It has been a long-standing family joke, although some have never found it funny, that I don’t eat mammals… mammals? Yes, mammals! And why, you may (or may not) be tempted to ask… Truth be told I have never really been a fan of red meat. I remember as a child (sorry mom) interminably chewing the most awful piece of some kind of meat. Now, I have had my share of filet mignon and other good cuts, so I know it wasn’t just a kitchen mishap that turned me off. Honestly, I just never got what the fuss was about. So, several years ago, I decided that as a rule I would not eat red meat or serve it to my family. My favorite saying was that I wasn’t going to eat any animal that fed its offspring the same way I do. That and I had this sort of misguided philosophy that you could ‘bond’ with mammals (dogs, cats, cows, bunnies, etc) as opposed to other living creatures like fowl (chicken) and any kind of seafood. One holiday I phrased it something like; ‘well you could have a relationship with a mammal’. This is how the joke was born; my brother and sister-in-law always teased me about ‘having relations’ with various kinds of animals (all mammals of course!). Like I said, some people never really found it all that funny. But year after year I could always count on at least one or two wise-cracks from them.
Four years ago my one and only daughter decided that she wanted to be vegetarian; vegan actually. Her reasons had little to with the animals, she was not so concerned with any possible (missed) bonding experiences, and more about the environmental impact. She was only going on 10 at the time, and so her basic concern over the wasting of natural resources was good enough for me to support her in this decision. So like any budding homeschooling mom, I had her look up all the vitamins/nutrients she could possibly be missing and list their alternative sources. Of course I did my own homework on this as well. Instinctively, I was more for just the basic veg diet rather than strict vegan. I knew that vitamin B12 was essential and that it was not found in any non-animal sources. She agreed to eat salmon once or twice a month to appease me. I thought it was fun trying new recipes; we had an egg free cake at her birthday and stuffed squash for Thanksgiving. After deciding she just couldn’t live without eating eggs, she quit the vegan thing after about six months, but stuck to veg for a solid year. Ever since she tries to at least avoid meat as much as possible. Looking back, it’s probably my fault it didn’t last longer. The novelty in the kitchen started to wear off and basically I got lazy.
I have always been fascinated with food and nutrition and have enjoyed reading on the subject. I have gone thru a series of ‘jags’ where I swore off one thing or another; artificial everything, preservatives, dairy, gluten… you name it I’ve avoided it. For a while I was making all my own bread and bread products from scratch… bagels anyone? I never did successfully make a homemade hamburger bun. Over the last couple years I have become more aware of both the horrors of factory farms and the healing powers of certain foods. As usual, I dove in head first; only organic produce, no sugar, no salt, nothing at all processed, only free roaming chickens and grass-fed beef… wait a minute; I don’t even like beef! At this rate I knew that I was once again going to fail because of my ‘all or nothing’ approach. It was time to realistically prioritize how I was going to modify and incorporate some healthy changes in my family’s diet. Thankfully, some of my previous endeavors had some lasting effects; we’d been off cow milk for quite some time and quite gloriously everyone was happy with rice milk (did I mention I went thru a phase of making it myself?), all natural peanut butter and raw honey had become staples, as well as an array of other healthier alternatives.
I did my research and double checked the statistics. One thing that stood out was that commercially prepared meat (red, white, or otherwise) has more than 10 times the amount of pesticides as non organic produce. Wow. That mixed with the overwhelming desire to no longer monetarily support the factory farming industry finally pushed me over the edge. Now, why not just buy organically raised meat? Good question. Mainly; we can’t afford it. It’s cheaper to eat vegetarian. Besides, I’m skeptical about the ‘all-natural’ labels on these meats that you find at the grocery stores, and we’re not yet ready to commit to any CSA shares or co-ops. BUT, that’s not the only reason. My social conscience tells me that I am a child of God and citizen of planet earth first. This solidarity with the rest of humankind no longer allows me to eat what has historically always been a kind of delicacy, a treat of sorts. Not just what’s for dinner.
Just to be clear; I am not saying that it is wrong to kill animals for food. I am saying it is wrong to treat animals unethically and make them suffer. I am not saying there are no health benefits to eating meat and animal products. I am saying that mainstream processing which includes pasteurization and homogenization destroy most of these benefits. I am not saying that not eating meat will solve world hunger or end global warming. I am saying that these complex consequences require complex solutions. I am simply one woman, one mother, trying to learn to take baby steps toward a healthier future and perhaps instill a little justice along the way.