Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Meat-eaters, I Refer You to This

I am often asked why I am a vegetarian. Well here it is:

It felt more authentic for me to move forward and not look back.

That is a bit cryptic, so let me now give you more than you asked for.

The story of me being a vegetarian is an odd one. From 1998 to 2002, I was not quite all the way there yet. I was a semi-vegetarian or technically, a pesce-pollotarian. I did not eat beef or pork, but I ate poultry and seafood. This run up traces its roots to my father. He had a health problem that required an immediate change in our diet. Considering the fact that what I ate was largely controlled by my mother, when the pork chops and steak stopped showing up, I simply ate what was put in front of me. The real change was that after my father got better, and my whole family went back to its adjusted but regularly scheduled dinner menu, I did not.

I have not particularly settled on a good reason why. It could have been the influence of Rastafarianism - some of my friends had recently converted (the religion comprises vegans and vegetarians). It could have been my burgeoning consciousness of health as a result of what happened and the change it had on the family, albeit temporary. Or maybe simply and superficially it could have been that I just wanted to be different. I cannot rule that out.

Thanksgiving 2002. That was the period. I do not remember the exact day, I just remember the result. I made thanksgiving dinner for friends. Yes, sir. I did. Calm down. It was a feast, but not necessarily a feat. I did bake and baste the turkey, steam the carrots and green beans, but I only opened the cranberry sauce, mixed the breadcrumbs with water, scooped the vanilla ice cream, warmed the apple pie from my grandmother's house in the frozen section and watched the crispy biscuits rise courtesy of America's favorite dough boy. I was told the turkey was good too, but I did not eat it that year. I was done.

Again, there is nothing moral about this story. It was not that I had read seminal works like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" or "The Way We Eat". I had not suddenly developed unconditional love for animals either. It was that I had worked out that I was in limbo - and I did not like it. It was a personal ethics question. I did not like the feel of semi. It felt just like that, very halfhearted. I either wanted to do it or not do it. I knew that it would be harder if I became a full vegetarian than a non vegetarian. In my system, doing the harder thing felt more consistent. I debated it for months, but it sneaked up on me that November and started with a turkey being served not having been tasted by the chef. It ended with me not eating any other bird, or seafood from then on. I suppose it only helped that I had somehow acquired an allergic reaction to shellfish a year earlier (read: no lobster, no crab, no conch - devastating).

Fast forward almost ten years later and I will now tell you I am still a vegetarian mainly for environmental reasons. It took me a while, but I got outside of myself. I did the research. That was how I got from feeling my way to thinking my way there. I will just distill that discussion into one thing: Being a vegetarian is incredibly more resource efficient and has the side effect of being generally healthier. As a flag waving supporter of the union between practicality and reason, that was all I needed to hear.

I miss meat on occasion. I admit it. Bacon still smells good to me in the morning (or any time of day really). I do not mind the smoke from an afternoon barbecue. I will not eat it though, at least not willingly. Sometimes surprisingly, I will have a nightmare about that scenario - someone slipping some bacon bits in my soup and telling me afterwards or feeding me a veggie burger that turns out to really be too good to be true. I would wake up either really angry or in a cold sweat. Then I would laugh at myself. I do not mind having to eat a salad or order a vegetable plate at a non friendly restaurant. I do mind the jokes from meat eaters who also happen to be jackasses, but I surprise them with a few snide remarks of my own. Until recently these were the biggest "challenges" I had being a vegetarian, but I found them breezy in comparison to the discipline of the years. That was until I ran into a futurist and China.

The futurist made me think about a world in which meat could be manufactured to be environmentally efficient - a theoretical exercise in what would I do then. I wrote a thirty page paper on it. Being in Asia made me confront a world in which there was no word for the word vegetarian - a real life exercise in what was I going to do right now. The intersection of these exercises was familiar, but they were in an altogether different dimension. I changed in the face of it. If one day science allows us to consume meat without consuming the planet then I am open to the possibility of changing my behavior. And last December, in Beijing, I did change my behavior. While there I eventually had to ask myself how much of the culture was I missing by not eating the food. I figured it to be a lot. And so I ate, not full meals but I sampled. It was delicious, but afterwards I went back to my steady state.

So things are a little more complicated for me than pure vegetarian ideals, but there it is. That is the whole story. Forgive me if I referred you to this post. I was not trying to be dismissive. I, like most people, just think better when I write than when I talk in real life.

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