Out for supper with a few friends, I ordered Tom Yum. The waitress offered the standard chicken but I opted for tofu.
“So you’re vegetarian now, too?” one of our group asked.
“No, I just try to avoid meat,” I replied.
In a world of straights and gays, atheists and evangelists, devoted carnivores and vegetarians, I declare myself: two on the Kinsey scale! Non-religious meditator! Semi-vegetarian! They’re all rather unfashionable, with no good flags to wave or cultural movements to find comfort within.
In first year, I lived in residence and became vegetarian because the meat at Marquis Hall was too breaded, greasy, tough or old to actually consume. Since I was eating meat only on chicken finger day, I decided I might as well cut that out as well.
All that breaded meat and ranch sauce certainly wasn’t doing me any favours. I survived on Jell-O, cottage cheese and occasional black bean wraps with tofu from the Arts Buff.
When I moved back home for the summer, my dad was cooking meat most days and like most families in the midwest, skipping meat was a taboo. I wasn’t really militant about being vegetarian in the first place and my dad’s cooking is pretty superb. In fact, I have one friend who has been vegetarian for five years but she eats meat at my home and only at my home because she loves his food.
I still felt guilty about eating so much meat after eating none, so I worked out a compromise with my dad. We get our beef from a family farm just out of town, so we know it’s been grain fed, saved from hormonal injections and well-treated in its lifetime.
Dad gets heartier, more flavourful and better-quality meats. I get the comfort of knowing I’m not contributing to the factory farming infrastructure, nor paying for tonnes of wasted oil in their transport and processing.
Factory-farmed beef is usually raised in tiny enclosures without room to roam and stay fit. That equals mushy muscle-weak meat. When they are slaughtered, their food and water intake is often cut off (they’re just about to die, anyway, right?) then abused through the assembly lines, where fallen cows have been known to get trampled to death. That’s ignoring the hormone-filled world of milk farming.
My family has cut down on chicken, too, and when possible we get our chicken and eggs from the farmers’ markets. Poultry farming is a whole other level of horror when one looks at the conditions,
Away from home, though, I order the tofu unless I know where the meat came from. I will eat meat if that’s what’s offered, if it would be rude to refuse. Change is only really hindered by making a show of things and pushing beliefs on unsuspecting friends.
For me, vegetarianism isn’t even about protecting dear, sentient animals. It’s an environmental thing.
Take water; to produce one kilogram of soy beans it takes about 2,000 litres of water. Chicken takes 3,500 litres per kilogram, and beef 10,000 litres. To me, that’s a huge waste.
Then there’s the gas in transport and import of feed (since there isn’t enough farmland to feed North American farm animals with North American grain).
On top of all that, less meat makes sense biologically. Clearly, we are a species designed for some meat consumption, what with our canines and small jaws, but it only makes sense to eat meat more like our nomadic ancestors, for whom it was a rarity.
In terms of health, environment and humanity, I can’t conscientiously eat meat wantonly. And as I trade meat for farmers’ market eggs, I’m finding a little extra money in my wallet for evenings out.
I make a mean vegetarian chili and friends are always welcome to have some of my now inexpensive meals — which means one other person is eating less meat, even if they didn’t plan it that way.
photo David Wahl