The joke goes, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry… They’ll tell you.” And it’s true. Sometimes because it’s a necessity, sometimes because us herbivores feel more self-righteous than you carnivores, and sometimes because we believe the world would be better if less meat were eaten.
I’m not vegan, but the reasons for these dietary restrictions pertain to me. Still, I’m uncomfortable labeling myself vegetarian, pescatarian, ovotarian, or flexitarian. I feel judged when I have a little Thanksgiving turkey or may nibble on some of my husband’s duck-fat fries. Some people have told me if I do that and call myself a vegetarian, what I should call myself is a hypocrite.
I mostly don’t eat anything that’s ever walked or swam. I don’t drink milk, and what eggs I consume come from friends’ backyard chickens. You can decide what to call me — just don’t do it to my face. For me, it’s more important to limit my animal intake because of the healthful benefits >>to me and the >>environment.
I didn’t always used to eat this way. I was a lover of bacon, fried chicken, and ribs. A cheese plate was always better with pate or prosciutto (and a glass of prosecco).
My path to eating less meat started when my husband and I rented a house in the country. Our yard connected to a dairy farm and my dog liked to say hi to the grazing bovines on our walks. I couldn’t converse with the cows and then prepare a burger for dinner, so red meat went first.
As I researched the food industry, I wanted to buy meat that was ethically slaughtered (whatever that means) and hormone- and antibiotic-free. I wanted the animals I ate to have lived a good life. In order to afford that kind of food, we had to eat less of it, so we became followers of Meatless Monday, then Tendonless Tuesday, followed by Wingless Wednesday. Soon we were only eating meat a few times a week.
I finally gave up on meat, cold turkey, after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. He tackled my feelings of guilt and my worries about “table fellowship” >>(see “Discomfort Food”). He also made clear, more so than any of the documentaries I watched, the impact that meat production, specifically the hog farms in North Carolina, has on our environment. I couldn’t continue to eat meat simply because it tasted good.
I was already a “vegetarian” when I stood on the side of the road to cheer for my husband during the White Lake Triathlon. Tractor trailers flew by — filled with pigs coming and then empty going — and I gagged on the stench they left behind each time. I was glad I was no longer part of that food chain. Bacon doesn’t taste as good when I think about how it got next to my eggs.
I may not fit into a particular category of eater, but following a diet focused on compassion — for my body, the animals, the workers who process the food, and the environment — makes me feel like I am, hypocrite or not, making a difference. Try working a Meatless Monday into your weekly menu and see if you enjoy it and feel empowered too.
Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.