The Reluctant Vegetarian

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
— George Harrison

Mmmmmmeat. I love meat. Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, ostrich, elk, rattlesnake, buffalo… all have crossed my plate. My favorite meal at Redfish used to be the carpaccio appetizer followed by the elk medallion entrée. (They also made a fabulous nut-crusted grouper. None are on the menu any longer.)

Separate thought: I’ve always been an ecologically-minded gal, so I knew that I would score pretty well on one of those online “What’s your eco-footprint?” tests. I recycle, I drive a car that gets good gas mileage, I turn off lights (CFL!) when I’m not in the room, I keep my programmable thermostat set to moderate temperatures, I buy wind power from my local utility, I turn down my hot water heater when I go on vacation.

But I eat meat.

Not just some meat, a lot of meat. Practically every meal. And my eco-footprint? It was through the roof. It takes an awful lot of feed to raise cattle, and it takes an awful lot of land to grow that feed, and it takes an awful lot of petroleum to plant and tend and harvest that feed.

And then there’s this: I have family in Kansas. To visit them, I drive through miles and miles (and miles) of farmland. Crops. Pastures. And feedlots. I usually make the trek for Christmas, when the December chill keeps the feedlot “aroma” at bay. But I drove out once in the summertime for my great-grandmother’s 90-somethingth birthday, and holy mother of God, there is nothing that shorts out synapses like the stench of 80,000 head of cattle on a feedlot in August. My eyes were watering. All the muscles in my face were trying to escape through my ears. My brain began to fight, and wouldn’t let my lungs inhale until suffocating was the only other option. It was disgusting.

Still, I ate meat. Lots and lots of meat.

It wasn’t until I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma that I began to really, truly consider the life of the animal. I knew that American cattle are fed a diet that is very heavy on corn, but I didn’t know that they can’t actually digest it. And so, in order to feed corn to cattle, we also have to pump them full of drugs so that the corn doesn’t kill them. Now, this does not sound efficient to me, but I’m not a rancher. It sure as hell doesn’t sound sustainable. It does sound… stupid. Really, really, stupid. I read about Polyface Farms, where pastures and crops are rotated in order to keep the earth healthy, just like I learned in elementary school. Poultry and livestock roam freely in their pastures, living the lives that chickens and cows naturally live. And everything works hand in hand, like a little machine o’ nature, to keep things going. I admitted to myself (and unenthusiastically to my frienemy, Jack) that hunting, when practiced with care, provides meat from an animal that has most lived that animal’s natural life.

It was all too much to disregard. If ignorance is bliss, education is vegetarian.

I decided to go “flexitarian.” I would eat meat, but only meat that was “humanely” raised. And, while there are plenty of restaurants and markets in Denver that agree with my beliefs, I live in the suburbs. It’s easier to claim vegetarian than to make a fuss or explain this long-winded story to whomever I’m with. So, that’s exactly what I do. Life is easier that way. The rules are clearer, and my dining decisions are cut-and-dried. (Ironic, that.)

Separate thought: One of the few remaining Albertson’s supermarkets isn’t far from The Company Formerly Known As My Employer, and I ran in today to check for Spade-L seasoning (no) and to pick up lunch. While looking through the deli case for an egg salad sandwich, I saw that they had 1-lb. rolls of TAYLOR HAM. TAYLOR FRIGGIN’ HAM. John Taylor Pork Roll. Remember the boxes of Taylor ham that my cousin bought for me back in May? The boxes that I flew home with from New Jersey? Because I can’t get Taylor ham out here? They’re still sitting in my freezer. I haven’t had the nerve to actually thaw and cook them. Because then I would have no Taylor ham! But here is a whole roll of Taylor ham, packed tightly into its fetching, red-and-white canvas sleeve.

Yeah, I had four slices of Taylor ham for dinner tonight. It was crispy on the edges, but tender and salty and juicy with fat. (Oh jeez, the fat. If only it were negated by the nitrates.) It was delectable. Delicious. Succulent. Oh, it was so very, very good. I am sorry, little piggies, for the perverted lives you probably led before heading to the slaughterhouse. I hope there is some karmic consolation that the pork roll you wound up in is so very, very tasty.

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5 Comments

Filed under food, nostalgia

5 responses to “The Reluctant Vegetarian

  1. Yeah, I have found that it is easier to not give a name to it all. I feel compelled to explain if the situation arises, though, because if I’m doing this for a REASON, and part of that reason is the hope that I can promote ethical and respectful treatment of even our food animals, how will I promote it if people don’t know it’s important to me? Or, to put a more economical spin on it, how will I create demand where I live if I don’t share my preferences?

    Now, I don’t share it with everyone, because I hate pushy people who do that. But I’ve found opportunities, when visiting new restaurants, to chat with the owner about where they buy their meat and poultry, and they inevitably ask why I’m asking. The short version of getting my idea across without being preachy or going into a long explanation is “I’m trying to cut out factory farmed meats and poultry.” If they don’t know what that means and want to know more, they’ll ask.

  2. Marge

    And if all that education wasn’t enough, there’s the health benefits too. I started cutting way back on red meats a few years back to help my cholesterol levels. Know what I discovered? I only very occassionally miss it. Sure I cave in to bacon or the irrisitable buffalo burger once in a great while but I am happier without all the meat. If I had my way, what little I eat I would raise myself. I’ll never be able to go vegetarian but plenty of my friends are and I agree “education is vegetarian”.

  3. Nick

    Um… as crazy as this sounds… I love the smell of a feed lot.
    Now, driving down THE 5 and going past the Harris Ranch in July is pretty gross, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you that five miles later I’m thinking “Man…. that did smell kinda neat, sorta like home”
    Then again, I like the smell of skunks and girls… and we all know how gross both of those are!!!
    I guess I’m just weird like that.
    I drive through Petaluma twice a day. Petaluma has three things;
    Dairies, poultry ranches, and the best damn Starbucks I’ve ever been too in my life…
    But my point is that town smells like shit.
    I shit you not… it smells like shit.
    Girls, cows, and skunks are all stinky, in a good way (and all carry potential cooties) but a chicken barn on a hot summer day… makes you wish you never had a nose.
    Hey Kitten… I can take you back to where I grew up… you can visit a pork farm!
    You can watch the pigs drink their own pee, eat each others poop, sleep in each others pee and poop, watch them pee and poop… it’s a regular poop and pee fest!!!! And the best part??? You’ll never want to eat one again!!!
    What you should do is only buy any of your meats from your local 4-H kids.
    They treat their animals like pets…. Minus the whole selling them for the highest price on the pound and then having them slaughtered.
    Seriously though, 4-H animals are probably the best treated, healthiest fed and raised animals out there… they give them baths once a week for crying out loud! Shit, I’m lucky to get a bath once a week ;)

  4. If you find yourself craving meat, there is always the option of looking around for a self-contained farm/butcher shop (they do exsist!). Feeling the same guilt from the same book, I started looking around for other options – vegetarians just isn’t one of them (weird genetic “flaw” that makes my dr. ask rude questions about my families romantic history with felines – IE, just like a housecat, I have to eat meat or… well.. die.). After a month I found a small business run by a father and 5 sons. The dad runs the abitoir and the butcher shop, the sons all raise the livestock.

    Cornfed? Only in the winter, the rest of the time they graze. Hormones? The son who takes care of the beef side laughed at me. “Why give a shot to a healthy animal? Just annoys it and makes you hang out near their back end!” Freerange? The chickens that ended up sitting on my car roof watching me with interest tells me, yeah. Treated kindly, fed well, killed cleanly when the time comes (one son admits to getting his pigs drunk before the end… said it not only seemed only right, the meat tasted nicer).
    So yeah, I still tuck into my beef stews and pork chops. But now I know where its from and how it got there. (There… being my deepfreeze. Added bonus to small shops? You can buy a quarter or a half and save big $$$!)

  5. BEEF: It’s what’s rotting in my colon.

    Thanks for the food for thought! And this reminds me — I’ve gotta get another half pound of local, humanely raised, healthy beef out of the freezer (courtesy the Boulder Farmer’s Market)! Food to thaw….

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