June 13, 2008

Oops, I Accidentally Became a Vegetarian

Twenty or so years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I curled up on the sofa with a copy of John Robbins' book, "Diet for a New America." When I finally put it down late that night I was a vegetarian. The book is a frightening look at what we humans were, at that time, doing to our food system, our fellow creatures, and our planet.

My vegetarianism lasted a year and a half, during which time my body never quite adjusted. I missed meat every single day. When I renewed a relationship with a man who had no interest in vegetarianism, it was "easier" to give it up.

This week John Robbins is a guest at the community where I work. His request (OK, his demand) was that during his week-long tenure our kitchen would not serve meat. Not just to him, but to anyone. I did not meet him this week, but (oh, the Achilles heel of my life) his books are featured in our bookstore.

John Robbins was born into the Baskin Robbins (31 Flavors) ice cream fortune. He was being groomed to inherit both the business and the fortune. Through self-education and introspection he determined that another course was necessary for his life, and he walked away from that fortune to build his life based on his own values. He founded EarthSave International, wrote some mind-rocking books, and the rest is history.

For me, too. Because on Wednesday I purchased another of John's books, "The Food Revolution." It was published in 2001, about 15 or so years after "Diet for a New America," and I gotta tell you -- things have not improved. We are still feeding ourselves by way of astounding cruelty, and we're still destroying our planet at an ever-more escalating rate.

If anyone is actually reading my blog I'll say that it is not my goal here to change your mind and make you see things my (or John's) way, or even to press you to read these books. I'm just chronicling my journey.

And I believe I might have accidentally become a vegetarian once again.

Twenty years ago, on the day that I read his first book, I had spent the morning grocery shopping. There had been a good sale on beef, as I recall, and I had stocked my freezer. By the next morning, of course, beef was off my diet and several friends became the lucky recipients of my freezer contents.

With my prior experience as a guide I'm planning to do it differently this time. I'll give my body time to catch up to my mind. I'll hang onto the meat in my freezer (mostly chicken this time) and use it as necessary to ease myself into this new style of eating. Rather than force my body into submission I'll coax it into agreement. I'll allow the process to unfold naturally. And maybe this time I won't leap at an excuse to give it all up.

I've done much thinking in the last 20 years as to why it was so difficult for me. I've come to realize that I don't actually like meat all that much. What I love is the fat. Crispy chicken skin. The tender, well-marbled, high-fat cuts of beef. Bacon fat! (It's been pointed out to me that I can nibble the fat from a piece of bacon with surgical precision, leaving only the lean behind.) In truth, while I love the flavor of meat, I don't particularly like its texture. But oh, that fat. And the flavor it imparts to a dish. I love what a good ham bone does to a pot of beans.

And there are so many of my life's most loving moments that have been marked with meat. My dad teaching me how to roast a chicken over the phone after I'd set up my first household. Thanksgiving turkeys. My mom taking me to three different restaurants to find "Chicken in a Basket" the year my father was stationed away from us in Germany, just because it was what I craved. Preparing meat loaf for my partner because I knew it was his favorite, just to see his delight. Steaks and chicken on the back-yard grill, surrounded by friends. Spending hours on the phone talking through recipes with my best friend.

Many things are different this time around. For one thing, I'm a much better cook. For another, I've worked through most (but not all, alas) of the personal issues I used to disguise with food. And third, I no longer have anything to prove. This change is a journey, not a destination. This time, I'm not declaring, "From This Day Forward I Am A Vegetarian!" Therefore I can't fail. Instead, from this day forward I will make choices for myself on a meal-by-meal basis, informed by how my choices affect my fellow creatures and my home planet.

If you are reading this and you ever have occasion to cook for me let me just say that I will gratefully eat whatever you prepare. No need to cook differently on my behalf.

I'll let you know if that changes.


SeƱor Bozo said...

If I only had a chance to cook for you, I'd cook whatever you wanted ... (sigh)

Sister George said...

Wow, what an amazing revelation for yourself. So many time we do stuff because the people around us think it is the right thing to do or to please someone we care about. I'm glad that your are beginning this journey...

Tuco said...

Hi there - great post! I'm a vegan who was vegetarian for a few years first, and then kind of naturally shifted to the non-dairy and eggs thing as well.

You might want to get a book called "Breaking the food seduction" by Neal Barnard out of the library. He's the head of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the book explores why we're addicted to the meat/dairy diet, and gives ideas/recipes that can help transition to the veggie diet.

Good luck!