Never Too Late To Change The World: Why I Became Vegetarian At Age 86
My grandmother is my hero; she always has been. She taught me how to play fair, how to be confident enough in myself so that idiots wouldn’t matter, and how to put on eyeliner. She showed me how to consistently strive for greatness (she thinks I’m great!), and gave me the self-assurance to tap into my talents in a way that would do good in the world. When I was 14, she taught me how to drive, how to memorize Frank Sinatra lyrics, and how to curse in Yiddish. She continually demonstrates compassion, kindness, generosity, and humility. Even now, at age 88, in the wake of losing her ability to walk, she keeps her head held high and her sense of self strong and unwavering. My grandmother is my favorite person on the planet, and she’s about to become your favorite, too. — Jasmin
I want people to know who I was!
Born in 1924 into a Jewish immigrant household in Brooklyn, I was raised on chicken soup, meatloaf, pot roast, gefilte fish, hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak. I loved them all, never questioning what the source of my food was. Everyone I knew lived and ate the same way. Thanksgiving was for eating turkey. Passover was for eating chicken or pot roast. There was no strong meat industry in those days, not like today anyway. Factory farming hadn’t yet boomed. Perhaps animals were treated better, but then again, they were still slaughtered for food. And who even thought about that anyway? Eating meat was the norm of the day.
There were no supermarkets then. Meat was purchased at butcher shops. I still remember the neighborhood butcher, Mr. Young, who was a real jokester (well, he thought so). When we’d stop by Mr. Young’s shop, jokes would often arise regarding life in a butcher shop. Most of them were not very funny. One joke I remember was about a consumer who asked to smell the hind section of a chicken she was about to purchase (that’s how you knew how fresh the carcass was – why I didn’t go vegan then is beyond me). The joke goes that the butcher responded, “Could you pass that test yourself, lady?” Awful, isn’t it?
When I got married to George, I was 18. I continued to cook like my mother had, except I added more vegetables to our diet. George was a very open-minded, progressive guy, who always questioned assumptions. He marched with Martin Luther King, an experience that forever changed him. He was the kind of partner who encouraged me to follow my dreams. He was not the sort of man who would be embarrassed by a working wife – though that was the thinking of many at that time. As a result, I led a happy, fulfilled life. The reason I bring this up was because had we known about the exploitation of animals then, and about veganism (a word that was not even coined yet), George would have become a vegan, and embraced animal rights activism. I’m sure of it. Too bad we didn’t know about that lifestyle. Maybe he would have lived longer. My George died way too young, of a fast and furious cancer that took his life in a matter of months.
My second husband, Murray, loved animals. He took more pleasure in talking about his dog than about his children. When we would visit my daughter – Jasmin’s mom – who had a cat named Rocky, the cat would immediately jump onto Murray’s lap, where he was pampered and petted. Rocky stayed on Murray’s lap as long as he could. Who wouldn’t? Had Murray been alive when Our Hen House started, he would have been an activist for the cause.
So how did I change, and why? How did I become who I am, instead of who I was?
I had always been an activist for women’s rights. I lived life as a woman who moved to the beat of her own drum. It seems like a natural extension that animal rights came next.
But I never had any pets. I never even thought about animals, to be honest. As a teacher, I did keep them in my classroom — which I see now was not the best decision, when looked at from the point of view of the hamster or turtle. The schoolchildren cared for the animals, considering it an honor to take them home on the weekends. I must admit, I became enamored with one particular turtle, which I thought had more spunk than his comrades (let alone some of the humans in my life).
When my darling granddaughter Jasmin went to work for Farm Sanctuary, I became a little involved. I bought Gene Baur’s book Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, and I went to Princeton to hear his lecture. I attended the NYC Walk for Farm Animals, and marveled at what a movement this cause had become. I attended meetings and workshops where they showed films documenting how animals were being abused. These films were very graphic, and not easy to swallow. I did not realize how much I was being affected.
I shared my feelings with my friends. Their reactions were mostly sympathetic; they realized that animals were not treated humanely. One of my friends decided to become a vegetarian. The others told me it was too late to change their eating habits. I had not yet declared myself a vegetarian, although I was eating differently and didn’t realize it. When I joined my family at restaurants, I discovered how tasty vegan food is.
Then, when I read a letter to the editor that Mariann had published in the New York Times Magazine, regarding how deeply we as a culture are impacted by the massive denial our society has when it comes to consuming animal products — consuming death, really — it had a profound effect on me. That letter was, I see now, my last straw, the final step in making a decision regarding the path I must take. I declared myself a vegetarian, putting an important label on a behavior I realized I had already adopted. I now knew, without any doubt, why I could no longer eat meat. It was a declaration for my future, and for the future of the planet. Meat made me sick. At long last, there was simply no way I could continue to support the cruelty of animal production. The world evolves, and so do we.
So who am I at this point of my life? I was 86 when I made such dramatic changes. I no longer join my friends for lunch, because even the smell of meat cooking makes me ill — and not just physically.
I am now an 88-year-old dame living in a vegan home. My daughter cooks colorful, healthy, decadent, delicious meals for me. I eat better than I ever have before. I am happy to have changed the way I eat and the way I think. I am angry that society accepts the way we treat our animals, and I will continue to espouse the rights of animals. I like who I am now!
Postscript: Sherrey Reim Glickman passed away in November 2013.
Sherrey Reim Glickman is an 88-year-old retired schoolteacher with a penchant for winning at mahjong. When not busy on her iPad, she can be found catching the latest indie flick, doting on her great-granddaughter and great-grand-dog, reading mystery novels, or singing old show tunes, perfectly on pitch. She lives in Marlboro, N.J. Our Hen House is a multimedia hub of opportunities to change the world for animals. Visit ourhenhouse.org.