How I learned to love being a vegetarian

16 years later, I've come to terms with what it means to me -- not sacrifice, not gospel, just being

Topics: Ethics of eating, Vegetarianism and veganism, Food,

How I learned to love being a vegetarian

Over the last week, Salon has featured a series of essays about our complex relationship with eating meat. Some of these pieces were written by meat-eaters who question their choices, and some authored by confused, troubled and temporarily lapsed vegetarians. In the letters section, though, accusations flew: Salon, evidently, was “funded by the meat industry” and hell-bent on “trying to turn vegetarians into meat eaters.” The same question echoed throughout each thread: Why can’t Salon publish an article about a content vegetarian for once?

I am a content vegetarian. I’ve lived with being a vegetarian for so long that most people I meet don’t notice it. I don’t try to hide my dietary restrictions, but I’m not shouting from the rooftops either. After a more vocal youth, I no longer feel the need to spread the gospel of meatless eating. At some point, I found a combination of peace and internal conflict that keeps me happy to just be.

I stopped eating meat when I was 8. It was your typical “city girl goes to the country for sleepaway camp, realizes cute farm animals turn into meat products and declares vegetarianism” story. In the immediate aftermath, the decision wasn’t particularly difficult: The camp was run by hippies and had an entire meatless section in the cafeteria.

My parents were understandably horrified when I returned home. I was an infamously picky eater whose preferred diet consisted of pizza, cereal, bagels and hot dogs. Getting rid of meat would significantly cut into the foods I was willing to eat. They did strike a deal with me, though: Fine, be a vegetarian, but you need protein, so you have to eat fish.

Over the next few years, I went through the vehement phase of my vegetarianism. Factory farms were unspeakably cruel. Family farms betrayed the trust between animals and their human keepers. (At that age, I didn’t understand that small farming operations barely existed in America.) The concept of raising a creature for slaughter was disgusting. My high point was when I convinced one of my friend’s fathers to become a vegetarian. Another victory for the environment and animals everywhere!

You Might Also Like

As time went on, though, passion faded into habit. I quit eating fish on principle when I was 16 (and largely beyond the purview of my parents’ maxim), but the intensity was gone. I didn’t feel the need to bring anyone into the light.

There have been times when not eating meat felt downright silly: Of all the problems in the world, this was the one I decided to take a definitive stance on? Weren’t the rights of women under the Taliban more important than those of cattle in slaughterhouses? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with the wars America was waging overseas than with methane gas produced by cow flatulence? Didn’t the genocide in Darfur rank higher on the list than the killing of a few more chickens? And didn’t my mere ability to be a vegetarian just smack of upper-middle-class privilege?

For a while, I did feel conflicted about being a vegetarian, but never about the actual not eating meat aspect of it.  My ambivalence stemmed from ideas of what being a vegetarian meant and how it reflected on me as a person. I hated the vision of vegetarians as the progressive equivalent of “Campus Crusaders for Christ.” I didn’t eat meat, but I didn’t feel particularly angry about anyone else doing so. I hated when religious zealots tried to dictate my behavior, so I had no desire to go around telling people what they should and should not eat — or to be closely associated with those who did.

I went through college letting people find out about my eating habits out of necessity; I didn’t advertise them. My attitude went along the lines of, “I’m a vegetarian, please don’t judge me for it!”

Now, I’m a vegetarian the way I’m a New Yorker or a woman or the youngest child. It’s an innate part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me as a person, politically or otherwise. Meat consumption may not be the most pressing problem on the planet, but it is one of the few I can easily combat. Being a vegetarian is one of those little things I do that helps out the planet a bit. Am I the most assiduous recycler in the world? No, but I’ll be damned if I’ll eat a steak.

Emily Holleman is the editor of Open Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>