This is a much different post than I usually write. I don’t often talk about my vegetarian lifestyle because I found over the years that it tends to invite judgement and criticism from others and, as it turns out, I am not a big fan of having to explain myself. I believe in freedom of choice on practically anything, so what I choose to fill my belly with also fits nicely in that category. I also believe that my choice to become a vegetarian is a very personal choice and although I don’t mind answering the usual questions: Where do you get your protein from? Do you eat eggs? Fish? But what about the bacon?!?!?! I have learned over the years that it is best for me to remain quiet on the subject and draw as little attention as possible to the fact that I don’t eat animal meat. Honestly, I sometimes find the questioning quite tiring and frankly a bit disturbing. I have been a vegetarian off and on for about 24 years and completely vegetarian for more than 10 years. While I’m fully aware that some vegetarians and vegans are judgemental and outright self-righteous, that is not me. My husband eats meat without any judgement from me whatsoever. I have eaten my fair share of bacon and filet mignon and I understand it tastes good. I have never tried to “change” a friend or make anybody see my point of view. You can eat the biggest slab of steak or your favorite veal Marsala dish at the table with me and I will never say a word. As a matter of fact, I don’t care. So the idea that some people are so intrigued about what I choose to eat and seem seriously concerned about my well-being is perplexing to me. I’m not worried about your diet, so I’m not sure why you are worried about mine really…
So at this point, you are probably asking yourself why am I writing a blog post about something so obviously personal when I’m trying to avoid questioning from people? I’m actually inspired to write about vegetarianism because of the great Jane Goodall book I am currently reading called “Reason for Hope”. Specifically, I wanted to share two sentences from that book that I insanely identified with. These two perfectly written sentences are exactly what I should answer when someone asked me why I am a vegetarian. And I am asked that question pretty darn often.
I wasn’t aware that Jane was a vegetarian and I knew nothing about her before reading this book other than she was “the chimp lady”. I also knew that she was a kind-hearted British woman who has done so much for expanding our knowledge of chimpanzees. She is also a great environmental activist. I wasn’t aware of her work to give better living conditions to laboratory animals and certainly didn’t know her position on factory farming and animal suffering. Personally, I have never tried to put on paper my philosophy about vegetarianism and I thought it would be a great exercise in self-reflection and perhaps a small window for others to understands my thoughts on the subject. I guess in some ways it makes me feel awesome that another human being see things the way I do and since it happens to be the extraordinary Jane Goodall it is even better!
In her book, Jane discussed how learning about the treatments of meat animals changed her beliefs about eaten them. Since learning about intensive farming, Jane found that her attitude towards eating animal flesh completely changed. She said: “When I looked at a piece of meat on my plate I saw it as a part of a once living creature, killed for me, and it seemed to symbolize fear, pain, and death”. I couldn’t agree more with every single word in that sentence. I think we are so disassociated with the raising of animals and how exactly our food arrives on our table that we completely forget what we are actually eating. I know that for me, I first stopped eating meat around 16 years old once I learned that what we were calling “meat” was actually coming from animals. I looooooved animals. I have no idea what I was thinking I was eating before, but the association animal and flesh had not clearly connected in my brain. It took me a long time to start eating meat again and I did so mostly out of peer pressure and because it seems to be the more “normal” thing to do. Culturally, it is hard to change the way you think and what you are supposed to eat. As I have mentioned before, deciding to stop eating meat comes with a lot of questioning and judgment. Sometimes it is almost easier to keep following the social norm.
Jane mentions later in the book that she is not against eating meat, only the methods in which we choose to acquire or raise our meat. I feel very much the same way. Jane says: “Try to partake of the flesh of animals who have enjoyed their lives and have been killed in the most painless way possible. And could we not offer up a prayer for the spirit of the once living creature that has died for us?” I have no arguments against the fact that humans like eating animals. Meat taste good and is certainly a valuable nutrition source for us. My problem is the complete lack of compassion and sensitivity we humans inflict on other beings. Although we only recently decided as a species that animals can have their own thoughts and feelings and can actually feel pain, it is beyond my comprehension why we continue to inflict such suffering on living creatures for our benefit. Other cultures do such a better job at embracing the circle of life and fill their hearts with gratefulness for the animals who have lost their lives so that they could survive. I would love to see such a belief-system infiltrate itself in our western way of being. For those of you who have pets, you know that animals have distinct personalities, can experience joy and sadness and can be intensely social beings. Why doesn’t our human ethic embrace all living beings? It is an interesting dilemma and I know opinions abound on the subject. Certainly too much for a short little blog post.
What most folks don’t realize is that becoming a vegetarian involves many confusing steps. It starts with a trigger incident and ends many years later with a mostly perfected diet that works for you and mostly just you. Everybody is different. My trigger incident was my biology class in school and then I went through a series of specialized diets such as eating only bread and potato chips (obviously not healthy, but very common among vegetarian first-timers) to finding more and more sophisticated options that are tasty, filling and healthy. When you first become a vegetarian you forget about all the animal products that are in EVERYTHING. What about the broth in my soup you say? This change requires many years of questioning your own personal values and beliefs and comes with a lot of research and decision-making. Being a vegetarian is not always easy. There are as many shades of vegetarians as there are of grey.