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How the Family Farm Brought Two Cousins to Plant-Based Eating

August 12, 2020
Time to read: 7 minutes

Although they both grew up frequently visiting their grandparents’ small midwest farm, FFAC college interns and cousins Cora Gertjejanssen and Britt Cripps both came to plant-based eating in different ways. In this Q&A, Cora and Britt answer questions about how their upbringings shaped their perspectives.

What were some of your first memories interacting with the animals on the farm?

Britt: As soon as we had pulled up into the gravel drive and parked, I would run to the barn to check on the wild kittens and baby calves with grandpa’s dog not too far behind. I could not wait to bottle feed the calves. We would drive around with grandpa to go check the fences, refill the water bins, and feed the cows. Later in the day, we would get to ride the horses, followed by another visit to the big red barn to check on the calves and kittens.

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Cora: I remember the first greeting I would receive would be from the farm dog. I would immediately go to the barn to find the gentle mama cat I called Angel. I ended up adopting four of her kittens, as well as a puppy a decade later. I spent countless hours feeding home-grown corn to the cows, and kept a notebook full of up to 150 different cow names, organized by breed and ear tag numbers. There was one steer I would always hang out with whom I called Oreo, who was a very docile and beautiful Holstein with a heart on his forehead. Later on in my teens after all the cats had unfortunately died out or ran away, I spent quite a bit of time with the new 4H donkey named Forrest.


What type of activities would you help with on the farm?

Britt: The garden was always full of produce ready for picking. We would spend hours making sure we found all the fruits and vegetables hiding behind leaves. In the afternoon, I would chase after the kittens in an attempt to tame them. The wild kittens would often have infections in their eyes and it bothered me that they couldn’t see. Grandma would give me dish gloves so I wouldn’t get scratched as I chased after the kittens that needed care. Once I caught a kitten, I would carefully bring it to the stairs and hold it in my lap while grandma took a cotton ball with medicine to wipe the kittens eyes clean. Additionally, I loved bottle feeding the calves. They would moo with delight when we came in with the warm, freshly mixed formula. I was always grossed out and amused by how long the baby cows tongues were as they aggressively sucked the bottle nearly out of my hands. I had to hold on so tight while they drank every last drop. I would purposely spill a little for the kittens to make sure they were fed too. There was always something to do or somewhere to be on the farm, and I loved that! Interacting with the farm animals, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian because I thought their sole job was to care for the animals. As I got older I realized that was just the fun part.

Cora: Every morning, I would feed the farm dog for my grandpa. I did some other outdoor work, such as gardening, fixing fences, and feeding cows. Everytime we visited, there would always be some sort of project to help out on, but I would mostly just explore the fields and drive the mule with my dad. I quickly learned how to drive it by myself. I also spent a lot of time helping my grandma in the kitchen, making buns, bread, and pies (she taught me the art of making and folding lard crust). I would also spend hours with the kittens and cows, just hanging out with them. When I was little, spending so much time with the farm animals made me want to have my own farm sanctuary. 

What foods did you commonly eat on the farm?

Britt: My family grew up eating a typical American Midwest meal focused primarily on meat and potatoes. On the farm, we would eat homemade buns with jam, grandma’s cinnamon bread, burgers, fresh milk and fresh turned butter, baked potatoes, deep red tomatoes from the garden, green beans, applesauce, sweet corn, and pie. There was always pie and homemade ice cream after every meal. I remember how much better everything tasted fresh from the farm. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I started avoiding dairy because of lactose intolerance and consuming less meat because I preferred the fresh vegetables from the farm. By the age of five I was rolling out lard pie crust, decorating cakes, and washing berries that we picked fresh that morning. Bugs would float to the top of the freshly rinsed berries and before grandma would squish them, I would scoop them up and put them outside. In the kitchen there were always pies to be made, buns to be shaped and cucumbers to pickle and can. In the basement there were two deep freezers and a pantry full of canned garden produce. My grandma taught me how to prepare, cook, bake and preserve so many foods. Working in the kitchen with her peaked my interest in pursuing my first major in baking and pastry arts prior to returning to college for nutrition science. Many of the skills she taught me have created a solid foundation for my future career.

Cora: My parents raised me vegetarian, so my mom made sure I got vegetarian food on the farm. She let me try meat, as she wanted me to make my own decision about my diet. Up until age six, I would occasionally eat steak or turkey, but it wasn’t my favorite. I really enjoyed the homemade/homegrown foods Grandma would make me, including her green bean salad, buns and cinnamon bread, pies with ice cream (pumpkin and cherry!!), mac and cheese, and corn on the cob. The vegetables and strawberries from the garden were always so fresh and delicious, and I would help out with planting and harvesting. We often would have bonfires in the summer and make s’mores and lemonade. 

When was the first time you heard of vegetarian or vegan food?

Britt: The first memory I have was in my early teens when we came to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the farm. My cousin Cora and her family had brought a Tofurky and I was so relieved that I did not have to eat the meat even though I had no idea what a Tofurky was. The head, gizzards and all would be in the pan surrounded by meat juice sitting right next to the mashed potatoes. I remember being conflicted about not wanting to eat what had been butchered on the farm, but I didn't know how to eat differently. Although I was too young to understand fully, I remember the way people treated Cora’s family as different. The most vivid memory was passing the buns for the few non-meat eaters at the end of the table, myself included. When I later became vegan, my grandma made sure I had plenty of veggies to eat.

Cora: As I mentioned earlier, I was born and raised vegetarian. Vegan I was a little unfamiliar with until I was a bit older, but I very quickly developed a dislike of meat. I tried it out of curiosity and as an attempt to fit in. Having no meat in the house was and has been the norm for me.

Was there a specific experience that made you question consuming animals? Cora, did you find it hard to “fit in”?

Britt: When I was young meat grossed me out. I rarely branched out from the few animal proteins that were seen as more normal to consume. As I briefly mentioned earlier, I started consuming lactose free milk when I was about 10 years old because dairy really upset my stomach. I took lactaid tablets from that point on to consume dairy. I tried seafood once, and quickly found out I was allergic, so I avoided all types of seafood after that experience. It wasn’t until 2014 after I completed an anti-inflammatory dietary protocol to help combat severe symptoms from food intolerances that I chose to start eating vegan foods. As I continued to eat vegan, the more I realized the travesties going on in factory farms and started to realize it wasn't just a diet. However, growing up I remember when Cora’s mom was pregnant and even though I was young, I remember everyone’s concern for Cora’s soon-to-be new baby brother. I think that shaped my understanding of vegetarianism as “unsustainable”. I thought that vegetarian and vegan diets were a restrictive, malnourished belief that individuals chose as more of a commitment to compassion for all animals rather than themselves. So, early on I saw vegetarian or vegan as only a weak, feminine choice.

Cora: The farm family was fully meat-oriented - it was their norm! My family was the only vegetarian one, and my mom was “to blame” for “converting” my dad. It took years before the comments surrounding my health and how I needed to be fed meat, even as a baby, lessened (however it is still very present). People were especially concerned about my brain development, but I’d like to think I turned out just fine. When my mom was newer to the family, concerned and passive aggressive comments about food were constantly made. A family member once asked my mom “Why are you vegetarian? It’s not ‘cus you care about the animals, is it?” (as if caring about the animals made us weak). However, my grandma always made sure we would have something good to eat and she and my mom started cooking more together, making a variety of vegetarian meals that were enjoyed by all of us. Overall, as a young child I didn’t pick up on the passive aggressiveness, though once in a while at family gatherings I would feel out of place, not only as one of the only city kids, but also as the vegetarian.

A specific experience that hardened my resolve to never eat meat again was that steer I mentioned earlier, Oreo. I adored him and would play with him all the time. Unlike the other cows or steers, I could run up to him and hug him without him flinching an inch. I soon found out that his fate was sealed to be sent to the slaughterhouse, and I was absolutely heartbroken as a young child. I started my own research about factory farming and discovered that the majority of animal experiences are exponentially worse than on our little farm, and decided to continue being vegetarian for my entire life.

Cora Gertjejanssen and Britt Cripps are both college interns for FFAC this summer. Cora is studying environmental law and Britt is studying nutrition science.

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