Born Vegetarian

What we eat is such a personal choice.  I debated whether to do a post on this topic; the last thing I want to do is offend anyone or sound judgmental.   After all, to each their own. Who’s to say my choices are better than yours? I am faaaaaaar from a good eater.  Oreos, bagels, and pizza make up the bulk of most of my meals.  Any healthy eating that happens these days in my house is a direct result of my husband and his refusal to see peanut butter and jam sandwiches as a suitable dinner option.

I have been a vegetarian for two-thirds of my life, with a couple recent-ish ventures into veganism.  More on that another time.

When I was old enough to understand that meat is derived from animals, I would always ask my mother what animal was on my dinner plate.  I got the usual answers: chicken, cow, pig, sometimes fish.  And then I clamped my mouth shut and had to sit at the dinner table long after my parents were finished eating.  Barely out of my toddler years, I didn’t want to eat animals.  I loved animals.

And then my mom got tricky on me. When I would ask her what animal was on my dinner plate, she would say poultry, or beef, or pork.  Clever woman. I may have been exceptionally bright (heh heh), but I wasn’t yet able to connect those words with an animal, so I ate what was in front of me…albeit smothered in ketchup so it could just slide down my throat without chewing.  I was suspicious…

Fast forward a few years and dinnertime became a battleground.  I. did. not. want. to. eat. meat.  Realizing this wasn’t some passing phase, my mom granted my wish of becoming a vegetarian, on one condition: I had to meet with a dietician to learn about meat substitutes to ensure I would still get enough protein.  I gleefully accepted her terms, and my 12-year-old-self went meatless.

That was 25 years ago.  Dammmmmn…I’m old enough to say something happened 25 years ago and I wasn’t in diapers when it happened!

In those 25 years, I have eaten meat 3 times, and each time I was utterly conflicted and so, so sad.

So what made me eat it then?

The first time was in my mid-20s and I was leaving my gym after one of those barbell classes that leaves every muscle weak and useless for 48 hours.  The butthead corporation that runs my gym seems to like putting them in grocery stores, so you have to walk through a bakery or the ‘meals to go’ section to leave.  Well didn’t I smell chicken wings, and for the first time in my life, thought they smelled pretty darn good.  So in my exercise-induced-zombie-trance, I bought 3.  Never have 3 chicken wings been eaten more slowly. I had never had wings before, and the concept of eating meat off of a bone was truly cringe-worthy to me. I still ate them. The worst thing is wasting meat.  They weren’t bad.  But they weren’t enough to make me go carnivorous again.

My next meaty encounter can be boiled down to one word: vanity.  Home from South Korea for the summer, I decided to do the South Beach Diet.  So much of this regime requires lean proteins, and, at the time, I couldn’t find any resources that gave options for vegetarians.  So in the name of slimmer hips, I started eating turkey bacon.  I didn’t hate it, but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that this just wasn’t conducive to my values.  No more turkey bacon.

My final foray into the meat-eating world happened while I was living in Seoul.  One evening, while I was eating ice cream for dinner, it dawned on me that I should probably start feeding myself like an adult, and not like an 8-year-old let loose in the grocery store.  I was 30, after all.  Definitely time to start eating like a grown up.  On my next trip to Costco (you should see the stuff you can buy at a Korean Costco!), I stocked up on more vegetables than a single person could possibly consume before they spoiled…and a pack of chicken breasts.  Yes…the vegetarian of 18 years bought a Costco. pack. of. chicken.  Never prepared a chicken breast in my life, and now I had 12 of them.

I probably could have won money if I had videoed myself preparing the chicken for both cooking and freezing.  Touching it was out of the question.  I did everything with baggies over my hands and I still squealed and squirmed.  I found a recipe online for rosemary chicken breasts and set out to cook myself a ‘grown-up dinner’.  I ate that first chicken breast, and cried the whole time.  More like sobbed uncontrollably.  Clearly this was not for me.  I mean, your dinner shouldn’t make you cry, right? The next day I was so sick, I literally had to crawl to the bathroom.  I was sweaty and shaky and oh so nauseous.  At first I was certain I hadn’t cooked the chicken properly and had poisoned myself with bacteria, but after some googling I learned that my body just didn’t have the enzymes to break down meat after so many years not eating it.  My body would start producing that enzyme again if I continued to eat meat, but I decided to give away the remaining chicken breasts to one of my carnivorous friends.  It just wasn’t for me.  Why I thought I had to include meat in my diet to eat like a grown-up is still lost on me to this day.

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I don’t eat meat because I love animals. It’s that simple.  I try not to impose my beliefs on others, and I try to respect everyone’s right to make their own choices.  I’ll admit that some of those choices truly perplex me – veal, lamb, fois gras – to name a few.  And my jaw may have hit the table the time a friend ordered ossobuca and it arrived with half the calf’s leg bone as some kind of gruesome garnish.  Yes, I may have been judgey in that moment.

Do I wish the entire human race would go vegetarian? Hell yeah! The world would be a whole lot healthier.  (Hey, if Einstein says so, I believe it. That guy was crazy smart.)  I do believe change is happening, as people become more aware of the ugly side of the meat industry – how the animals are treated and the conditions in which they live, and as people experience the health benefits to eating a meat-free diet. With knowledge comes change.

Have you ever considered going vegetarian? Would you?

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