When my wife and I met back in 1966, we already knew we were rising in love. It was a time of staying up just about all night and talking, getting to know the deepest and highest of ourselves; those parts we can share only when we know “this is it — the right person.”
I was the son of the owner of a resort hotel about 85 miles north of Manhattan. I was a Maitre D’ of that hotel in that year. I was 28. My future wife was 24. We were both trying to figure out our lives: where they were going, and what we should do about it.
I had done a short stint at UCLA law school in the earlier 60s. If I took anything away from that one year, it was the “rational man” theory. That would be my mantra, and guide for my future. I decided that when a conflict arose in my life, I would do my best to take the position of the rational man.
This commitment made immediate sense to my future wife Merle (who later chose to adopt the name Sun) and she elaborated on that idea by saying, “we will search for the truth, but we won’t only search. We have to live the truth when we find it. The latter is the more difficult part.”
I realize as I write that those words were our secret wedding vows.
It was around this time that we went to see a movie — I believe it was called Mondo Cane (A Dog’s World.) It was a kind of documentary-type film that depicted the myriad of insanities in the world. One scene showed a gigantic bull, surrounded by four men holding sledgehammers, and wearing huge fishing boots. These men proceeded to bludgeon the huge beast with the sledgehammers, swinging as hard as they could at the animal’s head. The poor animal, big and strong, and screaming in terror, took many blows before he went down.
It was a window into reality that changed both our heads forever. On the spot, outside the theater, we stopped eating meat, and we have since been vegetarian for 53 years and counting.
We didn’t think anything of dairy. Dairy was Elmer and Elsie — nothing to consider there. Then, one year later, we were married and living in Upstate New York, a short distance from a family dairy. We decided to visit to see what went on there. After being shown around by their PR guide, where everything was neat and tidy, we snuck around to look behind the scenes, to see what wasn’t on the official inspection list. We were immediately confronted by a cow who was bawling and bellowing. When we asked a worker the reason why, he told us that her baby calf had been taken from her. We realized that her milk (intended for her baby) would instead go to profit the business. He said, “you get used to it. And besides, she stops after a few weeks.”
We looked at each other, wanting to scream along with the poor mother. There was another blatant truth for us to live. We have not touched dairy or its by-products in over 50 years.
We didn’t know of the word or concept of veganism. But before long, we decided to devote our lives to spreading the word about the plight of not only the so-called “food animals,” but all sentient beings. My wife and I founded a commune of people who saw this truth as we did. We called our group of 35 people “Gentle World” as that was our goal then, and still is our goal today.