One week ago, I gave up eating meat.
This dietary change was one I’ve been contemplating for quite a while — I’ve been eating meat mainly out of reflex and habit for some time instead of eating it because I wanted to. Meat has, for the most part, been a vehicle to get other bits of yumminess into me. I’d almost cut meat out a couple of times before, and had managed to cut it down quite a bit, but over the last year I’d been eating more of it because while Terry was pregnant with Andrew (and even now while she’s still nursing him), she wanted meat all the flippin’ time.
But last Sunday night, we watched Food, Inc., a documentary about the industrialization of the food industry in the United States. And it totally and completely horrified me (as was, I’m reasonably sure, the director’s point — he wasn’t going for subtle).
[caption id=”” align=”alignright” width=”300” caption=”I'm not eating these anymore. (Photo by dirkjankraan.com)”][/caption] Can I tell you a secret, though? I wanted to be horrified. Not because I want to feel disgusted by the food I eat or the process by which that food gets to me, but because I knew that’s how I’d feel and I wanted that final kick in the pants to encourage me to make this change. For a long time, I avoided thinking or reading too much about the foods I eat because I knew what would happen if I did so and I didn’t want to change the way I ate. Now, however, I wanted that revulsion to push me over the edge. I realize it probably doesn’t say wonderful things about my internal motivation techniques that I had to do so, but hey, whatever works, right?
I’m taking it slowly so far. There’s not a lot I feel I’m denying myself at this point. Right now I’m not eating big hunks of meat (or even little hunks of meat), but if I have, say, broccoli and cheddar soup made with chicken stock (as happened on Tuesday), I’m not going to beat myself up about it too badly. I suspect that as I get further into this change, I’ll be even more stringent about avoiding meat-related bits in what I eat. Brian assures me that the less meat I eat, the less tolerance I’ll have for those other bits I’m still not stressing about now, so we’ll see.
I’ll admit to still having some philosophical issues and contradictions to work out in my head. Given that I’m largely (though not entirely) giving up meat because I don’t like the way farm animals are treated at the massive food factories, how can I still justify eating eggs, for instance? Or drinking milk? The animals who provide most of my eggs and milk likely aren’t treated any better. We do try to buy locally-grown eggs and milk from happy cows and chickens when we can, but realistically, that’s not always possible — especially with the amount of milk we go through in our family.
It’s funny… in my younger days, I made fun of vegetarians for not eating animals by invoking the concept of the food chain — certain animals exist primarily for us to eat. I mean, c’mon — a cow’s only real functions are to create milk, more cows, and methane. But even so, that doesn’t make what the food industry does to them morally correct.
My friend Molly told me that her basic principles when it comes to choosing foods to eat essentially come down to these:
- Be good to her body.
- Be kind to the earth.
- Be gentle toward other creatures. …and I think that’s more or less it. I want to feel like I’m making the best choices I can for my health (after almost forty years of, well, not), and I want to feel like I’m not doing harm with my choices. I can’t pledge perfection, but I think that at least considering what it is I’m doing and trying to make better choices counts for a lot.
I’m not on a crusade here — I’m not saying that no one should ever eat meat. If you want meat, eat it to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content. And honestly, I’m not even saying I’ll never ever put meat in my mouth again, though it doesn’t seem likely any time soon and if I do, it’ll have to be from happy, ethically-treated cows or chickens.
For now, though — and quite possibly forever — I’m done with it. I’m opting out. A week in, I’m still feeling good about this decision — I feel like it’s going to make me a healthier person and a better citizen of the planet.
 Though I did just now make the mistake of thinking about the big-ass piles of meat I so enjoy at Redbones, and I’ll admit that gave me a little twinge of loss.  That’s what she said.