All I can think about lately is food. If you see the extra 10-15 pounds I walk around with, you might think that this is nothing new. But it’s how I’m thinking about food that is different now. No longer am I concerned with where I’m going to find my next meal or if it’s going to be exactly what I’m craving. instead, I’m considering where it comes from, something I’ve done off and on for a long time, but I now feel committed to doing regularly.
What I’m getting at here is meat: animals, livestock, living things.
I’ve wrestled for with vegetarianism and veganism for quite a while. About fifteen years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to eat meat anymore. I grew a conscience about ingesting animals because I was studying Buddhism quite intently and it helped to solidify the feelings that I had about how valuable life was. All life. I’ve always had a very symbiotic relationship with animals of all kinds. I love them, and, whatever species they might be, they always at least seemed to like me as much as an animal can. That’s why, with that little bit of extra insight from my Buddhist readings, I decided to go vegetarian. Because I didn’t know then what I know today about farming and what dairy cows and egg-laying hens are put through, I didn’t think about committing to veganism. I can also chalk that up to not really preparing myself overall for the whole meatless endeavor. I didn’t realize just how many options there were. And, really, maybe there weren’t as many back then; I don’t think the movement was quite as prominent and accepted as it is today.
My vegetarianism lasted for seven years, until one fateful day when I finally succumbed to temptation: I was working in Belltown, a little neighborhood in downtown Seattle, and at lunch everyday I would walk by a place that specialized in turkey. It was unique in that sense–I’d never seen a turkey shop where you could go get Thanksgiving dinner in one of many forms on a daily basis. And, in fact, that’s what I did for about a week. After walking by that place so many times and smelling the magical aromas wafting out of it, I caved. I went in and bought some sort of turkey-based meal that I can’t even remember now. I did that everyday for about a week, and let me tell you: when your body hasn’t had tryptophan for seven years, it results in an instant coma. Having that in the middle of a work shift probably wasn’t the best idea, as my afternoons either resulted in massive amounts of coffee, or secret little naps that nobody noticed because my desk was in the corner of an incredibly dark room.
From that point on, I ate meat without a second thought. Or, if I did have a second though, it was quickly quelled by my watering mouth. For about the past year, though, that has changed. While I have still continued to eat meat, I’m more conscious of the fact that I’m doing it and I’ve tried to cut back as much as possible. The idea of where it comes from has crept back into my mind, and I’m thankful it did. As unusual as it might be, I think this is the result of owning a cat. My girlfriend and I had a hurt little polydachtyl kitty show up on our balcony one day–an amazing feat since we lived in a second-floor apartment with no visible way for her to get to us–and as much as I’d never considered myself a cat person, that immediately changed when I saw her big, sweet eyes peering up at me so desperately. Ever since taking her in–we named her Pinky–I think animal welfare has moved to the forefront of my thinking, especially when it comes to eating them. So I started to skip the meat here and there when it came to my meals. If you’re the one who makes dinner in your house every night though, and the person you’re cooking for isn’t vegetarian, it’s difficult to convert fully to a meatless diet. But I did what I could when I was on my own.
As the months have progressed, however, I’ve been educating myself on factory farming and the state of meat in our country. First, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. As you probably know, that book dives deep into eating and food sources in America, and was incredibly eye-opening for me. But while it definitely nudged me more in the direction of meatlessness, I still wasn’t there.
Then I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
I have always enjoyed the way Jonathan Safran Foer writes. I think that, while it has a bit of a smarter-than-you style to it, I think it’s honest and seems to me like it comes from a place of innocence–especially in his second book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. That book is told through the eyes of a child who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks, and is just a beautifully moving story. Eating Animals is Foer’s first non-fiction book and, while I didn’t know a whole lot about it when I picked it up, would go on to change my life by finally getting me to the point where veganism seems like the only viable option in my eyes. Foer asks a lot of the questions of himself that I’ve heard in my own head pertaining to not eating meat. I related to this book completely. And when he went out and found answers, it was all I needed. Learning the things I’ve learned in reading that book, there’s no way I’ll ever eat meat or dairy again (Actress Natalie Portman, a long-time vegetarian, said the same thing).
When I decided to become a vegetarian fifteen years ago, I wasn’t quite prepared. I think my health actually suffered because of it. This time, though, I learned everything I could about veganism and eased myself into it. Now, I’m actually super excited about it. I fancy myself a pretty good cook, so trying to always find ways to make vegan dishes has been a welcome challenge. Where before I would work from a kind of standard menu that I’d alter here and there, now I feel like I’m pushing myself to create a wider range of options and am varying my meals regularly. My girlfriend agreed to do this with me at home–she eats what she wants when we’re out of the house–so it’s much easier. And oh the resources! You can find a million recipes online, and there are cookbooks at the local Barnes & Noble (Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet is fantastic). Location helps, too. Living close to a major city (NYC in this case) means more options. Even within a three-block radius of my apartment in Montclair, there are several vegan options.
I’m not trying to convert anyone (though, veganism is much better for your health, the environment, and animal welfare–obviously), but this change to my lifestyle has been nothing but incredibly positive. I feel better in so many ways. If you’ve ever even considered becoming vegetarian or vegan, you should give it a try. PETA has a great starter kit that walks you through the process of not eating meat for 30 days. It’s worth a try.
And if you haven’t ever considered not eating meat or dairy, you should educate yourself and see if your mind changes. Food, Inc. is a great movie that gives you some insight into how your food gets to your plate. There are also some fantastic websites that explain how farming in America has not only become a holocaust for animals, but also an environmental and health threat. Here are a few of them: Farm Forward, Eating Animals, PETA, Sustainable Table. These are just a few of many, which is an encouraging sign that factory farming and animal welfare are moving slowly out of the peripheral and into this country’s line of sight, where they belong.