My Stint As a Vegetarian

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I have two things I would like to put out there today, based on articles I read that got me thinking. The first is about vegetarianism. Naturally, being the soft-hearted lefty that I am, I decided at age 17 that eating meat was not morally all that. And I sort of stopped, for a while. I started out allowing myself one Chick-Fil-A sandwich a month. (I love me some Chick-Fil-A). Then I gained 10 lbs. (or maybe it was 5, but it seemed like 10) because I was eating so much cheese in lieu of meat. I was a freshperson in college at the time and didn’t really know how to eat nutritiously or cook for myself. That translated into a lot of pizza and fried cheese sticks. So I gradually got back on chicken and fish, and just cut out red meat. But I eventually began to make exceptions to that too, and started focusing on eating healthy rather than excluding anything in particular.

Over time, I’ve come to a place where what little I know about commercial meat production sickens me, both in terms of the unsanitary conditions and the cruelty to the animals. I still eat chicken that I don’t pay a million dollars at Whole Foods for, and try not to think about it. I make an occasional exception to my fear of mad cow and have a burger or steak. But I would estimate that I eat meat-free meals maybe 65-70% of the time, not out of any moral convictions but just because I prefer them. I’m not entirely comfortable morally with the fact that I eat meat, more because I can’t know the conditions under which it was produced than because I think it’s intrinsically wrong to eat meat at all. I get the whole food chain thing. But I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of killing animals, as “natural” as it may be.

Here’s the question that interests me, though: not the merits of vegetarianism, but the fact that so many meat-eaters get so defensive and angry when the subject is raised. I first experienced this during my stint as a vegetarian; when I turned down a hamburger, people would get up in my face, saying, “what’s the matter, you think there’s something wrong with eating meat?” and cracking crude jokes about how tasty the bacon was. Just today, I was reading an interview on Salon with a philosophy professor who advocates more humane slaughter practices and generally that we (humans) should do what we can to minimize suffering wherever it occurs, including in animals. The letters in response to the interview were so vitriolic, I couldn’t get over it. I mean, I would think that the idea of reducing suffering as a general goal would be pretty uncontroversial, and let me just say that anyone who thinks we shouldn’t reduce suffering where we can is not somebody I would like to meet.

Does anyone have any insight on why people get so defensive about eating meat? And don’t regurgitate the militant vegetarian canard — in all of my experiences with vegetarians, including my own, even the very nonjudgmental, quiet ones who would just like to enjoy their Boca Burger, thank you very much (which was all but maybe one), have encountered this same attitude. And for me, even when I did eat meat but said I didn’t feel comfortable with it, people would still foam at the mouth and trip over themselves trying to explain to me why there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and anyone who thought there was, was a raving idiot. Obviously this topic touches a nerve. Is it repressed guilt or what?

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16 Responses to “My Stint As a Vegetarian”

  1. DeJon Redd Says:

    I’m interested in this dicussion more as an active listener than a proponent of either side.

    (However, I do agree with Vincent Vega that “… bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.”)

    But Sandi, was that intentional humor with the “freshperson” thing. I guffawed.

  2. Sandi Says:

    Yes, it was intentional humor. Not without a basis in true belief, but it definitely makes people laugh and that’s why I say it.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    My dad was a butcher. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but my sisters’ dates were always nervous.

    And for all us Arkansas folks, I’m sure we can add to this discussion a time or two where the merits of “huntin'” were discussed on moral grounds. You know, deep philosophical discussions while spitting Skoal over the worldwide epidemic of deer overpopulation.

    Reminds me of one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes comic strips: a man was sitting in his living room watching television when the door flies open and three deer with rifles murder him in cold blood. Next frame has Calvin reading his creative writing assignment to the class, explaining that the murder was necessary because human beings were overpopulating the planet and threatening the world’s food supply. 🙂

    I don’t know, Sandi. I’ve never thought about it a whole lot, though I cannot imagine killing anything to be much fun. If I had to kill my own food, I’d be a vegetarian I’m sure. As it is, I’m a connoiesseur (no spell check on the comment board!) of meat.

    I think I’ve landed where you’re at in the philosophical approach. I think the killing of animals for food should be done as humanely as possible. To not agree with that seems a bit disturbing to me.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I really have no opinion on this, but I’ll play along. A couple of things come to mind. One is that, from a biological perspective, we’re designed to have meat in our diet. I’m not making any claims about what that implies, necessarily, just observing the fact.

    The other thing that comes to mind was prompted by Al’s comment about what he’d do if he had to kill the animals he eats. It reminded me that we’re not as far removed from that as we — or I, at least — tend to think. When I was 8, 9, maybe even 10 yrs. old, I witnessed some of it. I followed my grampa around his farm while he, um, “attended to” the pigs he kept just for meat for the family. On many occasions, when a visit turned into dinner, I went to the chicken coop with my dad and watched him grab an axe in one hand and a chicken in the other, and do what one does when one has an axe in one hand, a chicken in the other, and hungry relatives in the house. (And then I watched the chicken do what chickens famously do, and no, I don’t mean cross the road.)

    I ate that chicken and pork. Happily. I was hungry. I’ve eaten fish I caught and cleaned, also happily. I’ve even eaten half a dove’s breast, cleaned on the spot and roasted on a sharpened stick.

    All that to say: maybe I’m just desensitized, but my impression is that most American vegetarians are vegetarians by virtue of a thin veneer of luxury. If that veneer were stripped away, the vegetarianism underneath would evaporate. (Which I don’t mean as an indictment. Just an observation.)

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    And now that I’ve said all that, I’ll add that I don’t buy the hunting argument that it’s okay to kill an animal if you don’t waste it — that is, if you eat it. Malarkey. Most animals killed and eaten by hunters are wasted. Why? Because those hunters’ and their families didn’t need that meat. Once cleaned and butchered, it went into a freezer alongside loads of store-bought meat from animals raised for that purpose and readily available in large quantities.

    There was no need to kill that wild deer or turkey or whatever. Killing it was a waste, eaten or not.

  6. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Let me say first off that I was never much for the huntin’. For some reason the old hunter gatherer instinct never kicked in for me when it came to shooting things. But boy do I love me some fishin’. More than once when I was stationed in P’goula, I’d wet a line from the pier before heading home from the ship and end up bringing home a couple of flounder or a redfish. Set off the smoke detectors blackening the fish, but it was worth it! Man I miss that!

    Then I get down here to Cuba and start scuba diving. Ohhhh boy! Now I get to see all of those big ones that keep getting away. One of my buddies loans me a spear gun and that’s all she wrote. That ole instinct kicked in big time for me. I can feel the switch flip when I’m underwater with my head on a swivel. I’m in full on hunter gatherer mode. It’s primal.

    You’ll be happy to know that if I don’t get the kill shot, I take out my dive knife and finish the job immediately. It’s humane, but also necessary so you don’t have a struggling, bleeding fish tied to you to attract sharks.

    And to counter JU’s last point… how much venison is there at your local grocer? And if we’re so concerned with the sanitation aspect of our meat-processing in this country, what’s better than processing it yourself and making sure it’s clean? Plus… I’m real picky about my fish. It’s gotta be really fresh.

    I don’t mind vegetarians. I like a lot of vegetarian food. Heck… Indian cuisine is just about my favorite, and 50% of the dishes are vegetarian. What we omnivores don’t appreciate are those vegetarians or vegans that apply some moral aspect to eating meat, somehow implying that meat-eaters are barbaric or morally inferior. I don’t gag at their tofu and chickpea mixture, so they shouldn’t tell me how disgusting they think my medium-rare ribeye is.

  7. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Interesting subject:
    When I was growing up in the rural South, I did some hunting – heck, every boy did. Mine was mostly because my Dad was a big hunter and I didn’t want to be a wimp. I enjoyed the challenge of marksmanship (still do), but I found out quickly that I didn’t enjoy killing things or eating the animals Dad brought home, so once I was grown and away from home, I quit. I could do it, and have done it, in a survival situation, but hunting just to see if you can outwit some poor creature by using a car load of 21st century technology doesn’t interest me.

    I eat meat, but have no problem with most vegetarians. They’re probably right in saying us Americans could do with a little less meat and more veggies. It’s the crazies on both sides that bother me. I can’t forget the billboard I saw in Los Angles once when PETA was protesting McDonalds. It had a huge picture of a cow’s head laying on the ground, with it’s eyes rolled back and it’s tongue hanging out and a caption underneath that said
    “You Want Fries With that?”

    I liked Juvenal’s comment:
    “… It reminded me that we’re not as far removed from that as we — or I, at least — tend to think.”

    I’m always encouraged when someone remembers history. We’re only 100 years or less removed from the time when practically everybody kept and slaughtered animals as a matter of course. I don’t have a moral problem with killing animals for food, but agree that it should be done as “humanely” as possible. Even though, in a Darwinian world, there is no rational beyond self interest for treating other life forms with compassion, I’ve always felt that cruelty to animals diminished any person.

    More power to vegetarians. I never ate so well as when I was growing up next to my Grandfather’s garden. He grew veggies and fruits and berries that would knock your socks off.

    In the words of the Jolly Green Giant, the world’s greatest authority on vegetables: “There ain’t nothing like a good pea.”
    (With apologies to Red Buttons)

    My compliments to the Freshperson.

  8. Al Sturgeon Says:

    And don’t forget, Cap’n, the important instruction: “Eat every carrot and pea on your plate.”
    🙂

    Good comments.

    I shot a robin in the head with a bb gun when I was a kid. It was the only time I ever hit something I aimed at with that bb gun. The bird flopped around on the ground. Frustrated, my dad went over and stomped its head to put it out of its misery while I went inside and cried. Thus ended my hunting career.

    I realize that if I was a kid when my parents were kids that this little episode would have turned out different, and killing my dinner would have become as natural as anything else. But that’s not the way my life turned out.

    So full circle here: I don’t have a problem with killing animals for human consumption. Given my life, I prefer to pick mine up neatly packaged at the grocery store. Given life in general, I believe the killing of such animals ought to be done in as humane a fashion as possible.

    (And back to Sandi’s original question, I suspect vitriolic reaction to “both” sides of the issue does reflect some repressed guilt, tinged with disdain for those “different” from themselves.)

  9. Terry Austin Says:

    I never saw my dad kill a chicken. But he shot a(n) (o)possum with a .22 a few weeks back.

    Didn’t eat it, though…

  10. Capt MidKnight Says:

    1. Terry Austin said…
    “I never saw my dad kill a chicken. But he shot a(n) (o)possum with a .22 a few weeks back.”

    Terry,
    I had the same experience with a skunk in my neighbor’s yard a few years ago. It was acting strange and we were afraid it might have rabies, so I provided the .410 shotgun and my neighbor despatched it.
    Opossums used to be the dominate road kill species here in the South, but have been replaced
    by the armadillo which Al can tell you is known by rednecks as “Opossum on the half shell.”

    Sandi,
    I think the problem you have had with anti-vegetarians may go back to a quote from “The Puritans Win Round One” article you posted by William Saletan:
    “Americans have long been driven by two deep longings. The first is to be left alone. The second is to tell other people what to do.”

    When it comes to commercial meat production, however, the old, old saw still applies:
    “Anyone who loves either the law or sauages should never watch either being made.”

  11. Terry Austin Says:

    My dad is so mean he once shot a man just for snoring. But he shot that ‘possum because it kept climbing his >6-foot chain link fence to get into his garden.

    My dad is a(n) herbivore with a taste for blood.

    And I know what you mean about those armadilloes. They’re everywhere (“everywhere” meaning on the shoulders of Southern roads, of course). The ‘possums should be worried about this. Are there no immigration laws? (Of course, the ‘possums rightfully stole this land from the foxes centuries ago, but that’s another story.)

    In closing, you’re not alone: I don’t know what I’m talking about, either.

  12. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I never saw my dad kill a chicken.

    Because you stayed inside, playing with spools or singing hymns, no doubt.

    My dad is so mean he once shot a man just for snoring.

    The irony! He also once picked up a misbehaving 12-y.o. by his ears and carried him to his Sunday School class, and chopped down a Christmas tree with a butcher knife (on two nonconsecutive occasions). He’s practically a mythological figure.

  13. Capt MidKnight Says:

    “In closing, you’re not alone: I don’t know what I’m talking about, either.”

    Huh?

  14. Terry Austin Says:

    Which of these statements about my dad is true?
    A) My dad once grinned down a b’ar.
    B) My dad once outran a steam engine.
    C) My dad has a big blue ox.
    D) My dad once dang near cut his thumb off with a table saw.

    Cap’n: I was apologizing for (again) hijacking a thread with my silly ramblings . I didn’t expect anybody to keep up with me or connect the odd dots I was placing. And this makes your “Huh?” comment that much funnier, at least to me. Confusing people is my ministry.

  15. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Terry Austin said:
    “Confusing people is my ministry.”

    It’s good to know that you’ve found your calling.

  16. juvenal_urbino Says:

    It’s really more his avocation than a vocation, if you ask me.

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