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When I was in college, I became a vegetarian. I think I might have been influenced by a guy, as well as a lecture in Biology 101 about food scarcity and the energy inefficiency of eating animal protein. Yes, I am a cliché. I started out trying it for a week, and it lasted about four years — long enough to mystify my former-agriculture-teacher father, and long enough for me to begin to question the rationale behind my meat-free lifestyle. Did I really care that much about animals? Did I really care that much that it was better for the environment? (I was never primarily motivated by health, but more for ethical reasons.)
At some point, feeling unmoored from my ethical foundation, I answered the lure of bacon and gradually became a full-blown omnivore. For a while, preparing meat felt wrong — I tried to ignore the sinews and bones and other body parts that we have, too. But, eventually, I became quite comfortable with it, and, in the last couple of years, even ground my own meat for sausage.
Meanwhile, like anyone else who is interested in food, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I saw Food Inc. And, most recently, I read Eating Animals. I’m uncertain as to why this last one struck me more deeply than the rest — maybe because it was framed in a more emotional context, a context of a parent trying to do right by his child. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Everything is Illuminated), writes about his personal experience investigating the meat production system in the United States. Surprise! It isn’t all contented chickens and cows calmly chewing their cuds. In fact, much of it is horrifying — because of the environmental impact, the health implications for humans eating meat, and, finally, because of the welfare of the animals themselves.
In presenting the specifics about how meat routinely gets to the table, the book asks a difficult question: Do you want to be complicit in all this by ignoring the realities and continuing to eat meat?
Since reading the book, I’ve been slowly introducing more vegetarian fare into our diets. Alternative diets have become rather mainstream in recent years, so it’s much easier to find once-exotic grains and such in our neighborhood grocery store. I’m embracing “good” fats like olive oil and avocado more, which makes it a lot easier to cook yummy vegetable dishes and prepare second-helping-worthy salads. Goodness knows we could all use a few more vegetables in our lives, and I’d love my kids to grow up thinking of veggies as normal and tasty, rather than something they have to eat in order to merit dessert.
We’ve still got a huge backlog of meat in the freezer, so it won’t go out of the diet completely for a while, but I’m pondering making meat an occasional thing, rather than the staple it’s been. It probably wouldn’t hurt on the family budget front, either, though I’m sure I can find a way to break the bank on broccoli. My idealistic college-student self would be proud.