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.
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.
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.