I was holding a blue plastic bucket in my hands. Steam was rising from the liquid and dancing in the cold air. I couldn’t see much what was around me because it was pitch-dark (hello Finnish winter!). On the other side of the yard far away from us three bovines were standing in the doorway of a shelter. I remember thinking it looked almost like a painting, since it was the only place that had bright light and the doorway framed the scene. It was time for the smallest one, still a calf, Lauri to get his milk. He was 5 months old at the time.
I don’t know if they saw us standing there but none of them was moving. “How do we get him to come here?” I asked puzzled. Piia, the founder of the sanctuary standing next to me, answered “We just call his name”. I felt a bit embarrassed not to even think of the obvious option. “Late”, we called the small calf Lauri by his nickname. Late took couple of slower steps and then started to run towards us. He of course knew why we were standing there on the frozen yard. He stopped in front of me and with no hesitation started sucking milk from the pink gum part attached to the bucket.
There was this beautiful creature with big eyes just in front of me. I could feel the warm breath from his nostrils on my wrist that was no longer covered by a glove. I had to support the bucket against my hip so that the bucket wouldn’t fall when Late was pushing his head against it to get out every single drop. That baby was already strong! I had never been so close to a cow before and that is why that moment has stuck to my head.
Now three years later that small Late is so tall I can hardly reach the highest point of his back. He knows how to take advantage of his size and pulls the greenest and tastiest leaves from the tree tops and leaves some also for the other bovines and sheep to enjoy. That evening when I fed Late was the first one I spent at Tuulispää animal sanctuary, a retirement home and rescue shelter for farm animals in Somero, Finland. Little did I know what an impact the place would have to my life.
I was traveling in Asia during fall 2014 and spotted on Facebook that this kind of place exists in Finland. I was planning to come back home for Christmas, I was done with my age/career crisis and wanted to continue my life in Helsinki. But before starting to look for another job I wanted to use my time to volunteer and do something good. So there, in the sweaty waiting room of Butterworth train station in Malaysia I connected my iPad to a very shady wifi and wrote an email if I could volunteer for a month when I come back. The answer was yes.
I was a vegetarian eating milk products and eggs at the time. I had encountered veganism many times during my adult life. I had even lived with a vegan during the time when pretty much the only vegan cheese in the Finnish supermarkets was this slimy pale yellow disk. A year before going to Tuulispää I had attended Vegaanihaaste, a Veganuary kind of challenge of eating vegan food for one month. I noticed then that many things had become so much easier since the slimy cheese disk years and finding tasty food was no problem.
But somehow I anyway continued to buy the milk yogurts after January. I was interested in animal welfare and their rights, I was reading a lot about the connection between feminism and animal rights. Even my master thesis had been about meat commercials! My values didn’t reach my actions though. Seemed that none of this was enough to change the way I ate.
During that January 2015 something shifted. What was it? My motivation got personal. I got to know inhabitants of Tuulispää. Milk wasn’t anymore just liquid from a cow. It was from a cow like Late’s mum who didn’t have a chance to take care of his calf because of me. There was the tiny Late, drinking like no tomorrow water mixed with milk substitute from a bucket I was holding in my hands.
My life changed completely when I started to live according to my beliefs. First of all, I started to enjoy the food in a new way. But it went beyond eating. Even during the months when I was unemployed and felt I had little worth (that is stupid, I know, but that is how I felt) there was at least something I knew I was doing right. Tuulispää is a sanctuary for animals but it is that also for people. It is a place I always love going to and always love volunteering for. It gives hope and a chance to connect with animals that are normally out of sight behind closed doors or pictured as smiling characters on the side of a milk carton.
So I got this idea I wanted to have the first Finnish burger of the tour at Tuulispää. And I wanted to write about it now when the anniversary of my life turning for the better is around. It is also comforting when it is dark and grey outside to look at the photos and see that there has been sun in Finland last August. I have proofs!
I made this burger after the last open door event of the summer where I was volunteering. It had been a full house and I felt exhausted but also happy. I found from the fridge one burger with black bean patty that was left over from the café. I filled it with Vöner seitan slices, sauces and everything possible I found. After taking the burger outside for a photo shoot I returned inside and ate the burger in the kitchen where people were resting and chatting after the intense day. A burger has rarely tasted as good.
Running an animal sanctuary is hard work and it is dependent on donations. If you understand Finnish, here are some ways how to help Tuulispää. If I have learned something during these recent years, it is that there is no help, no action too small. Late, a small calf with a big heart, sparked a huge change in my life just by drinking milk substitute from a plastic bucket on that cold winter evening.
Burger count 12 countries, 21 burgers.