Okay, you asked for it. Well, not you personally, dear reader, but there’s no shortage of those who question. I’m always befuddled when folks ask me why I decided to become a vegetarian right when we’re about to start eating. Is this really the moment they want to hear about the disgusting conditions in slaughter houses? The artery and brain clogging effects of red meat? The horror of their meat animal’s life spent in a cage, immobile, sick and most likely insane? My personal belief that the misery of a factory-raised animal carries over into the psyche of those who eat them? Being the overly-polite person that I am, I usually stick to generalities. I tell them it’s a matter of health, spiritual, and environmental concerns. I’ve noticed that these people are usually more interested in seeing if they can upset me by noisily enjoying their flesh eating than in hearing my reasons. But, having been a carnivore for forty years, I really can’t condemn anyone for eating meat. I don’t even believe vegetarianism is for everyone. I mean, even the Dalai Lama eats meat due to a blood condition.
I didn’t come to this choice easily. Though I’ve always leaned (far) in the direction of compassion toward animals, I could never quite bear the thought of giving up all meat, especially . . . pepperoni. To never eat a pepperoni pizza again seemed like too cruel a fate to self-inflict. And pepperoni’s close cousins in deliciousness, salami, pancetta, prosciutto, and God help me, bacon. How could I live a full life without them? Would life even be worth living?
Then came the day I went to a Zen Buddhist retreat to hone my meditation skills. Well, this is plain asking for it, obviously. I’d already cut back on my meat eating ways, slowly working vegetarian meals into the rotation more and more, though I lived with and cooked for a devoted Iowan carnivore who grew up on pot roasts every Sunday and steaks the size of doormats. I found out that if I put in enough cheese, he’d survive the night long enough to reach his roast beef sandwich at lunch the next day.
But I digress. The clincher was that during this Buddhist retreat, everything was done as a meditation, including eating. We were served a vegan lunch and were instructed to visualize and give thanks for every step in the process required for this food to reach our plate. The cook, the grocer, the delivery driver who brought the groceries to the store, the farmer, the earth, the seed, the rain. Lovely thought, isn’t it? Then try inserting the sacrificial animal who gives its savory life into this chain of gratitude. Visualize the butcher in the slaughter house who pole axes said savory animal. Visualize the life of the factory animal, treated as a crop instead of a living being, with no life outside of a cage or a stockade. Yummy.
Later, during a walking meditation, I pondered this conundrum. It seemed so clear to me that I finally needed to follow my natural instincts and give up meat for real. But . . . the pepperoni pizza! The bacon! How could I stand it?
Then a very clear thought came to me. This is such a small sacrifice to make in the large scheme of things. An animal gives its life, not just at the end of its brief time on this planet, but its entire life, from birth to death. It has no life, so that we may eat it. I don’t need meat to survive. I don’t need meat to be happy. I don’t need to condemn one more animal to a miserable existence. There’s no going back after a realization like that.
That was about six or seven years ago. I’ve lost track. It doesn’t really matter to me, as I’m not counting the days. It turns out it was easy after all. Yes, the first year or so I’d get hit with cravings. I still yearn for a pepperoni pizza every once in a while. And yes, I had a slip here and there. I bought a pepperoni stick for my dog and ate half of it myself. I snitched bacon off a serving tray. But the desire faded rather quickly, especially as I found my taste buds getting more sensitive as the memory of salty, greasy flesh faded from my tongue. I signed up for a community farm service from which I picked up a bag of locally grown veggies and fruit twice a month, and had tons of fun learning how to cook new and exciting vegetables like beets, parsnips, burdock root, all sorts of fun weird things. My carnivore partner adapted just fine, and cooked himself a steak whenever I was out for the evening.
And now for the gruesome details: Why am I veggie head, you ask?
- Health. Everyone knows it’s healthier. Everyone knows Americans eat too much meat. As long as I’m careful about getting the proper amount of protein, minerals, vitamins etc., not eating meat is just about one of the healthiest choices I can make for myself. Proof is that my good cholesterol levels are so high the bad cholesterol doesn’t have a chance. This is without getting into the whole hormone issue, and the Mad Cow issue, and steroid issue, and on and on.
- Environmental. The cattle industry is one of the most destructive forces out there, destroying wild lands, encroaching on rain forests, polluting the water, justifying the elimination of endangered predators like wolves, destroying the forage of other wild animals, etc. And then there’s the slaughter house effluvium. Ew.
- Spiritual. I happen to be the sort that believes in the sacredness of all living beings. I don’t want to feed on the enforced misery of the beings at our mercy. We are stewards of the earth, not parasites and marauders. Yes, I carry spiders outside. No, I do not deploy slug bait or put out little boxes of toxins whenever I see an ant. If I found out that like the Dalai Lama, I had to eat red meat to stay healthy, I would make damn sure my meat wasn’t raised by agribusiness but by a local farmer who allows their animals a regular life cycle, out in a field with grass and sunshine, raised by its own mother, allowed to run. That’s a bare minimum.
That said, I don’t expect everyone to give up meat. The only thing I would ask is, be mindful and grateful for it when you do.