For years I’ve toyed with the idea of vegetarianism. I go in waves, never fully committed, of trying to eat less meat. I’ve come to believe that we eat too much of it as a society, but being that I was raised on it served at almost every meal, it’s a hard addiction to shake. I still often find it absolutely delicious. But sometimes, I find it hard to stomach when I think of the process that goes on for it to end up in my belly. I was never a hunter, but I have also always thought that if you eat meat you should kill, clean and eat an animal at least once. That way you won’t take for granted the ease of grabbing some ground chuck or bacon at the grocery store. I’ve fished and done some trapping for work, so I’m close, but I’ve yet to “embrace the kill” and feed myself. I imagine it is a sacred first experience. For many, it would also be an off-putting experience to the whole meat game. I actually did my master’s work on hunting as a necessary form of wildlife management. Our human population and urban sprawl has eradicated many natural predators of some species, as well as wiped out numerous habitats solely for our greedy human interests. The end result is an abundance of some species (i.e., deer) that results in overpopulation, diseases, human-wildlife conflicts and other discord with nature. We’re a greedy species, and we’re not getting any less so. Sometimes I think if there is a God he should just dump out the puzzle pieces and start over. We’re just spoiled little brats who throw tantrums and don’t play by the rules. But I digress, as usual…
A few years back I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. He wrote it at the time he was about to have a child because he wanted to raise his kid in the most healthy manner possible. In sum, his research pointed to the idea that most meat we eat isn’t well-cared for and probably not that healthy for us. There’s more to it than that, but this essay is only slated for 2 pages, give or take. I couldn’t eat any meat for about three days after reading it; his thesis really resonated. But before long I was back on the train. Old habits die hard… I then read Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Righteous Porkchop right after I returned to carnivorous form, and it had me thinking that as long as I was selective about where I got my meat, the animals could live a good life, be treated humanely, culled thoughtfully and eaten without any buyer’s remorse. That idea stuck for a while, until the last couple years where I started to be conscious about my intake. I wasn’t sure if I still believed that or not.
Nowadays, it’s gotten to the point where I do my best to only eat meat at one meal a day. True vegetarians laugh at that, saying that I’m not really trying. Well, now I’m trying to get it down to 5 meals a week, and soon 3 meals a week. And all of that meat I will eat, I want to know where it comes from. I want to know the executioner. Nothing new, I guess, this has been the idea in the foodie movement for a while. But it only really exists in theory, for me, until I put it in practice. Hopefully I will.
By this point, regardless of the side of the dinner table you’re on, you may be wondering what are my major concerns about eating meat in general, and why am I either not going all in one way or the other. Fair question. Well, as I said, I think in our society we put too much emphasis on meat as the centerpiece of most meals. We don’t need nearly as much as we consume to be healthy. In fact, the amount we consume affects our health negatively, I think. Killing animals for survival sounds good on paper. But we don’t need meat to survive or be healthy anymore, some say. So, then, you might ask, then why not go cold Tofurky? I’d be lying if I said that I still don’t like the taste, but I think there are some essential proteins in there that can be difficult to reproduce in plant form. Tofu, seitan and tempeh mean well, but let’s be honest, they’re not that healthy in excess either. Nuts and avocados are good, milks and cheeses too, but maybe I’m just playing my Midwestern privilege. Plenty of people do just fine without. So who knows, maybe one day I’ll make it out of the meat game completely. But the thing is, vegetarians still use animals for dairy, and many use their flesh still for furniture, clothing and garments. When I think about it, if being humane is what it’s all about, then it should be vegan or bust. I know I couldn’t do that. Or maybe I just don’t want to.
I could be a vegetarian with a lot of help. I’m a terrible grocery shopper and cook. I eat the same 5-6 things over and over if I eat at home. If half of them contain meat and I knock those out, I’m eating three things over and over and that’ll get boring real quickly. Some stuff that is meatless that I eat I only do so when I’m in a jam; pasta and frozen quinoa burgers. Neither are that healthy or good for you, so I guess I have to decide if it is health or the life of an animal which I privilege more. That question is still being worked out.
If you’re still with me, thank you. It is probably clear to you that I have issues and I’m not going to resolve them anytime soon. The real question that needs to follow this discussion is what becomes of the cattle, pigs and chickens (amongst other animals) we will no longer be eating if we move to a meatless society (I know, not going to happen, but play along)? What percentage of “domesticated” animals in this country alone are raised for our consumption? If we eat less meat, those animals will inevitably die too (not that they wouldn’t if they lived out their natural lives on a pasture) as they will no longer be needed. We’ve created a monster, so it seems. But I guess we would spare a lot of innocent animals’ pain and suffering from their not being born merely so we can eat them. That’s eerie, when I think about it. What if the sole reason I was born was to be eaten. Yuck. Spooky.
Might as well not think too deeply on this. It starts with me and my decisions. If I could say abracadabra and solve this, I would no longer be a meat eater or a flesh wearer. I think that would be the right thing to do. But centuries of human domestication has led me to where I am and how I live, and in the end, it’s what I know. I know meat tastes good, and that makes it difficult to stop, or even reduce, my intake. If meat tasted like cardboard, no problem. But is my brain playing tricks on me? Maybe meat doesn’t taste good and I’ve just conditioned myself to think so the way most other processed foods taste good because of the addition of sucrose or fructose? Could I train myself to think meat tastes bad to break my desire for it?
The answer, quite clearly, is that I guess I’m not quite ready to go hippie powered. For all the evidence that suggests I’d be healthier and happier without it, it will likely be quite some time till I vanquish it from my diet. But for now, I focus on baby steps. Becoming an incremental vegetarian who acknowledges that meaty speed bumps will line my path. Who know, maybe that meat street will soon have an off-ramp to granolaville and I’ll live happily ever after…
A Letter From The Editor – Hi everyone, Brock here – I do not normally do this, but I had to add my two cents as I am a vegetarian and so is Katie. And yes, we do not eat meat for many reasons, one of them being the cruelty most animals have to endure while they are being “grown” for food. But that is not the only reason as I do recognize that in nature it is a cycle of life where animals consume each other. So then the biggest reason I stopped eating meat was the amount of greenhouse gases created by cows, pigs, etc. as well as the amount of plant calories required to feed them. Animals ‘yield” about 1% of the calories they consume when humans eat them. And despite what you might have heard on the news, the VAST majority of agriculture in the world is not for human consumption, rather it feeds livestock. So then if we all reduced our meat intake (I get that most people will never be vegetarians), it will reduce greenhouse gases produced by these animals as well as free up valuable agricultural lands for other uses – oh and perhaps we will all be a bit healthier too!
With apologies to Jonathan Safran Foer