Not a single turkey you can buy in a supermarket could walk normally, much less jump or fly. Did you know that? They can’t even have sex. Not the antibiotic-free, or organic, or free-range, or anything. They all have the same foolish genetics, and their bodies won’t allow for it anymore. Every turkey sold in every store and served in every restaurant was the product of artificial insemination. If it were only for efficiency, that would be one thing, but these animals literally can’t reproduce naturally. Tell me what could be sustainable about that.
– Frank Reese, Farmer
via Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals
When I was a freshman in high school, I announced to my mother I was going to become a vegetarian.
I told her the idea of eating meat after all the dissections we’d done in biology classes grossed me out.
She understood what I was saying, but suggested there might be another reason for my dietary shift. Betsy, the girl I was trying to date at the time, was a vegetarian, and my mother suggested this might be a more likely catalyst for my decision.
I argued ardently against this line of reasoning.
Now, older and wiser, I can admit she was correct.
Almost 15 years later, Betsy is married with two children, and I’m still a vegetarian.
What’s more, I’ve watched pretty much every food documentary out there, read the best of Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and the rest.
Whereas misplaced teenage lust was the impetus for going veg, the decision to stay that way has come with a fair amount of research.
I should say, because it needs saying, I’ve never been a proselytizing vegetarian. In college, after explaining the idea of eating flesh grossed me out, I claimed the notion of killing animals didn’t bother me at all.
Just typing that now helps me to see what kind of dork I was in college.
Still, I’ve never been one to spread the good word of vegetarianism. If you want to be all omnivorous with your bad self, have at it.
I’ll be at the salad bar.
Then, in October, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
It was the first time I’d read someone make the moral argument for vegetarianism that made me care.
“Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list,” Foer wrote. And, it started to get to me – even as a vegetarian.
From the moral argument, to the ecological argument, to the nutritional argument, to the sustainability argument – Foer put it all in front of me.
And so, on Black Friday, I decided to conduct an experiment. For one month, I would eat a vegan diet. Suddenly, I couldn’t distance myself from the treatment of the animals producing the dairy or egg products I’d told myself were acceptable because none of them was killed.
So, for one month, I ate like a vegan.
I read about veganism.
I visited vegan websites.
I talked to vegans.
I went to a vegan restaurant.
And, I have to tell you, it felt pretty good. After two weeks, I noted an uptick in energy, and my body felt lighter.
On the downside, I was a pain to choose a restaurant with. Plus, I needed to eat. All. The. Time.
Taking the processing out of my food meant my body didn’t take as long to, well, process it.
In the last week of my experiment, I was seriously considering turning vegan. On the drive from Philadelphia to Illinois, I had a rather lengthy phone conversation with Ben who cautioned me against being fanatic about the whole thing. After we talked, I did a gut check. Nope, not fanatical.
When I walked in my house, my parents ran me through the list of vegan foods they bought at the specialty food store to make certain I’d have enough to eat throughout my stay.
The decision was getting easier and easier.
My mom even made a special dish with rice pasta to take to my grandparents’ annual Christmas Eve celebration.
At my grandparents’, I realized I am not a vegan.
I care about the effects of factory farming, and I realize my place and the part I feel compelled to play in working against a treatment of the land and animals that would set my great-grandfather rolling in his grave.
And here’s why I can’t be a vegan.
Faced with the corn casserole and the sugar cookies shaped and decorated to look like each of my grandmother’s grandchildren, I realized I care about animals, but I care for my family and they care for me.
In the face of the feast prepared by my family and the reasons for that feast, I realized saying, “I’d love to try a cookie, but I’m not sure where the eggs came from,” wouldn’t quite be in keeping with how I want to honor the care my family shows me.
I allowed myself a 48-reprieve from the experiment. I focused on enjoying the company and offerings of family. The day after Christmas, I picked it up again.
I’m sure there are those who would argue I’ve violated my rules. Maybe I did. When the rules are arbitrary, though, I am uncertain as to how much it matters.
And here I am, again a vegetarian.
Only now, I’m working to be more thoughtful as to the source of the eggs and dairy I choose to consume. The politics of food and what I say when I decide how to feed my body are trickier now than they’ve ever been before. The stakes are getting higher. They require, as so many things do, thoughtfulness – not fanaticism.