Sunday, August 8, 2010

Questions I Am Tired of Being Asked: 1st ed. Why are you a vegetarian?

As the title suggests, this will be the first in a series of blog posts. Today's edition is the inaugural post for a reason: it is the question I am MOST tired of being asked. It is a sad sign of today's American society that so many people cannot fathom on their own why anyone would choose to abstain from meat and thus feel the need to ask me, apparently the first vegetarian they have ever encountered, why? Dear God, why?!
My story begins in the tenth grade. I was 15 years old, in honors biology class, and we were in the middle of the fetal pig dissection unit. Rotting, putrid baby piglet carcasses stored in formaldehyde, with morsels of their decaying insides occasionally migrating up through their digestive tracks to other parts of the body, which I then had to clean out. Appetizing, no? NO.
After several days of this, I remember sitting down to lunch in the cafeteria with my friends, beginning to eat the lunch meat-turkey sandwich my mom had packed for me. As I chewed the cold, moist meat in my mouth and thought about its texture, I was strongly reminded of those rotting, brownish green specks of who knows what that I had to clean off the pig's tongue, and of the brown/gray-tinged layer of fat and tissue lining the inside of the pig's skin, aka the part where meat comes from. It didn't help that I could ALWAYS smell formaldehyde on my hands no matter how long I washed them during the two to three week fetal pig unit.
Trying to eat my turkey sandwich that day triggered my gag reflex and I had to stop eating for fear of throwing up. I had no appetite or interest for meat from that moment on, and I remember thinking in my 15 year old brain, what if I became a vegetarian? Why not? I can just see how it goes, it doesn't sound that hard. The thing I was most scared of was not being able to eat Taco Bell mexican pizzas anymore, which is not all that heavy of a cross to bear when you think about it. I would later find out that Taco Bell employees everywhere are happy to make me my beloved mexican pizzas without the beef. They're just as good, and I've never once looked back.
Reinforcing my vegetarian choices was the Persuasive Paper I wrote the following year in my 11th grade English class on treating animals more humanely. I read heartbreaking stories about the mistreatment of circus elephants and baby bears and the insensitivity cows in the beef industry undergo. I even touched on research about how much more detrimental to the environment the beef industry is than the transportation industry; a topic that has been thoroughly canvassed in today's media but was only just starting to grab attention in 2002.
This November, I will have been a vegetarian for nine years, and my motivations are largely the same as when I was 15.
1. Inhumanity: animals in the food production industry are often killed inhumanely and kept in unsanitary and cruel conditions while they wait to be slaughtered.
2. Environment: the amount of oil needed to run the beef industry is shameful, as is the degradation to our world's farmlands. Furthermore, the inordinate number of cows that are bred for the food industry are destroying the ozone layer with all the methane gas they emit. (i.e. if people ate less red meat and milk, cattle operations would keep fewer cows around and greenhouse gas levels would decrease)
3. Health: The current average American's consumption of meat (especially red) is gluttonous, unnatural, and unnecessary, even harmful to human health.
4. Unsustainability: The oceans are rapidly being depleted of marine wildlife because of the demand for sushi and other seafood. I love sushi, but I want fishies to still be around in 100 years so I get mine with just veggies (it's still scrumptious).
5. Frugality: Not actually a motivation, just a nice benefit- food without meat is pretty much always cheaper than chicken, beef, pork, seafood, etc. so I'm saving on my food costs in the grocery store and when I eat out.

Do I miss meat? Most people I talk to think they would miss meat too much to stick with being vegetarian, and maybe they would. I don't though, ever. I'm notoriously lazy and unregimented, so if being a vegetarian was hard, believe me I would not be one. I used to miss corndogs of all things, but they make meat-substitute versions of those now (they're not bad!), plus it's been long enough that I stopped missing them several years ago. And no need to tease me about the corndog thing, I realize it's the equivalent of saying I gave up TV and all I really miss watching is vH1.