Happy Thanksgiving to all my Veggie Truckin’ readers! I’m thankful for all of you as well as all of the trucks that sell me great food and give me great material to write about as a result As I mentioned in my last post, I’d like to take this opportunity to write a little bit (ok, more than a little bit) about being a vegetarian.
This is my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, and I, of course, am looking at it in a different way than I have before. The holiday still means I get to spend time with my family, reflect on what I’m thankful for, and pig out, but what I eat while pigging out will be a tad different. I’m not exaggerating with that statement; most of the food traditionally eaten on Thanksgiving is vegetarian, with the one big exception of the turkey. Yes, there’s also gravy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it. And if you have understanding family like I do, the stuffing doesn’t have to be stuffed into the turkey while it’s cooking. I momentarily considered being one of the vegetarians I’ve heard of that still eat turkey on Thanksgiving, but the thought only passed my mind briefly. It’s true that a new bird wouldn’t die if I had some of the turkey the rest of my family was eating, but knowing what I know about the factory farm industry and going five months without eating meat, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be filled with guilt and disgust if I did. Plus, I would be afraid it would ruin the changes I’ve seen in my health since I became a vegetarian.
In the last five months I have noticed weight loss, which is to be expected when meat is eliminated from your diet. I have noticed that my immune system, which is one of the weakest immune systems ever, has gotten a tiny bit stronger. Usually I would average about one cold a month during the school year (working with kids doesn’t mix well with my weak immune system, but I love it too much to stop), but I’ve only had two so far this year, and they didn’t last as long as they usually do. Finally, I have noticed an extreme change in the amount of acne on my face. Aside from certain times in my cycle, my face has been significantly clearer since I became a vegetarian. At first I didn’t even see the connection, but my mom brought it up about three months after I changed my diet, and it totally made sense. These changes are small, but I’m happy with them and don’t want to go back to the way it used to be.
As a vegetarian, I am asked a lot of the same questions often. Do I eat fish? No, that would be a pescetarian. Do I eat dairy and eggs? Yes, otherwise I’d be a vegan. I’m lucky that I live in a liberal area where vegetarianism is common and people know more about it. I’m mostly met with respect and understanding, although there is the occasional meat lover who takes my vegetarianism as a personal affront. As a friend of mine once said, I found that more meat eaters cared about me becoming a vegetarian than anyone else did. When I was reading the book that made me become a vegetarian, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, a lot of meat eating friends and family joked around saying things like, “don’t get that book anymore near me!” or, “I don’t want to read that one!” In the book, Jonathan Safran Foer mentions that while he was writing the book, whenever he told someone he was writing a book about eating animals they would react in much the same way. The fact of the matter is that people know the factory farm industry is wrong. They know what they’re eating is tainted. They don’t want to be exposed to that knowledge any more than they have to because then they would have to change the way they eat too. It’s one of the only areas in our culture where I find people are happily, willfully ignorant. I can’t tell you the number of times while talking to people about the factory farm industry they’ve responded with “ignorance is bliss”. In what other part of our society is being uninformed acceptable and joked about repeatedly? People have been eating meat their whole lives; it’s a huge part of our society, and they don’t want to let go of it. Instead they joke about it when faced with someone who has let go of it.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the factory farm industry and why it deserves more attention. If you want more information, read the book. (Please do!) But my reasons for not eating meat can be broken down into three categories.
health: This is number one. I don’t think I need to go into much detail about why eating less meat is healthier, but the treatment of animals in factory farms adds greatly to the obvious reasons for vegetarianism being healthy. The fact that animals are injected with antibiotics and hormones that find their way into the meat you eat is enough to make me stop eating meat alone. Add to that the poor treatment of the animals, the small spaces they live in, how they’re piled on top of each other and covered in each other’s blood, feces, and vomit? That’s not something I want to be putting in my body. Foer also states in his book that scientists predict the next big epidemic virus will undoubtedly be spread to humans via their meat because of the way meat is being produced in factory farms. I’d like to distance myself from that as much as possible.
environmental: The statistic that affected me most in the book was the one that stated that global warming is caused more by the factory farm industry than all forms of transportation combined. Of course, this argument has no pull at all to a crazy person who doesn’t believe in global warming, but for those of us who, y’know, know science is fact, it is impossible to say you care about the environment and still eat factory farmed meat. One of my favorite quotes from Eating Animals is: “The factory farm will come to an end because of its absurd economics someday. It is radically unsustainable. The earth will eventually shake off factory farming like a dog shakes off fleas; the only question is whether we will get shaken off along with it.”
the animals: Before I became a vegetarian, I thought it was silly to put the well being of animals in front of the well being of humans when we have enough people facing cruelty and starvation on the planet. When I realized that the health and environmental factors made the factory farm industry a human problem as well, that was what made me become a vegetarian. However, I still feel for the millions of animals that are killed in horrible ways. They are tortured repeatedly before they even reach slaughter. What disgusts me even more is the lengths the factory farm industry goes to to tap in to human sympathy when it comes to treatment of animals by creating terms like “organic”, “free range”, and “grass fed” to make people think the meat they’re eating is somehow better than the rest of the meat. The truth is that 99% of meat comes from factory farms. There are a few family farms that still exist, but most of the meat you eat, regardless of the label given to it, is tortured. When I first became a vegetarian, I considered seeking out some of the rare family farms that actually treat their animals well and only eating meat from them. In the end, I decided it was easier to just not eat meat at all, and at this point I don’t crave it enough to seek it out. I’ve considered eating meat from some of the food trucks who use meat from family farms, but overall I’d rather just keep my diet the way it is. Just because an animal isn’t tortured, that doesn’t mean my face won’t break out again the second I start eating it
When it comes to vegetarianism, I try not to be preachy unless someone specifically asks me about my choice. I don’t pretend to know everything about the subject after reading one book, and I don’t think I’m a perfect vegetarian. Defensive meat eaters are always trying to find flaws in my arguments for being a vegetarian, and I think that’s more for themselves than it is for me. It took me two years to read Eating Animals after I knew it existed because I knew I would become a vegetarian, and I was afraid to. I can’t blame other people for feeling the same way, but I can encourage them to stop holding on to the “ignorance is bliss” cliche. I have been asked why I’m not a vegan if I care so much about the factory farm industry, and I honestly don’t have a very good reason. Becoming a vegetarian wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, but I’ve found I rely more on dairy for protein now. I’m a picky eater with little skill when it comes to cooking, and I don’t see a vegan diet being possible for me right now. I still have the utmost respect for vegans, and I hope to one day suck it up and become one. Right now I’m taking it one change in diet at a time.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful that I have a family that has been understanding of my vegetarianism for the most part. My immediate family has been fantastic, especially my mom who always makes sure she cooks something I can eat when I spend the night at my parents’ house. I’m thankful for a boyfriend who became a vegetarian three years before me and has shared lots of his expert vegetarian knowledge with me (and cooked me a yummy Tofurky feast last weekend). And of course, I’m thankful for all the food trucks who serve vegetarian options, even if it’s just one of them.
I will leave you with two of my favorite quotations from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer:
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, what did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?”