Why I Stopped Being a Vegetarian
After 13 years of being a vegetarian, I recently crossed back over to the dark side. However, my reasons for being a vegetarian had nothing to do with the idea of human consumption of meat. As a faux-hippie, semi-political teen in Los Angeles, I took on the label of Vegetarian to help define myself and identify where I stood on ethical issues in the world. Teenage years are tough, and we all use strange and unusual methods to cope. Angry at the inequalities in the world and feeling powerless to make any difference, I decided that I would abstain from meat as a form of protest against factory farming and the amount of hunger around the world. Only thing is that it was just recently I figured out how to express my relationship to the meat industry in those terms. Back then I just said meat was 'œdisgusting.' I’ll say it again, teenage years are rough!
After years of drooling over a couple hundred voluptuous steaks and a 6-month trip in West Africa, I decided that my reasons against eating meat were just not as potent to me as they once were. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my faux-hippie, semi-political points of view on the issue! There’s no denying that factory farming is an atrocious, unhealthy way to produce meat. There is also no debate that eating lower on the food chain saves more energy and can feed more people. Joseph George from AlterNet writes, “According to the British world hunger group VegFarm, a 10-acre farm could support 60 people if they grew soybeans; 24 people if they grew wheat; 10 growing corn — and only two if they used the land to raise cattle.” Here’s a few other interesting articles on the subject:
- “Tackling the Ethics of Eating” – Los Angeles Times, April 2009
- “Climate Savy Menus: Eating Lower on the Food Chain” – National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology, June 2009
- “Eat Lower on the Food Chain” – The Daily Green
- “Eat Local, Eat in Season, Eat Lower on the Food Chain” – Granville, August 2009
- A weird little video about Pesticides and Hormones and What is Meant by Eating Lower on the Food Chain.
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Some of my travels helped me make my decision too. After awkwardly, sometimes unsuccessfully, trying to communicate my vegetarian views around the world from small fishing villages in South Korea to generous families in Sub-Sahara Africa, I began seeing my political stance on meat-eating as more rude than enlightened. In some ways vegetarianism is a privilege of a wealthy society. Many people I’ve met on my travels have not had the luxury to flat-out turn down an entire food group. (Though devil’s advocates might mention that these people’s lifestyles are not a part of a large-scale, factory meat industry either.) Anyway, for all these reasons, and yes, maybe a bit of selfish desire, I finally decided that it didn’t make sense for me to abstain from meat completely. I still try to eat meat on a small scale and where possible, eat free-range, etc, etc, but I am also happy to say that now I have no qualms about indulging in some delicious Filipino lumpia when served at a dinner party!
As you can imagine, this has opened up a whole new world for me pretty much any place I can think of traveling to. Just cause I’m here, though, lets start with New York. My boyfriend Carlo turned me onto something called “lard bread”. Ok, I can see what you’re thinking. She went from the veg wagon to totally off the deep end, but stick with me here. “Lard bread” is this amazing loaf of freshly baked peppery bread with chopped up pieces of salami and melted cheese twisted and layered through out. On lazy Saturdays, especially rainy ones like today, we pick it up at Mazzola Bakery on Henry Street just down the street from our apartment (in Carroll Gardens where the Italians still know who’s boss). The seasoned, soft, melt-in-your-mouth dough goes really well with sleeping til 1pm and an iced coffee. Upon some Internet perusal, I learned that “lard bread” is not only found at Mazzola, and it has quite a loyal following with lots of other tips on where to procure your Brooklyn lard bread on Chowhound.com.
Interestingly enough, the meat that I crave the most right now are hot dogs! I am not above a $1.50 dog from a street vendor, but I’ve been delighted to discover some other places with variations on the theme. Dogmatic is a modern, fancyish hot dog store near Union Square that I’ve also taken a huge liking to. They use sausages (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Turkey, or Lamb) and fresh baguettes instead of buns. With six sauce options ranging from cheddar jalapeño to sun dried tomato feta, I’ve still got many combos to try. Also, their meats and ingredients come from sustainable and locally sourced farms.
Those of you on the West Coast, I’m sure you have tons of wonderful suggestions to share with me, but I also have two here for you. When I asked Stuart about meat restaurants with some sort of opinion on the whole mean industry thing, he mentioned Urbun Burger in the Mission that uses local ingredients in their food. (They also have the “Certified Humane” logo on their website) Is it a marketing ploy or not? I couldn’t really tell. If you’ve been there, let us know what it’s like!) Also, Prather Ranch Meat Company in the Ferry Building Marketplace sells “Certified Humane” and local meats, and they also sound very open about answering any questions you might have about meat farming and the meat industry.
The meat debate in today’s world is wide and passionate. Everyone has a different (and equally important) point of view. I’m a fan of the moderation method, but feel free to share your opinions here! Next week I’ll be writing a little bit more about my forays into the strange and slimy world of meat preparation and cooking. 13 years is a long time, and I’m as rusty as one can be.