Sunday, July 3, 2011

To Meat or Not to Meat

It certainly is a monumental question for many of us.  The consuming of a living, sentient creature is a personal decision.  While I am not bent on proselytizing, a blog that is largely about food would be incomplete without addressing this issue. Whatever your point of view, you have my respect.  For myself, I have chosen to be a vegetarian.

Just this past Christmas, I made a scrapbook of favorite recipes for my family and a few friends.  I made nine of them, and it took days to photocopy or neatly hand-write each recipe, place a cute sticker on each, envelope each card in a sheet protector, write personal notes.  It was based on a scrapbook given to me by my friend Betsy who cared for me after my first husband died with a meal in her home, with her family, each Tuesday evening.  This was maybe my favorite gift I've ever given or received.

It was filled with meat recipes.  So, this decision to avoid meat is a recent event for me.  I'd like to go back and revisit that scrapbook, and give my friends the veggie version.

As I've become more involved in getting know where my food is coming from and choosing wholesome foods for my children, it has become difficult to avoid the question of meat.  Throughout my life, I've always really loved a good burger.  The carcinogenic smell of burning cow flesh on a grill is still enticing to me, until I remember it is burning cow flesh.  Eating anything that was available, including meat, was never a thought, though, until this past year.  I suspect, it's not a question for many people.  But, if you're reading this blog, then you're either a friend, or you're a foodie like me who may be in the process of a similar choice.

It started, I think, with the drive my family makes to South Carolina a couple times a year for a little vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The way through Pennsylvania is beautiful, rolling with green. One doesn't even notice the enormous, but innocuously plain sheet-metal sheds that perforate the landscape, sometime hidden beneath the hills, sometimes out in the open.  If I thought anything of them at all, it was "storage."  Then, we realized they were chicken houses.

Each shed, with a few tiny windows and a fan or two, housed thousands of chickens.  They live in conditions I will not describe here until they are mercilessly killed.  I used to think cattle had it bad, but there are at least some laws requiring a bare minimum of so-called humane slaughter.  The chickens, though, have no such protection.  And, the people who work these farms are poor; The riches going to the factories that own it all.  It bothered me, and I started looking into purchasing my meats - all meats - from a family farm I could get to know and trust.  That satisfied me for a while, and I believe it is the only way to go for people who choose to eat meat.

Without a source for family-farmed beef, I decided to give it up.  I had heard of people giving up red meat for health reasons, and I thought I'd give it a try.  It felt good.  I was making a decision about my health and my lifestyle, rather than being held hostage to overly meat-centered restaurant menus.  I then gave up all meats, a matter of weeks later.  Guess what?  My skin cleared up!  Always with a zit or two for my adult life, this was a revelation.  I'd sneak a bite of bacon or burger just to test my own reaction.  Indeed, it repulsed me, and the next day I'd have a red dot on my chin to reinforce the decision to stay away from eating animals.

But, I was still eating seafood and serving meat to my kids... Until a fellow Little League mom handed me her copy of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  This changed everything.  What I learned about the quality of factory farmed meats, the living conditions of the animals, the affects on our own health, the government subsidies, and most of all the impact on our environment blew my mind.  Even the seafood industry is fraught with harm and waste.  There was just too much to ignore.  Chad read about half of the book and became a vegetarian, too.

We now have a vegetarian home.  We have guests over and serve wonderfully complete and gorgeous meals without feeling even a little guilty that they might expect meat.  Unless I explain it to them, I don't think they notice. I do struggle with my kids who order chicken nuggets and meatballs when we dine out.  But, at least they refuse Taco Bell and McDonalds because of the "bad meat."  I am hopeful that they will make different choices as they grow up, but I don't feel it's part of my job as a parent to force them to make this personal decision.  I lived on meat for thirty-six years and came to this decision in my own time.  Perhaps my children will too.

I am thankful for a community that has supported and educated me about what I eat and the will to make the decision to live without killing or harming animals.

I wish for more vegetarian recipes for real American food.  Not this tofu-scramble, seitan stuff.  I'm sure it's tasty, but I love the comfort of the familiar foods of my upbringing.  If anyone out there has a recipe to share, I'll post it here.

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