Some choose vegetarianism for religious, spiritual or medical reasons, some because it’s trendy. But my motivation is based purely on respect for the environment, the planet, my fellow man and animals.
But how can I call myself an animal lover when I still meat once a week?
When you’re green, you grow
Twenty years ago, I read a book called “Diet for a Small Planet,” which taught me that using land to grow fruits and vegetables instead of raising a few animals would preserve rainforests and ecosystems otherwise cleared for livestock, emit less carbon (packaging, transportation, etc.) and erase starvation from the planet. Whatever need there was for a solution almost two decades ago has only grown stronger.
But if you were born and bred with meat as a part of culture, tradition or habit, as I was, it’s difficult to give it up.
I like a good filet mignon on occasion, and there’s no one who likes fish more than me, though I’m sure I could change my psychology and convince myself otherwise. But for some it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without turkey or Easter without lamb, and I understand that.
Going vegie requires vigilance, to ask questions and read packages carefully since even the average marshmallow contains an animal product called gelatin.
At times, it also requires endurance. The first time I quit cold (err) turkey, my parents gave me such a hard time that it was unpleasant to eat with them. Comments like, “Oh, you think you’re so much better than us,” “you’re just doing it for attention,” “why can’t you just be normal like the rest of us?” In addition to breaking a habit, continuing to be responsible for cooking my family’s meals (with meat) and shaking off personal criticism twice daily only added to the challenge.
Whatever relief I found in not cooking meat for others and going to a restaurant was quashed by the lack of variety in menu choices. I often ate salad, while my antagonists snickered.
I gave up my quest after five months, and my family slipped back into its comfort zone and declared victory.
Who doesn’t like options?
Over the years, it’s become easier if more acceptable to be vegetarian, especially in some parts of the world where it’s been a way of life for decades.
In Sweden, there are a ton of vegetarian options at every restaurant and every grocery store. I’m not saying soy dogs are delicious (they’re not), but it’s nice to know I can get reasonably priced tofutti, rice milk or barley (Korn) patties that taste a lot like chicken if I want them.
I loved being in India where I ate no meat, no wheat and no cheese. The food, especially in the South, was so amazing that I didn’t notice these three elements were missing. Even my meat loving fiancé gave up flesh, but for a very different reason — we call it the Tandoori chicken incident.
After more than a month of eating this way, I felt healthier, slimmer and harmonious. But when I came back to Greece, everything I ate caused me to break out in hives to the point I could not sleep or breathe. Trying twice to find an allergist at a public hospital was fruitless, so we consulted two private allergists who asked, “so why are you keeping a food diary?” Duh. In any case, the experience taught me how impure everyday food can be.
Since then I’ve also managed to convert my meat and potatoes fiancé into a mostly vegetarian mate who likes Brussel sprouts and eats meat twice a week.
Meat me in Greece
The first time I went to the meat market in Monastiraki ten years ago, I didn’t eat meat for a month.
My grandfather was a butcher, so I’d seen tongues and didn’t expect anything to be encased in Styrofoam and plastic, but I didn’t think there’d be blood running in the street or heads hanging from a hooks with eyeballs staring back. And it was summer, so the smell was bellissimo.
Occasionally there’s a blood clot or dangling artery in my chicken breast, but nothing that has ever shaken me to the point of no return, which I understand happens to people who turn vegetarian.
Today, something happened that pushed me one step closer.
Some months ago, I saw a Globe Trekker episode featuring Vietnam and Laos where host Zay Harding drank snake blood, caught goats blindfolded in his quest for a wife and ate eggs that I can only describe as delicacies. I remember feeling both disgust and admiration because everything he did was without hesitation and without making faces.
In what can only be described as a “Zay Harding moment,” an egg from my future mother-in-law’s village exploded in a boiling pot to reveal a half grown chick head with feathers and filled the kitchen with an odor that was half rotten egg, half dead animal. And of course I was alone, so I couldn’t faint or pass the deed to my fiancé.
I threw away the rest of our eggs, can’t look at the “dead chicken pot” and am fasting now. Zay, give me a call.