(Unless you want to)
I do a lot of things on whims and urges. Tattoos, piercings, major lifestyle changes and buying really cute shirts that look mangled on me. (The shirts, I return. The piercings and tattoos, I keep.) One of my whims was giving up red meat. After a year of no red meat, a man-boy I was dating decided to take me on a “surprise” date. Our destination was an adorable vegan restaurant called Spiral Diner.
I was surprised. I did not know how he could equate me not eating red meat with me eating vegan food. Vegans do not eat any animal or animal by-products including: eggs, cheese, milk, honey or beer filtered through animal bone marrow or gelatin. (Yes, that happens. It’s disgusting.) I live and die by the cheese industry so I was very uneasy at first. After I confirmed they served booze, I was more relaxed. At this point, I was still eating every other kind of flesh except cows. I did not fancy myself a vegetarian or even a possible convert. I didn’t think of myself as the kind of person to have such reverence for life, especially the lives of lower creatures. I didn't think myself strong enough or courageous enough to do something so different from the social norm.
I perused the huge menu with silly word phrases like “I-Scream” (non-dairy ice cream) and “Chik’n Less Salad San’ich.” I was overwhelmed at the amount of vegan dishes. I finally opted for the Ate-Layer Burrito which included taco meat, Mexican quinoa, black beans, tomato, diced red onion, avocado, corn, black olives, sour cream, and chipotle mayo (the mayo was made with grape seed oil!) It sounded like a regular burrito and I had eaten meat substitutes before so I wasn’t afraid of the “taco meat.”
After the first bite of my burrito, I knew I would come back to the Spiral Diner. After my second bite, I thought maybe I could get used to eating like that a few times a week. By the end of my burrito, I was a vegetarian. (At least in theory.) It was so delicious and fresh and I had zero food hangover! I thought maybe I would marry this man-boy who introduced me to the wide, strange world of veganism. It felt so right and so wonderful. I began to see the restaurant for the first time. The smiling pigs and cows in sleek photos on the walls reminded me of a farm play set I had as a child. There were funky light fixtures and skinny guys in skinny jeans serving up steaming hot plates of spaghetti and “meat”balls. Smiling faces surrounded me. (They aren’t threatening at all! Why, I bet even I could be a vegetarian!)
The next day I had two pigs in a blanket and a donut for breakfast. Oh, and a chocolate milk. My body rejected this last meaty meal and I was soon on my way to “thinking” about becoming a vegetarian. Then I met my love, Lamb Chop. I told him I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian (sometimes my whims take longer to incubate.) The very next time I saw him, he showed up with four or five vegetarian cookbooks. He thought I said I was already a vegetarian. He knows now to listen for the phrase “thinking about.” No matter, from that moment, I decided I would try the diet to see if I liked it. I loved it. It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself.
I have been vegetarian for about three and half years now. When people ask me why I became a vegetarian, my honest answer is that I wanted to see what it was like and if I could do it. No one ever asks me why I stay a vegetarian, though. That is another story completely. It has to do with inner cleansing and shifting priorities. It has to do with what feels best to me.
Some people are offended by my choice. (No matter what choices you make in life, someone somewhere is going to be offended by it.) I invited a friend of a friend of a friend to a vegetarian chili-cook-off one year and he showed up wearing a t-shirt he made that read, “I eat vegetarians.” Pretty cute. He was trying to get a rise out of the vegheads. He didn’t know how lazy we are. People like this fellow are offended that I choose not to eat meat. They quote Bible scriptures and scientific data found in the ancient teeth of our Neanderthal relatives. I find this amusing. It is always fun when someone uses the Bible to condone their own behavior and condemn yours.
For instance, it does say in the Bible that “every living thing that moveth shall be meat for you.” It also says somewhere (I’m almost certain) that “thou shalt not kill.”
Whoa! A contradiction? In the Bible? The most holy of scriptures?!
“No, no,” the zealots assure us, “killing another human is wrong. Not killing animals.” (They fail to add, “Unless another human does something we find morally reprehensible. Then murder the heck out of them.”) I agree it is non-compassionate to kill another human. But I also believe humans are animals. Ergo….I think it is non-compassionate to kill. No exceptions.
We humans, like our dog and cloven-hoofed brethren, eat, sleep, poop, procreate and defend ourselves against attack in almost all the same ways. (We look just as ridiculous in the throes of passion, too.) If we are to believe the Scriptures, we humans are valued among all creatures and are made in the image of God. Very well. What makes us any different than our animalian
Well it’s our mighty big brains, of course! Our big ol’ human brains are much bigger than the fruit fly or the antelope. We have something special the other animals don’t have. We have the ability to look around and outside of ourselves and ask questions. We ask, “Why are we here?” and “Where did I come from?” There is no sense of ego or “I” in the tiger’s narrow scope of consciousness. Show me a horse that asks why he is who he is and I’ll show you a horse that lies. He doesn’t ask those questions. He is incapable of wondering why.
Our big brains give us something else. They give us the knowledge we need to make decisions bigger than our mammalian instincts. Sure we are animals and as such we are subject to animalistic tendencies. But we are human animals. We are not driven by hunger and shelter alone, like the wild boar or the lion that must eat meat because it is what nature demands. The lion can’t live on fresh fruit and soy curd. It is not his path. He is incapable of choosing something else.
Me? I’m a human. I am capable of choosing not to harm another creature if I can avoid it. (I admit I have killed as recently as yesterday. Mosquitoes are the very last creature I must come to terms with in my existence. I know they are a food source for many other critters and have a place in our ecosystem, but that place is not the back of my leg.) Unlike our Neanderthal relatives, I have knowledge about the cosmos, the universe and the food pyramid that they did not have. Meat-pushing scientists studied the fossilized teeth of our ancient brothers and found a diet almost exclusively made of meat. (This is just a distractionary tactic, probably funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make another dollar selling meat. Do you remember how much trouble Oprah was in for dissing meat? They take this shit seriously.) What we fail to realize is we have no more Neanderthals. Dead. All of them. Maybe a diet made exclusively of meat isn’t such a great idea!
The point is humans have evolved past those early stages of survival. We’re bigger than that now. We can make different choices. I choose to be healthy in body and spirit as much as possible. Part of that process for me is not eating meat. I feel happier and more alive than I ever felt shoveling dead, rotting carcasses into my mouth. Don’t be fooled: any meat you eat is a dead, rotting carcass. No matter how fresh it is, it is in the process of rotting. Yuck.
I am glad I live in a place that allows you to choose your diet. I am happy that freedom of choice is still celebrated. I cannot say what is right for others and others cannot say what is right for me. It’s not my place to get involved in anyone else’s karmic debt. As always, this is just a re-telling of my way. Not the way. There are people who will tell you it’s the healthiest diet. Or the most ecological or economical. And in many aspects, they are right.
It takes about 25 gallons of water to yield one pound of wheat and around 2,500 gallons of water to yield one pound of beef. (According to the beef industry, that number is as low as 441 gallons per pound of beef. Pick a number in the middle and you have something close.) Heart disease is the number one killer of all people in America. No matter what race, age or creed, heart disease will kill you. A diet heavy in meat (especially, but not limited to, red meat) increases your risk of getting heart disease by 30%. That is huge. And, finally, to produce the amount of red meat our society demands, American ranchers buy grazing land right from under the bare feet of native tribes in third world countries to raise their cattle, thus eliminating the nomadic farmers' ability to sustain their own lives by grazing and/or farming, resulting in gigantic swaths of useless, barren soil and starving populations. In short, people all over the world are starving so we may dine on a medium rare slab of steak in a dimly lit restaurant that serves $15 baked potatoes on $2 plates. So, yes, in many ways a vegetarian diet is a more healthy, ecological and economical choice. But it is not the only choice.
We can do all sorts of mental gymnastics to prove or disprove any old theory. It’s just as easy to argue for something as against it. Before I chose to be a vegetarian, I would eat big, juicy cheeseburgers in front of my veghead friend, Sherrie. She would make a crack about me going to hell or eating an animal’s soul and I would show her the chewed up food in my mouth. She didn’t pressure me to join her. She didn’t think I was a bad person for my choice. She let me live and in living I learned, I am the kind of person that reveres life. I am the kind of person that can do something other people won't do and be happy with my choice. I learned that there are many roads to Rome and Rome ended in many different places. It is nowhere and everywhere. Just like God. Just like us. The key is finding your personal balance in a place where you feel content with your choices. That is your picture perfect world. And no one knows what that picture looks like except you.