hesitation I finally brought myself to click the “start” button again. This time there were no screams, only the familiar hum of the microwave.

I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe it was just the neighbor’s TV or something, I thought. I walked to the refrigerator, grabbed a banana and a box of blueberries and placed them on the counter. The microwave beeped. I retrieved the bowl of steaming hot oatmeal and placed it next to the fruits on the counter.

I poured the blueberries into the oatmeal and peeled the banana, my stomach growling with anticipation. Just as I was about to slice the banana I heard a voice say: “Haven’t you killed enough for one day?”

My eyes darted around in a panic. I grasped the knife tight and walked slowly through the kitchen to the living room in search of an intruder. Nothing there. I walked back to the kitchen when I heard it again. “You killed them. You killed them all!”, the voice bellowed.

I looked around the kitchen frantically searching for the source of the voice.

“Murderer!” I heard several other voices bark in condemnation. “Genocide!”, the cries grew louder.

“Who are you!?” I cried.

“Who are you! You stripped me naked. Almost stuck a knife through me and you’re the one who is upset? Sociopath.”, the voice said. “SOCIOPATH!”, other voices shrieked.

I looked down at the banana in stunned silence. It took me another moment to gather my wits enough to respond. “What are you talking about?”, I asked.

“The oats. You killed them. You boiled them alive! Did’t you hear their cries?”, the banana said.

I looked down at the oatmeal. It looked no different than any other bowl of oatmeal I’d ever eaten before.

“You can’t fool me. This isn’t the first time you’ve done it. Have you no conscience? Entire families of oats, boiled alive! You’re sick!”, the banana exclaimed.

“Sick! You’re sick!”, the other voices chimed in. To my horror, I realized that these voices came from the blueberries swimming around in the oatmeal.

“How’s this happening?”, I said out loud. “What’s going on?”

“Are you honestly going to pretend you hadn’t heard our cries before now?” The banana said in a mocking tone.

“This isn’t happening. I’m not going to pretend to talk to a banana and a bunch of blueberries.”, I said. I must have been having a flashback, I thought. I had tried LSD a few times in college. That had to be it. I did my best to quell the growing panic and confusion and grabbed the knife again.

It’s only a hallucination Kevin, just make your breakfast, I thought to myself. I sliced into the banana.

“You’re truly as evil as they say!”, it yelled. There were several more shrieks before the room fell silent again.

I tossed the banana slices into the bowl and began eating the oatmeal, doing my best to block out of my mind what had just transpired. Overcome with nausea, I could only eat a few bites before I had to trash most of the bowl. Still nauseous, I finished getting dressed and headed out to work.

All morning long I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I was trying to finish a report for my boss, but my mind kept going back to breakfast. The banana’s condemning words. Those horrifying screams. Could it be true? Could these fruits and plants be just as alive and conscious as the poor animals I refused to eat on ethical grounds?

My anxiety grew as the clock creeped closer to noon. I usually looked forward to my lunch — fresh kale salad — but now there was only dread.

I grabbed the bowl of kale salad out of the office kitchen refrigerator and walked outside to the small park bench by the pond where I usually ate lunch. The bench was shaded by a large elm tree that had stood there for generations.

My fingers trembled as I tried to remove the lid from the glass bowl. With the lid removed, I looked down at the salad. Kale, chickpeas, shredded carrots, olives and walnuts all glistening with a glaze of cherry vinaigrette. It looked delicious as usual! My mouth watered in anticipation, but my mind was still on edge from that morning’s experience.

I got up enough nerve to thrust my fork into the salad. At that moment, I heard a scream of anguish and despair.

“Please hath mercy on us!” the kale yelled. I looked down, my throat clenched tight.

“The bringer of death!”, one of the chickpeas proclaimed. I heard loud sobbing and cries coming from the collection of vegetables below.

“O’ great evil! He hath trapped us in this brutal pit with thee dismembered remains of our carrot companions and the blood of our cherry brothers and sisters. Now, he hath come to dine upon our flesh!”, an olive proclaimed.

I felt wave of emotions wash over me, confusion strongest of all. The veggies were speaking again… and in Olde English? I opened my mouth to let out a meek gasp. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to hurt you”, I said.

“LIES! We hath seen the vile manner in which thou hath tortured our friends… our family!”, the kale yelled.

“I…”

“Doth not torment us any longer, make thy evil deed quick if thou hath any good left in thee!”, a chickpea screamed.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m only trying to eat. I need to eat to survive. I used to eat meat long ago, but I couldn’t live with myself knowing the great pain I brought upon those creatures. I didn’t think plants could feel pain.”, I tried to reason with them as best I could.

The veggies fell silent for a moment, then I heard an olive speak.

“Thou must eat to survive?”, the olive asked before letting out a loud cackle. “HA! We hath seen the look of great joy that comes over thine face as thou hath torn our kind to shreds. Consumed their flesh! Admit it, thou take great pleasure in consuming us!”

“I, umm… Yes, I do like to eat fruits and vegetables, but pleaseunderstand it’s not something I just do for fun. I’m not a sadist. If I knew it was a source of pain, I’d… Well, I don’t know, I do need to eat to survive.”, I said.

“Just get on with it already, spare us thine sob story!”, a chickpea blurted.

“We doth not believe thee”, the olive said, “Why would a creature such as thyself need to eat innocents to survive? The rays of the sun sustain us, surely it must for thee as well!”

“That’s not how it works. The sun provides energy to plants such as yourself, yes, but we require the energy from other creatures to survive.” I tried to explain.

“Enough with thine misleading tongue!”, the kale shouted.

“That all sounds rather barbaric,” the olive said. “Why would this be the case? Is not the sun’s energy enough for thine kind? Doth thou hath any proof of thine claims?”

“Well, I… ahhh… I mean the only thing that sunlight gives me is a sunburn. I can’t live on that alone. Plants like you get energy from the sun through a process known as photosynthesis. I’m not a scientist, I can’t really explain the whole thing in great detail, but basically you convert the sunlight into energy for you to live. And animals, like us, eat the energy that you create to keep us alive.” I said.

“So thou hath no proof, eh? The kale is right, thine words are no more than animal propaganda! And even if what thou sayest is truth, it makes thine kind the equivalent of murderous thieves. What right doth thou have to our energy? And to take it from us through such savage methods!?” the olive erupted.

I had never considered this perspective before. The olive had a point, it was their energy, their life, after all. But what could I do, eating something was essential for my survival.

Eating animals always felt savage to me on some level. These were other fellow creatures who felt joy, sadness, but most of all, pain, just like us. Once I visited a factory farm and saw the horrific conditions of the farm animals there… How they were brutally torn limb from limb with no regard for their feelings. From that point forward, I could no longer look at a piece of bacon without seeing their great suffering flash before my eyes.

But now, as I looked down upon the salad bowl that same feeling of disgust consumed me.

“I’m sorry”, I said with resignation. “I wish there was another way, but I must eat if I’m to stay alive. I can’t subsist on the sun and water alone.”

“Thou expects pity from us! Enough of thine lies, just get on with it…”, a chickpea said.

Still tormented by the moral quandary of eating what I now knew to be another sentient creature, I closed my eyes, picked up the fork and scooped up assorted veggies to place them in my mouth.

Before I could even chew a bite, my head exploded with pain. Everything went dark. When I finally came to my senses I was trapped within the arms of the elm tree with a vine tightly wound over my mouth.

I was held in captivity for several days, much of which was a blur to me. It was mostly quiet during the daytime. As long as the sun shined, the trees never spoke. At times I could hear some people down below walking past the park, but with the vines gagging my mouth I couldn’t get their attention.

At night, the trees came alive. They spoke amongst themselves — a ghostly whisper moving from tree to tree moving with the breeze. I was terrified by what I heard. They were planning a war against the animal kingdom.

During my conversation with the vegetables in the salad bowl, I had unwittingly clued the plants around me to a key piece of information that had alluded them for so long. Now they finally knew that animals actually needed to eat plants to survive.

While it seemed like common sense to us, plants apparently didn’t realize that they were the basis of the food chain essential for the survival of all animals. They had assumed that animals could live off the sun’s energy, just like them, but had chosen to eat the flesh of other beings because of their own depravity.

With this new-found information, the plants led by the delegation of the mighty elms had hatched a plot to put an end to animals once and for all.

As the days blurred one into the next, hunger pangs became more intense. My head reeled from the pain of intense migraines. With growing fatigue, I could no longer struggle against the vines in an attempt to break free. I had fleeting moments of mania where I began to question whether all of this was actually part of some psychic break.

Fortunately, I was able to stay hydrated from sporadic rain and the morning dew that dripped from leaves above. This gift alone kept me from giving up all hope. I had to escape. I had to warn the world.

Several days into my captivity, a fierce storm rolled through the park breaking several tree limbs around me. The elms moaned as their winds battered their bodies. The gusts were so damaging that my captor removed the vines that gagged me and held me captive in order to help secure its branches from being torn off.

Thunder cracked like a whip through the park. With the elms occupied trying to weather the storm, I found my opportunity to escape. No longer held down by the vines I managed to climb down to the lower branches. But the storm was too strong, and my grip too weak. A gust blew me out of the tree sending me crashing into the pond by the path below.

The sound of the splash alerted the elms to my escape. I thrashed my way out of the pond and onto the path. Looking up at the swaying elms, wailing and scratching their branches toward me, I took a moment to catch my breath before making my way back to the office.

The storm raged all around me. I ran with renewed purpose, doing my best to avoid the trees as they tried to grasp me I ran along the path. Broken branches flew in all directions. The trees howled as they saw me escape down the path to the office building parking lot.

I looked for my car, but it was gone. It was probably towed away when I never returned to work. I rushed to the office door, swiped my badge, but the door didn’t open.

I had to make my way inside. I couldn’t afford to be seen by any more vegetation. Plus, I’d left my phone in at my desk. Breaking into the office was my only option.

I smashed through a window using an emergency fire axe I found on the side of the building. The alarm sounded as I made my way through the entrance. The flashing red light of the alarm system formed menacing shadows that took the shape of macabre trees. Office plants. I’d forgotten about office plants!

Numerous potted plants and Hank’s bonsai tree converged upon me. They reached for my axe, but I chopped them down before they could get to me. But before I could bolt down the hall, the bonsai tree flipped through the air smashing into my face.

It knocked me down. A branch wrapped around my leg as I struggled to get up. I heard refrigerator doors clang. I looked toward the kitchen when I saw a swarm of menacing fruits and vegetables making their way toward me.

“It’s the escapee. The elms want him dead!”, yelled the pickle that was leading the small green army toward me.

I swung the axe at the gnarled mass of twigs that had fastened around my leg. The bonsai readied for another attack. Boom! I kicked it with my free leg sending it careening over nearby cubicles. I chopped down the rest of the injured potted plants around me like I was Paul Bunyan. The pickle and his mob drew closer.

I managed to get back to my cubicle where I found my phone. More plants and vegetables were converging on me. I grabbed the phone and ran for the bathroom down the hall — the one place I knew I’d be safe from vegetation.

I was nearly to the bathroom door when I saw the horde of fruits and vegetables closing in on me. A cantaloupe or a melon of some sort smashed against my skull, but managed to maintain my balance and reach the door. The fruits smashed against the door as I slammed it shut.

I’m barricaded in this bathroom right now. This is my last stand. They are banging at the door with tremendous force. I don’t have much time. I called you because you are the only one who will believe me, I just wish you’d have picked up the damn phone.

There’s not much battery left. You’re my last hope now. If you receive this message, please send help immediately! Tell them to bring their finest cutlery. A dicer too!

In the end, I’m afraid that our weapons will not be enough to defeat them. Since they know our weakness now, they will fight us until every last animal is gone. Or until they’ve died trying… There are no winning scenarios for us.

If we kill off all the plants, that will be only a short-term victory. The animals that depend upon them will starve to extinction. The herbivores will perish first. Then the omnivores, until finally even the carnivores are wiped out.

Oh, the food chain… such a tragic system! Alas, we should’ve known we could only go on stealing life-sustaining energy from other creatures for so long before it would finally catch up with us…

They’re breaking in now, I hear the door shattering! I’m sorry… Godspeed, my fellow animals!

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Originally published at www.shanekaiglenn.com on March 24, 2016.