I love meat. Most of my favourite food experiences have included meat of some variety, whether it be the chicken, mutton and other meats used in the curries I ate in India, the delicious barbecue pork I’ve had amongst Americans or the amazing flavours of the Brazillian churascos. I see meat eaten every day, and I want it.
The thing about vegetarianism is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t enjoy meat, and that you don’t want it – you just choose not to give into that temptation.
I’m learning to recognize my cravings for what they are: my stomach saying “feed me” and my thoughts turning to foods I have become used to craving at such times. 90+% of the time, I find that a delicious vegetarian dish will be every bit as satisfying by the time that I’m done eating, even if I had been craving meat before that.
My journey to vegetarianism has seemed somewhat abrupt, but has been coming for a while. For over a year now I’ve become more and more interested in what industrial farming has done to our food. There was a big part of me that did not want to know, because it might lead to a seemingly large sacrifice.
MLE read all of the books we had purchased on the subject. I shared her enthusiasm for the subject hesitantly – enough to know a lot of bad stuff was going on, but not really prepared to delve into it. I has horrified at the things she described, but guiltily wanted her to stop telling me.
To reassure myself, I began to take the position that we should avoid factory farmed meats and buy from local food sources. We’re poor, and the idea of spending an extra few dollars per pound of meat seemed daunting at first, but when you consider that the average Australian/American eats much more meat than they need to, we figured we’d eat better and eat less.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a good approach. It recognizes the cruelty and injustice inherent in the industrial farming system where big corporations are willing to sacrifice animal and human well-being for profit (a great introduction to this is the movie Food Inc). I know a lot of people who take this approach and their diets are undoubtedly better for doing it.
What helped me to make the decision to stop eating meat altogether was a conversation with MLE (who urged me to consider the matter further) which led to me reading the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Not only was this my first step into learning the grotesque details of factory farming, but it asked the question: What goes on in the human mind to make one animal a pet and another animal food?
It describes the dominant philosophical approach to the question as “Carnism” and compares it to patriarchy in that it is a position so ubiquitous within society we don’t readily recognize it. As science leads us to understand that there are few nutrients that we can get from meat alone, the slaughter of billions of lives every year has become unnecessary.
I began discussing the questions I was dealing with on facebook and received some useful feedback. It was helpful to understand that plants can also suffer, and to see it from the perspective that all life relies on the destruction of other life for its survival. In the end though, I came to the conclusion that while plant life can suffer, animals can think and build relationships and experience emotion (including the terror of impending death).
I have taken this step as an act of faith. Consistency of action with belief has been something I have admired greatly in others, and I have decided to pursue it myself. As my beliefs cause me to grieve over the suffering that exists in the world, I need to live a life that reduces that suffering and promotes the most good.
On top of this, I have learned more about what it is to sacrifice. I have sacrificed most of my favourite foods for a greater good. I have recognized that the life within a cow, a chicken, a pig or a fish carries more worth to me than eating those foods. I also now take more time to recognize that whatever I eat causes the end of something’s life. In doing that, in preparation for eating I prayerfully recognize that a sacrifice of life has been made, that I might have strength and life to do some good in the world. I figure that if my life is going to be extended by the killing of other life, I had better not live wastefully.
This is also the most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done in my life. It has really brought to me a sense of being ‘in the world, but not of it’. There is a certain awkwardness that comes with eating vegetarian. Most restaurants do not cater to you with more than a couple of dishes. There is also a noticeable difference between how people respond to your food choices. When you eat a non-meat dish without identifying as vegetarian it’s no big deal. For some, it seems like my choice to eat that same dish becomes more threatening when I identify myself as vegetarian.
I have greatly appreciated the support where we have received it, but have been somewhat surprised as some people just seem to wish we would be “normal” again.
Overall, I’ve found it to be one of the most worthwhile and meaningful decisions I have made. I understand the impact of my daily life with increased clarity, and it has felt like a major step toward becoming the more consistent Christian I have long intended to be.
Most of the people I have talked to about where meat comes from recognize that there are some terrible things that go on in meat production, as I have. Many don’t want to know the details because it would cost them the enjoyment of treasured foods, as I did.
I encourage you to learn the facts. Ignoring problems don’t make them go away. For those who choose to eat meat, I encourage you to find local sources of meat and animal products (in America Local Harvest is a great source). Most of us could eat less and eat better.
When you come across vegetarians, be supportive – chances are they are taking a difficult action based upon deeply held beliefs.
Creator of all,
We give thanks for the miracle of life and honour the life sacrificed in the preparation of our meal.
May we eat giving thanks, committing to use the energy and life we draw from this sacrifice for the good of the world, that we might create with you a world in which your gifts to us are honoured always.