Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Vegetarian's Dilemma

It's been several months since my last post.  I feel as though I should apologize, but I think that's just some silly ol' guilt creeping into my morning.  I write because it's fun when I have time to do it, and not out of an obligation.

I also lead a vegetarian lifestyle for me, and not out of an obligation. (Segue accomplished.)  But, I must admit I am having a difficult time with it recently.

A month or so ago, my friend Nadine came to visit from California.  Actually, she and her husband and daughters were visiting family nearby for Thanksgiving and stopped by for an afternoon to see me, too.  I love being the beneficiary of an unrelated trip!  We were talking about my change to vegetarianism, and she commented that I must be paying attention to things like rennet in my cheese.  "Uh, yeah...  rennet... of course." I replied.  Then I ran as soon as I could to my computer to Google this unknown word.  Oh, the things I have yet to learn!

(Nadine, her husband Gary, and youngest daughter Daphne)

Turns out, most cheeses are made with an enzyme found in the stomach lining of unweaned calves.  Ugh!  Seriously?  Now I can't eat cheese?

I can barely eat out anymore, which is great for my budget, but I miss having a great time exploring delicious, luxurious restaurants.  And, I miss being able to go with the flow.  I can't eat most of the food at the homes of friends and family.  There was literally one dish at the Thanksgiving Feast at a relative's house that I could eat.  Creamed celery.  Surprisingly yummy, but not exactly a feast.  It's no fault of our hosts - it amazes me how little is even available without animal products.

One of my favorite dishes is Potato Gratin, made with Gruyere.  Impossible to find in vegetarian form!  What a loss for me.  Even now, I went online to find pictures of baby cows, to remind myself why I am doing this, and I discovered that the microbes used in most vegetarian cheeses originated from animal rennet, too!

(Maddie with calf at my niece's farm in Wisconsin, 2010)

Innocuous things like fluffy, delicious marshmallows (oh, I so miss rice krispie bars) contain gelatin, made from hooves.  Even non-food items, like nail polish remover have gelatin!

I just can't win.

And, don't even get me started on leather boots, shoes, belts, and car seats.  I recently bought a pair of vegan shoes.  Yes, I said that.  Vegan shoes.
                                                                 (Vegan, by Dansko)

So, I ask myself...  Why am I doing this?

I have to return to the original point that started this leg of my journey.  I believe factory farms are destructive to the environment, to public and personal health, and of course to the animals.

I am not inherently opposed to eating animal flesh.  We would never fault a lion for taking down a gazelle, though we might cringe at the imagery.  Humans are predatory creatures, just like that lion.  Except, because our brains are more developed, our technological ability to kill our prey has become more sophisticated.  But, it's the cringe aspect that really speaks to me.  As our brains have changed, our ability to empathize with out prey as increased, as well.  We are killers, but we are more than that.

Two hundred years ago, the people living in the northeast where I live now had to depend on the flesh of animals in order to survive through winters that could produce no other sustenance.  I have great respect for these people, who killed only what they needed and never more, prayed for the animal they killed, and used all its parts so that its life and death would have no waste.

Pequot Hunter
(Pequot Warrior -

My real beef, so to speak, is with factory farming.  I've already posted about this, so I won't take up too much virtual space.  In essence, the factory farm has led to destruction on a massive scale.  Not just to millions of animals - duh - but to the environment, the economy and our health.

I can't take my kids to the cupcake shop because they probably use eggs from a factory farm, where thousands of featherless, dying, laying hens perch with their poor feet on wire-bottomed cages, dropping egg after egg into the bins of an artificially lit hen-house.  Their beaks have been cut off, and the baby roosters have been minced to death in something like a wood-chipper because they are useless to the egg industry.

(Is this where you want to get your eggs?)

(Or is this? -from Jericho Settlers Farm, Vermont)

Nature tells us how much to eat and when to eat it.  It's no great wonder why our nation is overweight. Animals are hard to kill in the wild, which seems to indicate that it should be consumed in limited quantities at most.  Stuffing thousands of creatures into warehouses just isn't justifiable.  And, for that matter, refined and processed foods, anything from butter to pasta to sugar, takes some effort when done properly versus pulling an apple from a tree and munching. 

And, eating Nature's way is less expensive and less fattening, too.  I know there are all these arguments about how expensive organic food is.  Well, that is true.  But, when we are eating this expensive food we are less likely to waste it.  We buy and eat what we need and not more.  We eat the things that are easy and nutrient-rich, like kale and sweet potatoes... and less of the difficult stuff, like bread and butter.  When we cut out packaged and processed foods, whether meats or grains or anything else, we then return to a style of eating that is "just right."  Our food, then, has value.

But, despite my affection for do-it-yourself dining, I still can't harvest a sentient being.  If I imagine myself with a bow and arrow, aimed and ready, I can't let that imaginary arrow fly into anything but a round, red-and-white practice target.  I couldn't wring one of my chickens' necks any more than I could wring my one of my dog's.  And, if I can't kill it myself, then how could I eat something that I'd allowed someone else to kill for me?  I would no sooner be a hypocrite than a carnivore.

Plus, meat gives me pimples.

I've thought about relaxing my rules a bit.  I am truly finding it difficult to live in my world and stick to my values.  I want a s'more.  I want a manicure.  I want to go to a friend's house and indulge in the cheese plate.  I want to carry that gorgeous leather handbag.

I want to go back to the days when I was blissfully ignorant.  But one of my personal foibles is being too hard on myself.  So, I look for balance.  What am I able to do without running myself into the ground, and what isn't really reasonable?  This is where I'm at today.  Vegetarian and leatherless.  I'll let you know if that changes.

(me, in Chicago for Thanksgiving)

Today I am thankful for choices and the freedom I have to make them for myself.

I wish to take it easy on myself.  No one can do it all perfectly.  I can only do my best, one day at a time.