“We Don’t Eat Meat”

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I have always admired people who are able to set their mind to something and do it. People like Mary Pickford who imagined herself rich, and then by sheer power of her mind became rich. Others, like Martha, had dreams and creativity and set out to make them into reality and did so spectacularly. I believe in this school of thought and positive thinking is very important to me. This is veering quickly off course, so I had better steer it back to what this post is supposed to be about.

I have been meaning to be a vegetarian for many years. When I first thought about switching from being a carnivore to an herbivore, my intentions were purely ethical. The ruthless slaughter of abused animals for my consumption rather stifled my appetite when I thought about it — so, I didn’t think about it. I pretended that such violence and cruelty wasn’t real and that it didn’t concern me. But, of course, it did.

After my first round of noble intentions, I set out to become a vegetarian, and ended up eating Cheerios for two days before going back to chicken for dinner. I have always had a particularly picky palate, so, I didn’t really have any other options to consider which made such a transition nearly impossible.

I saw the film, Food, Inc., and was disgusted by what I saw happening, quite literally, in my backyard, but I ate chicken still. I’ve never been big on beef and pork and I considered my consumption of chicken breasts and the occasional piece of seafood to be vegetarian enough. It wasn’t, obviously, and I always felt guilty in the back of my mind when I thought about slicing through the flesh, muscles, and tendons of a thousand different birds.

About three months ago, a few things happened all at one time that convinced me to stop eating meat. I don’t believe in coincidences, so when these occurrences occurred (I enjoy the sound of that), I, like a 16th Century peasant, decided to follow the signs from whatever higher power was guiding me. First, while taking a shower, the phrase “The China Study” popped into my head. I knew the title because I had the book in my bedroom. I had picked it up a long time ago at a used book sale at a library, but had long forgotten about it and the subject of the book. So, after dressing I went upstairs and dug it out. It was all about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. I had already had this subject on my mind, so I found this intriguing and strange.

Then, when checking the news a few days later, I read that Bill Clinton had started a vegan lifestyle because of his health. I found this to be interesting because I was studying what exactly a vegan was and, of course, the Clinton’s are my Kennedy’s, I’m crazy about them.

Later that same day, while watching Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer on the Hallmark Channel, there was a guest on that spoke about the health benefits of a vegan diet and about the book, The China Study. The writing was on the wall, so to say, so I put down Gone with the Wind, and began to read this book.

I found every page enthralling, and while I won’t confess to understanding all the scientific and biological principles that were in it, I understood the basic concept. The China Study was a real study done in China (obviously.) It detailed the dietary habits of rural citizens and what kind of diseases plagued them, then compared these results to similar people in Western cultures. The big difference, dietary-wise, was the consumption of protein. Asians, in general, get almost all, if not all, of their protein from vegetables. We, on the other hand, consume the vast majority from animal protein, whether it be meat or dairy.

It studied the health impacts of our Western diet and found that this high consumption of animal protein led to a multitude of health issues. I won’t get into them all now as I could write for days, but I do suggest buying this book or checking it out from your local library. By the time I was finished with the book, I was convinced that I should at least give this lifestyle a chance. This time, though, it was about my health, not so much the animal cruelty involved.

[As an aside, I should note, that while the moral issue of eating an animal is a strong one for me, it doesn’t bother me terribly as it does other vegetarians and vegans. I was born and raised on a farm, I still live on a farm, and until just recently we had animals that were part of a cycle of life and death. I’ve pulled the head off of several chickens and understand that such activities are a way of life in our culture. It is not the reason I am a vegetarian, though, I am a vegetarian for my health.]

I have only been a vegetarian for a few months, but it already feels like a natural part of my lifestyle. So far, I have only fallen once and had a bit of fish a few days after I began this project, and it racked me with such guilt that I haven’t been tempted by meats of any kind. The most difficult thing I’ve had to cope with was a visit to T.G.I. Friday’s on a recent trip to Minnesota. I went there with my Aunt and Mother for a late dinner, but it seems they had nothing there to eat that didn’t have meat. I looked at the menu for what felt like an eternity, reading every item, looking for anything that I could eat. Even the salads had meat. I was close to tears because I would have to give up on a promise to myself. This was a horrible feeling–almost panicky. In the end, I had tomato basil soup and potato skins without bacon. The soup was really good and the potatoes were rotten. Now, before I go out to eat, I check the menus online so that I don’t have to flip the pages with that sense of panic. Turns out that the Olive Garden has a damn good minestrone soup!

Before, where my food options thwarted me, I have learned to try new things and have come to love new foods. I still eat far too much cheese and pasta to be perfectly healthy, but I will always love these. The research done in The China Study has shown that consuming dairy products is almost as bad as consuming animal protein, so, sometime in the future, I’m sure that I will begin experimenting with a vegan diet, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that. I tried Daiya Cheese, but found the artificial flavor so disgusting and vile that I couldn’t possibly consume it. I have soy milk in the refrigerator, but I keep looking at it in fear. I can’t bring myself to try it for some reason.

Ma bought me a package of faux chicken from Morningstar Farms and it was really good. It tasted just like chicken — which, I suppose, is the point. I’ve also tried the crumbled faux hamburger and made tacos with it. This, to me, tasted even better than actual beef! Exceedingly good stuff. I’ve heard of another company, Gardein, which supposedly has the best faux-meat products, but I have not been able to find any of them in stores, yet. Supposedly they are at Hy-Vee in Des Moines, so, perhaps I just need to look closer.

All in all, I really like being a vegetarian:  for my health, for the cuddly animals that get to survive, and for the benefit of the planet. When you think about all the water alone that is used to grow the corn that is used to feed the cows that is used to feed us, it is really quite insane that the meat industry took off at all! And then there are all the other factors that go into raising livestock — to me now, it just seems silly.

I don’t miss meat at all, I won’t go so far to say that someday I won’t long for a hearty bowl of boeuf bourguignon, but I’m sure by the time I do, I will have found a way to get around the beef involved. Chris Crocker is always posting pictures on Twitter of vegan beef tips that he cooks with — I will have to hunt them down.

People aren’t always understanding or supportive of vegetarians for reasons I cannot understand. What I eat has nothing to do with what they do. I don’t preach this like a new religion, it is just what I do. Maybe, by my example more people will become vegetarian or vegan or simply eat less meat — if so, great! I don’t want to topple any industries, I just want to live a long and healthy life.

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