Note: This is not my soapbox. This is me sharing a sliver of my life.
Slightly over a year ago, I made the decision to cut out all land animal meats from my diet. I don’t eat meat for a variety of reasons, the top ones being the environment, treatment of animals, conditions for workers, political corruption, and public health.
The meat industry and eating animals are not things I can support; I have a strong moral compass and high ability to empathize. Paired with a desire to learn and newfound knowledge, my decision was easy.
I made the decision to cut all land meats from my diet on a whim, before I knew all that much about the meat industry. First, I stopped eating red meats. Then I transitioned to full on pescatarian shortly after. At the same time, I began to have a greater interest in food–specifically how the food we eat every day reaches our tables and the effects of these processes. Culturally speaking, it seems like a lot of Americans are starting to be more curious about these questions, skeptical of the whole process, and conscious of the social, environmental, and political issues eating animals raises.
My first in-depth look at these questions was with Jonathan Safran Foer’s memoir Eating Animals, aptly named, about his personal journey from carnivore to vegetarian. Like a lot of people, he wavered back and forth between being an “enthusiastic carnivore” to “occasional vegetarian” throughout his young adulthood. It was only once his son was born that he fully committed to a vegetarian diet. In Eating Animals, he dives deeper than just recounting his personal stories and spends a lot of time exploring the intricacies of food in our society, why we “eat some animals, but not others,” and the inner-workings of the meat industry.
What I found most intriguing was his first-hand experiences at both factory and family farms while investigating issues of the agricultural industry–literal shit ponds, antibiotic resistance, and inhumane killing techniques (just to name a few). These and other accounts were enlightening, if gruesome and depressing, and his stories–along with those working for and against meat farms–stayed with me.
It’s not often that a person finds a book that changes their life or worldview. For me, Eating Animals did that.
Before I finished reading Eating Animals, I ate all meats except red meat. After I finished reading Eating Animals, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with eating any land animal. That’s when I became a vegetarian, technically pescatarian. Now, I mostly eat veggies. Sometimes, I eat fish. I consider myself a vegetarian, even if I don’t quite fit the textbook definition. More often than not, I just tell people “I don’t eat meat,” because it’s easier to explain and seems to come with less stigma.
The beauty of diet is that it’s in a constant state of flux.
When I first announced to my family and friends that I was changing my eating habits, I received a lot of doubtful questions, concerned looks, eye rolls, and borderline-mean jokes. It was a weird time, one that was uncomfortable for me and probably for the other people my new diet affected. I had never realized for myself how someone’s diet could expand outward, touching the lives of other people in subtle ways. My family and friends had to adapt to my diet, in a similar way to how I did though less severely. Suddenly there were fast food restaurants I couldn’t eat at because they didn’t offer a single vegetarian-friendly meal. So we had to eat somewhere else or make an extra stop for me. Family dinners required an extra main dish item that wasn’t meat-based or dinner as a whole would have to be meatless. I required a different set of groceries than those in my life that ate meat at every meal.
All of that is to say food is personal. And when I switched up the food in my life, I finally realized that and experienced it first-hand.
During this year of self-discovery, I’ve often wondered what makes food personal to us and why some people seem to get defensive when I say, “I don’t eat meat.” We don’t just eat food for survival. We gain other things from eating the food we eat, too. What those other “things” are? They’re elusive, and I can’t seem to put my finger on them.
As my first (mostly) meatless year comes full circle, I’ll admit that I don’t have a perfect record. I slipped up three times, all in times of high stress and change. I’ll admit that there was more than one occasion when my craving for meat was so strong that it took down to the last second to decide to turn the car around. I had to talk myself out of succumbing to old ways, because I’m still new to this whole thing. I’ll admit that I’m not a great vegetarian because I definitely eat way too many carbs and not enough protein.
A plant-based diet is difficult to master and takes dedication and persistence to get just right. Maybe one day I’ll be better. Or maybe I won’t. The beauty of diet is that it’s in a constant state of flux.
A plant-based diet isn’t for everyone, but if you’re curious and have a Netflix subscription, I recommend watching Food, Inc., Cowspiracy, and (somewhat unrelated to food but important nonetheless) Before the Flood.