You look at MSNBC’s The Week in Pictures and stumble across a seemingly innocuous pic of a quality checker in a chicken factory and you break down crying.
I’ve been a vegetarian for over 13 years. When I was younger (a year or two before I finally devoted myself to it), the idea of vegetarianism was “cool” – it was “in” and if you were environmentally and socially conscience, then you were more than likely also a vegetarian.
The turning point moment for me was around Thanksgiving 13 years ago. I was watching television and there was a news report about turkey farms (it was a filler report dealing with how busy the farms were at that time of year). There was footage of the reporter standing in a barn surrounded by jostling turkeys. In the next shot, there was a conveyer belt with a turkey on it and ready to be packaged. The ending shot was one of a typical Thanksgiving meal with the turkey in the middle.
Everyone was happy so the scene shouldn’t have been unnerving. I wasn’t stupid and naive, either, about where turkeys came from. What I hadn’t had was that “click” moment where I truly linked live, breathing turkey to carcass on the table. After that, I wouldn’t touch meat again.
I had many friends who were vegetarians at the time. I even had a cousin that started right around the time that I did, so I had a lot of outside support. I didn’t have any inside, family support, however. I wouldn’t receive that until a few years ago. All of my old friends and my cousin quit being vegetarians after a while.
Being a vegetarian for me is more than about being ethical or being healthy. It’s not about sustainability or even wholly about animal rights. At the beginning, it was some of those things, all mixed together. Now, it’s about what I believe to be right and what pains me.
I don’t believe in “converting” or “shaming” others into being vegetarians – just like how one doesn’t try to convert others to a religion. I keep quiet and let others enjoy their meals and their decisions. My husband is a meat-eater. He loves his hamburgers and chicken. I cook for him (because if I didn’t, I’m unsure of whether he’d eat a balanced meal and I like to cook for him) and as long as I don’t have to come into contact with it, then I’m okay.
I remember one day, a year or so ago, when my hubby was on the phone to his mom. He was chatting and I was in the kitchen making hamburgers for dinner. I had everything done but the patties (we like to shape them from ground beef), and I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t touched ground beef since I turned vegetarian, but at the same time I wanted him to talk with his mom.
I decided to do the patties for myself.
And I ended up sobbing so hard trying to do it, that my hubby noticed, hung up and rushed over.
He thought I had hurt myself. Nope. I wasn’t sure what came over me, but as I began to form the patties, a vice-like grip squeezed my chest and I felt an overwhelming sadness. I couldn’t do it. I broke down so badly, that I had to clean myself up and go sit on the couch for a while to collect my thoughts. I learned one thing that day out of many: I can’t touch beef anymore.
This came as a surprise, to be honest. I can cook it and I can watch people eat it. Therefore, I reasoned, I should be able to prep it. Oh, how wrong I was. (At dinner that night, my hubby asked me if I would like it if he became a vegetarian, too. It was very sweet, but I knew I couldn’t ask it of him. It takes a lot if you aren’t devoted.)
We cook a lot of double meals in this house. I try to match my meal with his, but sometimes we’re eating different things. That’s okay. The important thing is that we’re eating together and we’re happy eating what’s on our plate. 🙂
I know that I’ll be a vegetarian for life. People often talk about “missing” meat (perhaps it’s a fast food chain or a favorite family dish), but I rarely find myself tempted. In fact, it’s not so much the actual food that tempts me but the emotions and experiences wrapped up in that food. When you can’t eat it, you are unable to fully experience it. It’s not the same when you substitute.
But I know that I’m where I want to be. I’m happy with myself and with my conscience. My decision to be a vegetarian fills me with such a sense of rightness with myself, that I’ll never go back to eating meat. This is one part of me that I’ve embraced fully and love.