Goodnight, Meat.

30 Dec

Christmas is done and it’s time to get back to work. I sit here at my desk with a Wallace & Gromit coffee mug full of shiraz (because I’m classy like that) and daydream about the three brand-new books stacked neatly beside me: Christopher Moore’s Lamb and The Stupidest Angel, and Feed by Mira Grant. This is not a time for writing, I think to myself. This is a time for reading books and drinking wine, for playing games and roleplaying. In fact, I’m spying on my friends right now as they RP in Orgrimmar. Life is good.

Unfortunately, a bit of awkwardness lurks under the idyllic skin of my day, and vegetarianism is the culprit. Let me tell you a story.

Gallbladder surgery put me in the hospital a couple years ago and my mom flew out to take care of my son while I was out of commission. She cooked a roast for dinner, the first meat in my house in a year, and fed it to the boy. Later when she told him it was time for bed, he went out to the kitchen dressed in his underpants and nothing else, gazed longingly at the leftover hunk of pork on the cutting board, and said in a quavering voice fraught with emotion, “Goodnight, Meat.”

When I chose vegetarianism and said my own personal Goodnight, Meat in April of 2007, thirty pounds melted right off and stayed off for the next two years. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved. It felt good to do something for my health. It also felt good to be doing something that might lessen my personal impact on the world, even if it was just a little tiny bit. The food was wonderful. I loved experimenting with new ingredients in the kitchen, and the only marginally bad thing was having to explain why I chose the path of the veggie.

We humans are taught from a young age that it is impolite to ask, for example, how much someone weighs, whether they are pregnant, or how old they are. Many similar questions are off-limits, our inherent curiosity stifled because it’s not socially beneficial to make people uncomfortable. However, in a culture obsessed with what we put in our mouths, there are no such compunctions about what we include in-or exclude from-our diets.

My best answer, in retrospect, was why not? If I could live well without meat, and I wanted to live without meat, that was all the reason I needed.

It was no secret I’d gone veggie. I shared recipes, extolled the virtues of various natural and sometimes obscure ingredients, collaborated with vegan friends and friends who are chefs, and generally had a smashing time of it. It was a public thing. For three years, I was Vegetarian with a capital V. For some people who didn’t know me well, it was the only label by which they could categorize me.

The term vegetarian in itself is polarizing. People associate it with even more labels; hippies, hipsters, anarchists, picky eaters, those suffering from eating disorders, militants and environmental terrorists, among others, fall under that umbrella. Vaguely related concepts like organic farming (whatever loose definition that entails), fair trade, environmental responsibility, and PETA can elicit powerful responses in people, both good and bad. (For the record, PETA creeps me the hell out.) When you are Vegetarian, it’s rarely just a dietary lifestyle but a label that often eclipses others like writer, gamer, raider, cook, leader, even Mom. It’s a label that lumps a vast and diverse group of people under a single, sometimes damning flag.

Once I took that leap, I embraced the label and the label became an integral part of who I was.

Broccoli... Forever

Broccoli... Forever

Last winter things began to change. I still enjoyed my diet but I’d grown lax about my eating habits. My policy of grazing, while good for the metabolism in general, was actually detrimental to my insulin-sensitive system when I didn’t balance the carbohydrates with protein, a sin of which I am often guilty (bread is a particular weakness, though I try now to eat it sparingly, with a side of peanut butter, fish, or eggs). I gained weight and slept all the time. Other problems cropped up. In short, my health began to decline.

Several months ago I added chicken and cage-free eggs to my diet. I ate fish. Each bite reminded me that I was a fallen Vegetarian. Had I forgotten some important part of myself that needed to be reclaimed and reminded of the reasons I’d taken up that mantle in the first place? Could I make the extra effort to balance my diet while staying meat-free in a house of omnivores? Would I? Was I willing to return to my stance on vegetarianism and eat beans, nuts, or tofu at every single meal, several times a day?

It was hard to face up to the idea that I might simply be too lazy and bored to continue put out the effort needed to make a vegetarian diet work for me. Weary of making concessions and meals my family didn’t always want to eat, it was easier to compromise. I just had to decide whether I could live with eating meat, without being squished into gross red pulp under crushing amounts of guilt.

I’m still sorting out my feelings on the matter. It’s a very personal decision and I find it hard to say “no, I’m not a vegetarian anymore” when the topic arises. There is pressure to come out of the closet, so to speak, which is unpleasant. Why does it feel akin to a public announcement on the level of religious dissent or alternate sexuality? Admitting publicly that I have cast off this label opens me to taunts, ridicule, and gloating from the same folks who grilled me over my choice in the first place and told me I was misguided or just plain stupid.

In spite of everything, here I am, outing myself. It’s not like anyone is going to kick my ass or boot me off the team, kick my puppy or light a bag of turds on my front porch. I’m just not a vegetarian anymore. Ultimately people may give me shit, but my friends will still be my friends no matter what I eat or don’t, and whether I change my mind about it a million times. If it comes off as weakness or a fickle nature, I’ll deal. After all, I’m no stranger to indignity.

There is meat in my house even as we speak. Does it bother me? Sometimes, sure. Pigs, for example, are too awesome to eat without feeling a twinge of remorse. I choose local, sustainable-harvest and free-trade products whenever I can. We eat lots of meatless meals. And if the urge to return to vegetarianism returns, I’ll be there again in a second.

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9 Responses to “Goodnight, Meat.”

  1. Tami December 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    It’s interesting, my household turned vegan very recently, and we’re still adjusting. We’re also very recently gluten-soy-dairy free because of various intolerance levels, so our cooking is undergoing a period of experimentation right now.

    In a way, doing this feels good to both of us – it gives us a reason to avoid the foods we already know we should avoid and eat the foods we already know we should eat.

    An odd thing, though, has been my reluctance to blog on it or mention it to most folks. I think I’m avoiding it because even the few people I have told it to seem to react defensively – as if my diet choices are somehow a reflection of my opinion of THEIR diet choices, which isn’t my intent at all. Or, like many “fringe” groups, it might become a pissing contest. “You can’t call yourself a vegan, you eat table sugar and honey and a billion other things that true vegans wouldn’t touch!”

    I’d love to have someone to talk about it with, but I don’t know how to find that without also inviting the defensiveness or judgementalness that I dread will inevitably follow the announcement.

    Thank you, but although I would love a cookie, I can’t. No, that doesn’t mean YOU can’t have a cookie. And no, I don’t feel like I should hand out anti-cookie pamphlets or chain myself to a cow barn. I just want to sit over here, meekly enjoying my sweet potato chili.

    Which, to tie it more firmly into your post – is probably akin to the same sort of feeling that was keeping you from posting about your forays into omnivoreland.

    I salute your bravery in stepping forward and acknowledge the truth that people change – if that weren’t true, I’d still be the girl who ate nothing but hot pockets and box dinners, sitting as far from the salad bar as I possibly could. ❤

    • Bika December 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

      I’ve seen kneejerk reactions to vegetarianism from both sides of the fence, Tami, and I totally know where you’re coming from! People take this particular choice very personally sometimes–I mean if it’s good enough for them, why not you?–“I spent hours cooking this and you won’t even taste it??”–or the downright insulted looks from any friends or family who make their living from dairy farming (it’s happened, and I love them to death, and I wasn’t accusing them of anything but it sure comes off that way doesn’t it?). It’s also off-putting to deal with the preachy vegan side. Helpful suggestions are so much more beneficial than condemnations!

      Either way, I consider it a very personal decision and not really much of anyone else’s business… I’ve also walked that walk for three years and wholly support any efforts in that direction. I’m more than happy to chat you up about it anytime if you want advice or any other kind of support. Just hit me up! 🙂

      • Tami December 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

        My biggest hurdle thus far is going to be coming up with food that we can eat when traveling or away from home – my mom loves all the things we’re giving up, and weekend visits are going to get interesting.

        If you have any recipes that area also soy/dairy/gluten free, I’d LOVE to see them. We’re building a decent “to try” list, but I’m always open to suggestions!

        You’ve got my email – feel free to say ‘allo!

      • Bika December 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

        Well, here’s a plug for one of my very favorite veggie recipe sites for starters. http://vegweb.com/

        The users cover the entire scope of veg-heads of all types (including the gluten- and soy-free types) and it makes for some pretty interesting reading. All of the recipes are vegan!

  2. Des December 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    If you think you might still get some benefit from eating some vegetarian/vegan meals, you might try instituting a “Meatless Monday” or something once a week. And really, it never bothered me that I might have friends who made such a choice. All I asked was that I be notified before I asked them over for dinner so that I could see that a meal was prepared that everyone would enjoy. 🙂

    • Bika December 31, 2010 at 11:13 am #

      I like the idea of Meatless Monday. We’re actually meatless 3 days a week on average here, but it would help to set it up on a schedule for planning purposes… and so everyone gets a chance to have a say in what gets cooked on those days. Mac and cheese, please?

      Friends who go out of their way to accommodate dietary preferences are the best. You’re definitely doing it right, Des!

  3. Claire December 31, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    I live with a family member that’s vegan, and http://www.yvesveggie.com/ makes some amazing fake meat product! There are times that I miss meat a bit, but I’ve gone months at a time without eating it and not really noticed, either.

    • Bika December 31, 2010 at 11:18 am #

      That’s because you get to eat a lot of rad things like peanut sauce, om nom. (Now I know what we’re having for dinner tonight!)

      We went through about a million Boca chick’n patties in the 3 years of veggiedom. My kid is somewhat picky and it was an easy way to throw him a bone, figuratively speaking, without having to “reward” his patience with meat or fast food.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Goodnight, Meat « Bika Central - December 31, 2010

    […] a veggie confessional over at Seven Deadly Divas yesterday, complete with doodles. You can see it here! Have a totally rad New […]

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