|Why bother? You'll only remember one or two anyhow...|
|It's morphin...sorry, blood pressure time!|
I’d been curious about vegetarianism for years. I’ve always been a bit concerned about the proxy junk I consumed when I ate mass-farmed meat—the chemicals, the artificial growth hormones and what not. But in the immortal words of Gen-X balladeer Joe Jackson: everything gives you cancer. Besides, having spent most of the 2000’s thus far on an academic’s (either grad student or adjunct instructor) pay, I couldn’t have afforded the organic, free-range, Whole-Foods-pretentious meat anyhow. So giving a nod to Joe Jackson, I wrote the meat off as one more thing that would probably inch me closer to the grave and consumed.
|The night before...|
|The next day...|
In the war of suburban pet families, my family was a dog family. My mother was allergic to cats, so when my brother and I demanded a family pet, the decision was already made. But which type of dog? I’ve noticed that families each gravitate to certain breeds of dogs. My maternal grandparents, for example, were Cocker Spaniel people. Visits to see them always meant having to deal with short tempered, floppy-eared, honey-colored mops. One of our neighbors fancied Sheepdogs and Irish Setters, while another preferred Shih Tzus.
My mother decided that we were to be a Yorkie family.
Green Acres. So when I was five, Peaches entered our lives. Two years later, as my parents divorced, Mom kept the dog in the settlement—the kids, the dog, the house. Had my father been a fan of country music, he’d have had a potential hit on his hands. However, instead of putting his spleen into music, he opted for a more time-honored coping mechanism: one-upsmanship. Peaches was a regular Yorkie. My father wanted a better Yorkie, one even more special (and expensive) than the one he left with his ex-wife. He wanted a Teacup Yorkie. Teacup Yorkies are a subset of the breed known for their stunted growth—a detail that keeps them looking like puppies throughout their entire lifespan—the Gary Coleman of toy dogs, I suppose. Moreover, since we bought Peaches from amateur breeders, my father bought our Teacup from a registered breeder, meaning that she not only came with papers, but an equally pretentious name: Buttons and Bows VII, Buttons for short.
|Nothing says bitter spouse like a new dog...|
And as I was buttering up the Thanksgiving turkey this past November, I had one of those epiphanies where two random things suddenly connect: the joints and limbs of the turkey were almost identical in structure to those of Buttons’ hind legs. It didn’t bother me to the point of refusing to eat the meal, but it stuck with me in the days and weeks afterwards. In thirty eight years as a carnivore, I always knew that my meat had been alive before it had been turned into my meal, but aside from a few animal-rights videos shown during a Consolidated show I caught as an undergraduate at Florida State, I’d never really thought about where my meat came from—much less how it got to me. Meat was just the stuff in a cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam tray that I pulled from a cooler case at the supermarket. I certainly didn’t have images of my turkey morphing into a Yorkie right there in the aluminum tray, but I kept thinking about that connection in the weeks following. Mind you, it wasn’t enough to curb my carnivorous ways either, but it had me thinking about vegetarianism again. I mean I didn't need meat to survive, and though I knew that my decision to live meatless wouldn't save masses of doomed livestock, it might at least balance out the carnivorous karma I'd been building up since the mid 1970's.
On New Years Day, my partner and I met up with a friend to see a film. Afterwards, we ended up going to a nearby Panera Bread for dinner. By chance, I’d ordered a bowl of macaroni and cheese and the tomato-mozzarella panini sandwich. As we ate, I looked at my plate and realized that I had no meat on it. Though it wasn't one of those R words, I figured that it was a good jumping on place to integrate vegetarianism into my dietary routine. I decided to start my year by just doing three meatless days a week. Simple, right? Three on, four off, eventually shifting to totally meatless by the end of 2011.
January first became January second, another meatless day. The third, meatless. For the fourth day, I decided to go meatless again. I was on a streak. After a week, I simply decided to keep going for as long as I could sustain it. By MLK Day, I realized that I wasn’t even thinking about meat anymore. Yes, I was aware of meat when I was grocery shopping or in a restaurant (if only because of my new game: “hunt down the token two or three vegetarian options on the menu”), but I no longer found myself looking for the meatiest entrees when I was dining out, nor did I find myself thinking about meat-based entrees.
|"Maybe tofu zebra was a bit extreme!"|
Let’s be honest, it’s easy to pick on vegetarians. Most of us aren’t born into it, so when we decide to change our dietary habits, some friends treat it like any other abrupt change in lifestyle—with a blend of suspicion that sometimes borders on distain or even hostility, depending on how greatly it clashes with their own values and beliefs. Considering things like the whole “cult of bacon” mindset (bonus points if it comes from an adult frat boy or other assorted manchild, complete with dated Tim Allenesque grunting) that’s become hip and trendy in the wake of celebrity-chef-driven-televised-food-porn, choosing to reject meat is as much of a rejection of the mainstream as opting to listen to the Smiths in the 80s or read in the new milennium. Of course, it doesn’t help that the public image of vegetarians is sometimes skewed by the more extreme cases, such as the stories of Linda McCartney having the trashbins on tours inspected (or the McCartneys' infamous tour riders), trying to ferret out closet carnivores who may have snuck a burger or two and tried to stash the wrappers away. If anything, my own encounters with militant vegetarians and vegans in college also made me shy away from the lifestyle, until I met several who neither preached at me nor condemned me for my then carnivorous ways. I suppose that most of the apprehension from friends stems from fears that I’ll start blasting PETA recruitment films at them, I suppose. But in the end, it’s my choice. I made the decision to change my eating habits, and I don’t feel that it’s my place to blast others for theirs. But for me, for right now, it’s what works. My health is already taking a turn for the better, and I’ve noticed that my weight has shifted down a bit as well. If friends and acquaintances have an issue with it, I made a realization recently: If I can cut a few ounces of meat out of my daily routine, I can certainly cut two and three hundred pounds of detractor from it as well.