What’s For Dinner?

These past several  months have seen a lot of change in my life.  Actually, when you get right down to it, the past year has seen a lot of change… but recently there’s been even more.  Here’s just one example.


It’s been months since I’ve had any meat beyond fish.  My wife (Fran) went vegan a while back, which helped me become a lot more conscious as to my food choices.  I was already leaning away from heavily processed foods — trying to stay away from chain restaurants as much as possible and avoiding fast food like the plague — just looking for healthier options in general.

Read this book.

That was when I read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (who wrote “Everything is Illuminated”).  It was a beautifully written explanation for why he chooses to eat vegetarian, and it enthralled me from start to finish.  As a novelist first and foremost, Foer expressed and constructed his views in conjunction with wonderfully evocative stories of his family’s relationship with food.  At the same time, he would simply enumerate many facts about the food we eat today:

  • How factory farming has changed our food supply for the absolute worst in countless ways, while making up a huge, unavoidable percentage of the food available to us
  • How the conditions under which our meat is processed is more horrifying (and less appetizing) than what one might find themselves greeted with upon entering a remote roadside gas station’s restroom
  • How factory farming causes unfathomable damage to the environment — the depletion of resources, the sheer amount of animal waste and sewage being pumped into our streams and literally sprayed straight into the air to dissipate all over the surrounding areas, sickening entire towns.
  • How the animals we eat endure lives of endless torture, merely to become our meals

The last bullet point was the one that hit me the hardest.  We all have the bucolic image of the barnyard filled with happy, anthropomorphic animals, living blissful lives under the blue sky.  Well, the meat we eat isn’t as much “Charlotte’s Web” as it is “The Matrix.”  These animals are bred, raised in cramped, confined spaces, enduring endless days of agony, illness and suffering (sometimes madness, too).  When they go to slaughter, it is bad enough when all goes smoothly… but it is frequently inefficient and botched, resulting in gut-churning horrific final moments for these creatures.

All so that we can have plentiful, cheap meat.  Well, there ain’t no such thing — there’s a huge price being paid.

(Even farms that go out of their way to ensure humane or better conditions for their animals still have to bring their animals to be processed at the same slaughter facilities as other farms.  Same slaughter, same conditions, same horrors.)

The horrible “sanitary” conditions of the factory farm meat, both before and after slaughter, would be enough to turn most people off to it.  But what got me is the suffering.  I simply don’t want to eat suffering and misery. To me, the five minutes of pleasure I’ll get from a piece of meat on my plate isn’t worth the lifetime of suffering the animal endured.

When I finished the book, it wasn’t as if  I had been thunderstruck.  It wasn’t The Blues Brothers and James Brown wasn’t shouting to me from the altar, “Do you see the light?” causing me to do back-flips down the aisle and join the congregation in ecstatic dance of vegetarian fanaticism.  When I finally put the book down, I merely realized that I simply had no desire to eat meat any more. It was an underwhelming realization by sheer dint of its seeming lack of histrionics — I just kind of shrugged and said to myself, “I guess I don’t wanna eat that stuff any more.”  And I’ve stuck to it for over three months now.

Now, all that aside, I’m far from perfect.  I’m not usually on a soap box, and I understand that there are many who won’t agree with me.  That’s cool.  I feel that some people feel that we, as humans, have dominion over all other creatures on the planet, and that we have every right to do whatever we want with/to them.  Others might not give it that much thought, but there is an inherent disconnect that’s been programmed into them by the food producers (and society in general), whereby they know that they don’t want to know where their meat comes from, so they scrupulously avoid that information.

I simply chose to not eat meat… but even with this decision, I’m flawed.  I still eat fish, even though I know that fish are subject to similar existences as their land-dwelling brethren.  So why do I do it?  Two reasons:

  • I still crave meat in my diet — I enjoy it too much.  The taste, the texture, the aroma… eating fish allows me the illusion that I still have meat in my diet
  • I have allowed myself a willful ignorance.  Because fish dwell in the sea and not on the land, I allow myself to believe that they are some race of alien creatures.  I can not personally relate to the creatures the same way I could relate to, say, a pig with its behavior and personality.  As a result, I’m exemplifying the same behavior as I noted above — I really don’t want to know about how a sea creature feels suffering, and I’m not dwelling on it.  Not yet, anyway.

WAY too freakin’ cute to be an alien. Or dinner, IMHO.

Fran has been incredibly helpful in this process, too.  She’s encouraged me to not dwell upon what I’m not doing (i.e. still eating fish) , but rather to embrace the good I am doing.

(By the by, I wanted to make mention of one thing.  I’ve heard the term pescatarian” to describe someone who chooses fish as the only type of meat they will eat.  I just want to say that, even though I sometimes use the word to describe myself when talking with people, I only do so in the interest of expedience.  Personally, I feel it’s a lame term that sounds more like a fringe religious cult, but it’s easier than saying “The only meat I eat is fish,” especially if no one is talking about fish to begin with.  Also, so many people don’t consider fish to be ‘meat’ that it’s scary.)

Now that it’s been more than three months without any barnyard flesh for me, however, I find I’m having a harder and harder time.  I miss the flavor and taste of different foods I no longer eat.  I find myself thinking about cheesesteak and fried chicken on a regular basis.  But, I still feel the way I do — I don’t want to dine on suffering and misery.  Will I be able to stay the course forever?  I’m sure that I’ll stray at some point… but I’m also sure that it won’t be mindlessly, and my overall principles will stay on the side of avoiding meat.

I’m working through it all, trying to find the balance in all aspects of my life.

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8 Responses to What’s For Dinner?

  1. Mike Petroshus says:

    Great blog. My question is where do you get the fish from? Are they farm raised? It seems your not so much concerned about eating the meat as you are the way they are raised and how they are treated. You can always give up on the supermarket butcher and look for small local farmers. The meat will be more expensive so its more a treat and your supporting the little guy!

  2. okay. i appreciate the vegetarian experience, and there really isn’t just one. many people choose to be a vegetarian for different reasons, health, weight control, social issues, etc.

    while i would agree with you on the way animals are slaughtered. (that it’s just cruel) i find that we humans do like our meat protein and it isn’t like it’s not already in the stores all packaged up neat and tidy.

    i think you could have your cake and eat it too, so to speak, if you did what the fellow who posted before me suggested. go local. buy fresh. they probably slaughter the animals right there which means no mass exodus into the mill. i have found a local farmer here who raises pigs and goats. he dresses them for you. (in pretty little pinafores and hats) no serioulsy, he does this, and it’s pricey. but the meat (i hear) is delicious and well worth the price. you are also supporting your local farmer. win-win i say

    while i know that behind the scenes there is more happening than we consumers would want to know, i can’t resist a good crispy-fried chicken wing. i mean………..many a vegetarian has strayed over a good chicken wing. THAT, i have witnessed myself.

    good luck with your endeavor. and if you are going to have something in the meat department, make sure you savor every delicious morsel, because you will probably be tormented by it for months afterward.


    • eferrara says:

      I’ve tried the “buy local, buy fresh, buy humane” thing before and, as a lifelong meat eater, it’s a slippery slope. That one night I’ve got a hankerin’ for some BBQ chicken, but can’t lay hands on any of the “good stuff”… or i’m out for dinner at a nice restaurant… or hanging with friends at a cookout… I might start to soften my stance, tell myself “Just this once” or “Well, it might be humane,” etc.

      Next thing I know, it’s the following weekend and I’m ordering wings from Dominos.

      Too easy to fall off the wagon that way. Plus, regardless of local farmers’ claims, how can you ever REALLY know how the animals are killed and dressed unless you see it yourself? That’s the big problem with our food supply — no one WANTS to see where their food comes from, or how it makes its way to their table. If they, did they wouldn’t want to eat it or feed it to their families!

      Like you said, we Americans like our meat protein, and it’s there in the supermarket, all neat and tidy. That’s the problem. In the past fifty years (actually, much more so over the past 30), our demand for cheap, plentiful meat has caused the rise of factory farming, which has a) all but put local, independent farmers out of work, and b) lowered the standards for our meat’s quality, cleanliness and purity to sub-atomic levels. You see those “USDA Inspected” stamps they put on meat? Meaningless. There’s quite often ONE USDA inspector at a HIGH-VOLUME meat processing facility (aka slaughterhouse), and s/he simply can not “inspect” any of the meat — it all moves past far too rapidly. Plus, all of the guidelines for quality, humane treatment, cleanliness, conditions, etc. are essentially set by the factory farming industry itself.

      That said, gimme a chicken wing. Just tell me the chicken gave it up voluntarily, in exchange for a fully staffed beach villa in Barbados and a life of luxury. (Why fully-staffed? Because it’s too hard to operate the Margaritaville Machine with only one wing.)

  3. i like what Jim Gaffigan says.
    “do you know what they do to those chickens?”
    JG “no, but it’s deeeeeelicious!”

    Well, watch for yourself. hilarious.

    • eferrara says:

      That’s too funny that you’d pick that clip — Fran and I were there, at that show! It was at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, and we were sitting right in the front row. (You can catch a glimpse of us at around 1:34 in the video you posted — I’m wearing a red shirt). If you watch the whole special, we’re all over it.

  4. wow! too cool! i love Gaffigan; saw him at the hard rock in Orlando two years ago and i would go back again to see him, he’s hilarious.

  5. Ranjit says:

    Wow Ed, this is something amazing. I’m not doing it but I’m intrigued by what you are doing. Take care, my friend.

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