The Reluctant Vegetarian

I like my steaks rare. I drool over hot wings and cheeseburgers. I hate broccoli. I refuse to eat any salad made with lettuce. Which, you may have noticed, describes most salads.

A little more than a year ago, I decided I was giving up meat.

~Ish.

I call myself a “Flexitarian.” I’m not opposed to the food chain per se, see. Sometimes animals eat other animals, and humans are omnivores.

But I hang around with a great number of people who are very interested in food justice and sustainability issues, environmentalists and animal-rights sympathizers and other lefty do-gooder types, so I kept hearing things over the years – things that my anti-environmentalist- libertarian- objectivist- rationally-self-interested father would say were transparent efforts at socialist propaganda.

I love my dad. But I think he’s dead wrong about the environment.

All human ideas change slowly. We have so many emotions clinging to the ideas that feed our sense of self-worth, our self-righteousness, our self-esteem, our sense of security.

Or maybe I should speak in the “I.”

I have numerous emotions clinging to the ideas by which I define my stance in the world.

So before I can change an idea, all the appended emotions need to be excised. That takes a long time.

It took a long time in this case. But change I did.

At first, when my friends started in on environmental gobbledygook, I just kept quiet and cultivated an inner stance of dismissiveness. All these bleeding hearts were terribly deluded, but I liked hanging out with them, they were fun people, and I have an aversion to rocking the boat, so I said nothing and forgot about it.

After a while, I graduated to distant curiosity (“well, I have to admit that last point wasn’t totally stupid, she may have something there”), then to sympathy (“ok, I can get in line with a few of those ideas”), to inactive believer (“yes, I agree with you, but what could I possibly do about it myself?”), to guilt-laden believer (“if I really believe that sustainability is an urgent priority for all of us, shouldn’t I be doing something?! But what? It’s so overwhelming! I’d have to change my buying habits! My leisure habits! My diet! I hate vegetables!”).

Finally, a little more than a year ago, I saw a Law and Order: SVU episode set in a chicken factory, and it tipped  me over the edge. I could not, in good conscience, eat any previously living animal that had been subjected to conditions like the ones I’d seen on TV. I didn’t even have to take morality into consideration. It was nauseating and gross.

My boyfriend had decided to give up meat for Lent the previous year. In an effort to support him, I’d made a list of easy meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert) that don’t involve meat. He only lasted two weeks, but I knew where the list was.

I tried my own Lenten meat fast. I used my list from the previous year and allowed myself, once a week on the sabbath, to eat whatever I wanted.

I discovered a few things:

1. My sense of smell sharpened noticeably whenever I walked past the guy selling lamb skewers by the train station.

2. Veggie Delight subs from Subway are delicious (I get mine un-toasted, with everything except hot peppers, topped with sweet onion dressing).

3. Tex-Mex food loses a lot when you eliminate meat.

4. With Indian food, however, I barely missed it – chana and dal and saag are fantastic on their own.

5. Asian restaurants can do amazing things with tofu.

6. Getting veggies at the farmer’s market somehow makes me want to eat them more. Except for broccoli or lettuce. There’s just no help for that.

I still hated salads, and I dearly missed burgers, but it actually hadn’t been nearly as hard as I’d imagined. As the Lenten season ended and I looked forward to the prospect of re-incorporating meat regularly into my diet…. I found that I didn’t really need to.

And, of course, my new dietary restrictions had sparked a whole new round of conversations with those very same lefty do-gooder friends who had gotten me interested in these types of things in the first place.

Aside from my distaste for eating anything that’s been tortured, it turns out that consumption of meat is a big contributor to global warming. It also puts a huge strain on world water and grain supplies (did you know it takes 600 gallons of water to produce one hamburger patty? One.)

And the kicker – Apparently, about 70% of the antibiotics produced in the US are given to livestock. As a preventative measure. Because they’re so much more likely to get sick when we raise them in god-awful conditions. Do you remember in biology and health class where they told you how misuse and overuse and unnecessary use of antibiotics can create super-bacteria that are drug-resistant?  We are helping to breed our next global pandemic with some of our meat-raising methods.

Not to be a downer or anything. And not to get down on farmers – never criticize a farmer with your mouth full. I appreciate and respect the work of anyone who is helping to put food on my plate. I just think that a system that is willing to actively abuse living creatures in order to turn a profit is pretty messed up.

But the good news is – there ARE easy ways we can reduce our meat consumption, and other easy ways to be pro-active about stewarding our resources. You don’t have to go vegetarian, and you don’t even have to identify with lefty do-gooder types – a lot of these changes are desirable for other reasons (health, finances, deliciousness). And I will totally still love you if you continue to gorge yourself on animal flesh. I just want you to know that you have options that are not awful.

I find that baby steps are the key to making any change stick. If everyone skipped meat for just one more meal a week, it could make a huge difference.

I’m by no means an expert on these things (I’m not even a full vegetarian!), but I’ve decided I’d like to share some of this faltering journey on the blog, in case it makes it easier and less threatening for other hard-core carnivores to make some changes. I’ll be periodically posting different baby-steps, tips, suggestions, and recipes to try so that if you are hanging out in guilt-laden believer limbo, you too can start taking action.

The gentle way.

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4 Comments

Filed under Reluctant Vegetarian, Uncategorized

4 responses to “The Reluctant Vegetarian

  1. I needed this post in the worst way, especially being in texas the past few days.

  2. Ha, yeah I’ve been to Texas for extended stays before – aren’t their 4 major food groups ribs, wings, steak, and bar-b-que? 😉 Glad you liked it.

  3. I was vegetarian for nine years. Got in a car accident which took my foot off, broke most of the bones in it, and both the ankle bones in the same leg. Long story short, the bone wasn’t beginning any kind of knitting after several days in the hospital. The doctor came in and started quizzing the nurses about my diet while in their care and they outed me as a veggie-person. Doctor had a fit, “You wanna heal that bone? Eat some meat…today!” I did. The bones showed some signs of beginning the process within 36 hours of eating the meat…and a little more, and a bit more. So I was finally released in a wheel chair with the promise that I would continue eating meat until all the bone was fully knit.

    Nine years later, I’m still eating meat, but not in the amounts I became used to consuming. I still include veggie burgers in my diet, and I hope to go slowly back to being a vegetarian again. Takes time, gotta do it in stages, but hopefully I’ll wean out things one by one; red meat, chicken, lastly fish.

    So, while I feel guilty every day about eating the critters, I’m bloody well happy I still have a foot and leg attached together at the ankle and can actually take a walk down the street or on the beach. I’m thankful for the benefits the meat gave to my bones…time to give back again.

    • Wow, that’s an incredible story. Glad you made it out alive.
      For the record, I’m all in favor of taking care of your own health first and foremost. I have a friend who was vegan for years, then discovered she had a gluten intolerance, and decided that being both vegan and gluten free was too much to ask. I believe the switch back to meat has had some other health benefits for her as well. But, like you, she doesn’t eat all that much of it anyway. Do what you need to do, I was speaking more to people like myself who don’t really have any compelling reasons to eat meat in vast quantities except that it tastes good. I was deliberately unaware of the environmental costs, and overwhelmed at the prospect of overhauling my whole diet (who isn’t?). Wanted to let people know it can happen more painlessly than you might think, even if you hate vegetables…

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