I’ve had about 5 people in the last week tell me that they like my blog and/or I need to update more often. People actually read and enjoy what I write! Yay! So, thanks for that little ego boost there; guess I should write something now.
February will mark one year that I’ve been a vegetarian. If labels are your thing, I’m officially an ovo-lacto vegetarian which means I don’t eat any meat (or meat by-products like chicken broth or gelatin), but still eat some animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs. Of course, it’s not quite as black and white as that in everyday practice, but those are the general dietary rules I live by.
I have a little ritual that I’ve been doing on and off for a while now that I call “Documentary Wednesday” where I fire up Netflix, pick out an interesting looking documentary, and enjoy an adult beverage or two while I learn something new. One fateful Wednesday in February 2011, Ben had joined me for documentary and we decided to watch “Food Inc.” about where a lot of our mass produced foods come from, mostly focusing on meats and genetically modified soybeans, and it thoroughly disgusted me. The day after watching it, the only thing I managed to eat was a small bag of pretzels because I didn’t trust any food. Eventually, my logical faculties returned- and I got really hungry- and I settled on a more doable vegetarian diet.
It really wasn’t a huge change for me. All my life I’ve been picky about what meats I liked, mostly tending towards the highly processed and unhealthy meats like pepperoni, bacon and sausage. I never liked steak or fish. I had a visceral disgust of any meat on bones- so no chicken wings or ribs for me. I didn’t have any logical reason to be grossed out, but the idea of chewing on some animal bone…yuck. Through years of trial and error/ being told to clean my plate, I learned to like chicken and ground beef but even then I preferred ’em in unhealthy ways like McChicken sandwiches or Taco Bell tacos. As you can see, cutting meat out of my diet really wasn’t much of a stretch, and probably did me a huge favor by cutting back on how much salt was in my food.
Shortly after becoming a vegetarian, I found that simply cutting meat out of my old diet left me with a lot of cheese pizza and peanut butter sandwiches which isn’t particularly healthy either. Vegetarianism was the kick in the rear I needed to branch out and discover new foods which has been a fun adventure. I don’t know how I used to live without pesto or hummus in my life! I made my own veggie egg rolls the other day, and you’ve already heard about the zucchini soup adventure. There’s a lot of tasty veg food out there, and I’m glad to be learning about it.
At first, vegetarianism was just a coping mechanism to deal with my reaction to the movie, but over the last year I’ve done a lot of thinking about the ethics of what I eat. I kind of hate talking about the ethics behind my vegetarianism because someone will inevitably start complaining about preachy vegetarians and how we’re out to ruin the world by taking away their meat. It’s a personal decision I’ve come to about how I want to eat, and I quite frankly don’t care that much if others continue to eat meat. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to discuss my reasoning for being a vegetarian because I think it’s an interesting topic and hopefully someone else will think it’s interesting as well. It’s not my goal to convert anyone against their will so if you think this is going to make you feel “attacked” or whatever please just stop reading now. It’s as easy at that.
First, why I’m a vegetarian and not a vegan. As explained above, vegetarians still eat/use some animal products, while vegans don’t use or consume any animal products- so no eggs, cheese, milk, leather, wool, silk, etc. Personally, I try to avoid anything that involves killing an animal- especially in the way that the modern meat industry raises and slaughters their animals. That’s why I won’t eat beef, but will still drink milk since ideally the cow comes to no harm in being milked. Same with chicken vs egg consumption. However, I do know that the world isn’t an ideal place, and many commercial dairy or egg farms mistreat their animals as well, so I do try to limit the dairy and egg that I do eat. Soy milk is quite tasty; it’s sweeter than cows milk which makes it really good as a drink by itself or poured over cereal, but it isn’t always a good replacement when cooking savory meals. I still haven’t worked out a consistent position toward eggs. “Cage free” doesn’t guarantee that the hens were treated humanely, and so I don’t eat eggs often. I can’t remember the last time I ate a dish where eggs were the main ingredient (like an omelet). But, I do still use them to cook every now and then like when needed for a cake, and when eating out I don’t make an effort to avoid any dish that may have a egg in it somewhere. It’s arbitrary, I know. Hey, I never claimed my food ethics were perfect!
For a more general “why I’m a vegetarian”- Humans are omnivores by nature, meaning we can source the nutrients needed to support our bodies through both meats and plants. As I said before, I don’t like the idea of killing animals unnecessarily, and as it turns out pretty much all the nutrients available in meat sources are also available from plant sources. It makes me feel better to know that my nutrition isn’t coming at the expense of an animal’s life- I can get protein from nuts and iron from leafy green vegetables for example. There is the question of the vitamin B12 which is thought to be available only from animal sources, but since I do still eat cheese/eggs/milk, it’s really not an issue for me.
Just as an aside- I do still buy cat food with meat in it. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require meat in their diets to be healthy. Since I love my kitty and want her to be healthy, it wouldn’t be right to force a vegetarian diet on her.
When I first became vegetarian, I worried a bit about the ethical question of what to do if meat is accidentally served to me. For example, one of my favorite restaurant foods now is chili nachos with veggie chili from McAlister’s, but they also serve it with meat chili. What should I do if they mix up my order and accidentally bring me the meat chili? If I send it back they’ll just throw it away, and that’s wasteful of food and would essentially mean that the animal died for no reason. At the time I decided I should probably just eat it so as to not be wasteful. It has only come up a handful of times in the past year, and it turns out that my reaction depends on the situation. At my friend Jason’s graduation party, I started chowing down on some cheesy potatoes before someone told me they had cream of chicken soup in them. At that point I had already eaten half of what was on my plate, so I figured that the damage had been done and I might as well not waste the rest of it, so I ate it- but didn’t go back for seconds. Another time, I ordered fettuccine alfredo at a restaurant but was served chicken alfredo instead. At this point I had been a vegetarian for about 8 months and had completely lost my taste for meat. I wanted to not be wasteful, but just couldn’t force myself to put the chicken in my mouth, so I picked it out and ate only the noodles. I felt bad about it, for what it’s worth… Sorry little chicken.
While I’m on the topic of not wasting animal meat, I want to take a second to discuss hunting. It’s definitely not a hobby I intend to take up, but I do respect those who are able to “face their food” so to speak. In today’s society, it’s easy to go to the grocery store, buy pre-packaged meat and never give a second thought to where it came from. So, for those who do eat meat, who follow the proper hunting laws, source animals that lived happy lives out in the wild, and use what they kill without wasting it, I can’t complain too much about that.
I feel similarly about the animals raised, for example, on small family farms. Grass fed cows who lived their lives in big pastures or chickens free to cluck around the yard all day that are then humanely slaughtered? I have little complaint with that. On a completely philosophical level, that meshes well with my ethics and I would be okay eating it. When it comes down to it though, I have lost my taste for meat and don’t really want to eat chicken anymore, regardless of where it comes from, similarly to how I feel about mushrooms and red bell peppers.
And there you have it, a basic overview of why I’m a vegetarian. I have some other, more in depth ideas about vegetarianism, but I think I’ll save those for another day.
Happy vegetari-anniversary to me!