Over the summer, I decided to cut out most of the meat that I eat. It was part of my general diet plan that I outlined on this blog when I started, and it went along with other self improvements, like exercising more and cooking more. After gaining weight my freshman year of college, I decided I should make a conscientious effort to only eat meat at one meal a day, rather than having, say, a turkey sandwich for lunch and chicken and pasta for dinner. But even that didn’t seem like enough when I weighed 140 pounds (141 is the official beginning of overweight BMI for my height, and I lie about my height, so really I was already overweight, though not at all in a dangerous way), plus I had just watched “Food, Inc,” so I decided that I should only eat meat every couple of weeks, and then only eat it if it was organic, kosher, local, grass-fed, or something like that that indicates it’s not the average animal shot up with drugs and hormones and fed with corn and shoved into a dirty slaughterhouse. For anyone who has seen that movie, I will say that, as someone who has always been grossed out by raw meat (another reason to be a vegetarian), I was struck by how much I wanted to eat the organic chicken that I saw killed, plucked, and cut up on screen; it was just so fresh- and healthy- and yummy-looking. Organic really is better, and you can literally see why. It’s part of my general campaign to feel more personally responsible for the life I lead, because it’s very easy to sign CREDO petitions online and a lot harder to actually reduce my carbon footprint (I now only take elevators if I’m going up really high, if my asthma is acting up, or if people are already using it; I annoy my parents to death when I dig things out of the trash can and put them in the recycle bin; I take the bus to school since my car died) and take personal responsibility for keeping at least my part of the world as healthy as possible.
So, aside from Thanksgiving weekend, when I had a lot of delicious French food and Thanksgiving food for four days, I really only have meat twice a month, and it’s gotten to the point that I do feel sick if I have it more often than that. I don’t feel the need to be anything more than a flexitarian, because I don’t not eat meat because I think eating animals is wrong; I just don’t eat meat because I think the American way of eating animals is wrong, and because I would rather be lean and healthy than obese and sick. I also don’t want to never eat meat, because I like to travel, and sometimes your only option is meat, especially when you are also lactose intolerant, like I am. Plus, since American meat is far nastier and far less healthy than other meat, I don’t feel as if I am eating piles of grease and corn and drugs when I eat meat in other countries. Also, I have a big problem with snobby vegetarians, because, even though there are some “traditional cultures” whose diet is naturally vegetarian, there are plenty of others that get to eat meat a lot, or they get to eat it as a treat, or they are really gracious to tourists and travelers and offer meat even if it’s expensive, and I don’t want to be rude if I can be polite without getting sick. Vegetarianism with complete nutrition is a privilege that Americans have, and it shouldn’t be imposed on people who either don’t have access to vegetarianism or who live in a place where the alternative to vegetarianism doesn’t increase greenhouse gases or contribute to monoculture. Americans should be vegetarians, vegans, or flexitarians because our lifestyle is basically the asshole lifestyle of the world, but other people shouldn’t necessarily have to accommodate that.
In high school, I hadn’t quite developed my ideas of being a conscientious world citizen (not that I’m so great at it now), but I did believe, as I believe now, that, in a general understanding of things–slaughterhouse practices aside–there should be no moral or health reason not to eat meat. I think it’s part of the food chain (lions aren’t vegetarians, and PETA doesn’t go yelling at them), and certainly protein and iron are good for you. I’ve always been a sort of picky eater, and in high school I was still a picky eater, especially about meat. I don’t like it if it looks slightly funny, or if it’s too pink, or if it’s too dry, or whatever, so I’ve never been a big meat lover, because it’s easier just to say no to it than to be that girl who picks around her food. (I’ve since decided that being a foodie is more interesting than eating pickily, but I’m still happy with my vegetarianism.) But when my high school class went to Kenya, I wanted to immerse myself in it, and I think the best way to learn a different culture is through food–eating, cooking with people, sitting around in a kitchen and watching people cook, visiting a farm…all of which I did while I was there–so I was happy to at least try everything we were served. I didn’t like goat, but I ate it the first time and just passed the next few times it was offered. The beef was tougher than the beef I was used to, but I ate it.
There were many people in my group who were vegetarians, and they would get really demanding and offended when they were offered meat. We had a personal cook who once made us grilled cheese with ham because everyone was complaining about being hungry. It wasn’t a mealtime, but he made us a huge plate of sandwiches. I really hate ham, but I ate it, because I was hungry, and because it had been offered to me. The vegetarians threw a fit, so the cook had to make more cheese-only sandwiches, and a lot of the first batch of sandwiches went to waste, because there weren’t enough non-vegetarians to eat them.
I totally understand that if you have a diet in which you never eat meat, it might make you sick to all of a sudden eat an entire animal. But you can pretty quickly train your body to adjust to a diet, and I doubt any of these kids would have had anything more than slight indigestion, if anything. And the fact that they were so rude about it really bothered me. If you don’t want to be a part of something new or different, don’t travel. And don’t try to impose your privilege on someone who doesn’t have it. It makes you seem like an asshole.
This is why I am not a complete vegetarian (Michael Pollan calls it flexitarian) and why I’m not a vegan, even though that’s probably the best diet for me, since I can’t have a lot of dairy or a lot of meat without feeling ill. That is also why I would never switch to keeping kosher, even though I can see some value in kosher style, and even though a lot of kosher food is just more delicious than its non-kosher counterpart. You can’t travel if you have a closed mind or a closed stomach. And travel isn’t limited to actual travel. I would say the concept also transfers to being a world citizen and to being a respectful person in general.
**I think maybe I sound much more high and mighty than Michael Pollan does when he talks about this stuff, and also the word “American” appears too much in this post. Sorry.