A Vegetarian Who Supports Hunting
Vegetarians drive me nuts. Seriously. There is a lot of soapbox idealism amongst vegetarians and vegans and it really bothers me. The food that a person chooses to eat or has to eat because he has no other options is not up for me to criticize, even if I would never eat it. I feel very frustrated by how comfortable people seem to be with criticizing me for my choice, especially because of how much I respect their personal choice.
For me, becoming a vegetarian was a long time coming. I never liked meat a whole lot, especially pork. I hear so many people say, “I could never be a vegetarian because I couldn’t give up bacon.” This is not a statement to which I can relate. I remember feeling teary-eyed on Saturday mornings as a child when I would smell bacon cooking in the kitchen. My siblings would stampede to the kitchen gleefully and I would mope along slowly behind them. Breakfast would often end with me throwing a massive fit about not wanting to eat my food followed by me getting sent to my room. That was alright by me, I would rather go hungry than eat bacon. I hated pork of all kinds.
As I got older, I found myself increasingly grossed out by meat. My dad would about come out of his skin when he would see me skip dinner and eat a bowl of cereal instead. My mom, being a damn hippie, would use the fat from the meat to cook the side dishes so as to ensure that nothing was wasted. I was avoiding the meaty taste of everything. Finally, the summer I turned sixteen, I gave up meat for good.
I was in Ft. Collins on the CSU campus attending a statewide student council conference (have I mentioned how super hip I was in high school?). These kinds of experiences, when you are young, are fantastic opportunities for reinventing one’s self. You can be anyone you want to be. At dinner on the first day I heard myself blurt out, “I’m a vegetarian.” Everyone seemed really impressed so I rolled with it. “I haven’t eaten meat for a year.” (I figured that I would eliminate this lie next summer when it would actually be true.) I didn’t eat meat for the whole week and I felt really good. It was surprisingly easy, especially when being fed dorm cafeteria quality foods.
When I arrived home I made the same announcement to my family that I had to my peers, “I’m a vegetarian.” My mom responded that she was tired of fighting with me anyway. So, it was settled. I would be a vegetarian and it would be easy and fun. Right?
So, it turns out that being a vegetarian is a bit of a science. This was not something that I was prepared for at sixteen. I was way too busy clogging my brain with bong resin, jammin’ to Tool and practicing my lines for theatre to be worried about balancing my diet. My mom was accommodating and stopped putting meat juice and fat in everything she cooked (I think). But, I wasn’t careful or conscientious at all.
My biggest problem was the fact that my parents owned the only grocery store in our one horse town, Collbran, Colorado. The Marigold Market (I already told you that my mom is a hippie, right?) was a small grocery store for the town, but a very big pantry full of free food for a stoned teenage girl. When we were small, my mom was very careful about ensuring that we ate healthy and balanced meals. However, since we got older and she got busier at her store, the nightly home cooked meals became a less frequent event.
We were allowed to take anything we wanted as long as we wrote it down. I drove my brother to school every morning and we would always stop by the Marigold Market and grabbed a liter of Pepsi and a Little Debbie snack for breakfast in first period. My mom always had the deli lady make me a tomato, cheese and Miracle Whip sandwich for lunch. When I ate it, I would first add a stack of about ten Pringles to the layers, smash everything down and chomp into it. After school I would go back to the store for chips, cheese, cookies, fruit, a Snapple. Sometimes I ate dinner, but not often. It drove my dad nuts, but getting a teenage girl to believe she’s wrong is just about impossible.
By the time I graduated high school I was an emaciated mess. I was only 111 lbs. at 5’ 6”, my hair was falling out, I couldn’t grow fingernails, I bruised if a fly landed on me, I had insomnia, I had chronic diarrhea and vomiting…I was a complete disaster. I was tested for a whole laundry list of illnesses, including lupus and leukemia. They drew blood from me so many times that the crooks of my elbows were blackened.
To be fair, I am pretty certain that my terrible boyfriend (who is now in prison for murder… charming) was causing some of this as well. He was rough with me both physically and emotionally and I know it was taking a toll. But…the diet was not helping anything.
The situation improved slightly when I went to college. This I think is entirely due to having space from my boyfriend and not at all due to the food that they fed us in the dorm. I nearly starved. I’ve never been one to force feed myself food that I didn’t like. So I mostly didn’t eat. However, I did supplement with a steady dose of LSD, mushrooms and X. Health food, you know?
I spent the majority of my freshman year living with three girls that I really couldn’t stand. They were sorority girls from the suburbs and I was a punk rock cowgirl from the sticks (or at least that’s how I saw myself)…we didn’t match. By the spring, I was regularly vomiting stomach acid because of the stress. I moved out of the dorms before the year was over. In my new apartment, I decided that it was time to be a healthy person. This did not involve giving up my steady diet of booze and drugs but it did mean actually attempting to eat healthy food.
I was ready to celebrate being a vegetarian.
I married a carnivore. Not just a carnivore, a hunter. Who used guns…to kill animals. My vegetarian friends were appalled. How could I fall in love with someone who does that?! Vegetarians are so bothered by me that sometimes I think they want to kill and eat me.
But the question remains, am I some kind of vegetarian Judas? A traitor to my own people? Maybe so. However, I am not a traitor to myself. I believe very strongly that becoming passionately entwined with an ideology can cause blindness and breed intolerance. I have no interest whatsoever in being blind or intolerant. Therefore, I have no expectation that everyone should believe and do what I believe and do.
All that I ask and hope for from people is that they live a life that is respectful to themselves, respectful to others, respectful of their environment and respectful of their community. This, I have learned from Dr. Maria Montessori, is the fundamental nature of peace. All of my beliefs lie in this statement.
I believe that killing and eating an animal can be respectful. Some hunters conduct their work in such a way as to form a life-sustaining partnership with their prey. Our country has a long history of respectful hunting that goes back to the native people of our land. Unfortunately, most of the meat in this country is not raised, killed or used respectfully and it’s making people sick. The violent and unsanitary nature of factory farms is intolerable. Not only because it is horrible for the animals that are subjected to such living (and dying) conditions, but because those experiences are held inside the animal’s body and translate into unhealthy food for the eater. The stress hormones released when an animal is killed in inhumane conditions go straight into the meat and, by extension, the human being who eats that meat. This is not okay with me.
The ultimate act of respect in the food chain is to harvest the food you eat yourself. I do this with my garden and any food that I may forage from my city. This is also what a hunter or a small family farmer does. An animal that grows up in its natural environment is healthy and strong, she has lived a happy life. An animal that grows up on a family farm that feeds it a natural diet and is honored and loved with the gratitude that one should have for food, will also have a happy life. An animal that dies in a way that is quick and not scary will have healthy and delicious meat that will be free of the unfortunate natural chemicals that are released in the brain and meat of an animal who is scared at the time of death.
The difference between the quality of life for an animal raised on a family farm and one that is raised on a factory farm can be illustrated with statistics. This is true for chickens as well. We raise chickens on our small urban farm in Denver. We have eight hens and each one has a name and a distinct egg. We love them and feed them well. They have the run of our large back yard. Our daughter holds them, caresses them and thanks them for the eggs she collects. These chickens provide us with food for which we are grateful and we treat them with the dignity they deserve. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the animals living on factory farms. According to the Center for Food Safety, in 2010 the average life of a dairy cow on a family farm is twenty-five years. The average life of a dairy cow on a factory farm is four years. Family farm cows live over six times longer. Six times…
My husband isn’t the only meat lover in the house, my daughter is too. I believe that it is important that I do not judge them for their choice to eat meat. Instead I support them so that we can make decisions as a family about what types of meat are allowed in our home. We have settled on buying a share of a locally raised, grass-fed bison or cow. The luxury of a chest freezer makes this possible. This choice allows us to ensure that the meat is from a single source and is raised and killed ethically. We can even meet our animal if we want to.
I think that a lot of vegans think that I am a blasphemous traitor for supporting this activity, but I have to say that I’m proud of our choices. We are a harmonious family and we take care of each other and stay true to our values. I refuse to go through my life creating expectations for others and being constantly disappointed by their failure to live up to the decisions I made for them in my head. Holding that tight to an ideology is likely to make a person feel pretty angry and frustrated a lot of the time. I choose to accept that I am of a minority and I am grateful that I have a spouse who is so respectful of my choice. How could I be anything other than respectful of his?
I have a deep feeling of regard for farmers and hunters. They are honest. Nothing bothers me more than a meat eater who is grossed out by blood and refuses to acknowledge that an animal was killed, skinned and cut into pieces for them to eat. Nor can I respect someone who tries to lie to a child about where the food he is eating came from. I cannot bear the thought of killing an animal with my own hands, nor do I wish to witness a killing. Therefore, I don’t eat meat. It is only fair.
What I know about my choice to be a vegetarian is this: it is a privileged choice. I am lucky enough to live in a country that allows me to be so selective. Vegetarianism invokes a level of snobbery that is not possible in most parts of the world, where people are grateful when they have the opportunity to eat meat.
In America we have come to believe that we should not only have meat on our plates at every meal, but that it should be the biggest portion of our meal and should come very cheap. We have created a false reality through government subsidies. The truth is that meat is very expensive. Ground beef for seventy-nine cents per pound is a lie that is funded by the government.
Meat should be a luxury that we eat, at most, twice a week. It should not be a dietary requirement that takes up the majority of our plate at every meal. But, cows get very fat on corn and corn is subsidized by the US Government even though that subsidy is not necessary. Why? Because a bunch of housewives in the 1970’s decided that they should be able to have as many children as they wanted and that the federal government needed to do something about food prices so that they could.
These women picketed all over the country and caused a stir in the media. The USDA went along for several reasons: 1) pleasing housewives translates into millions of votes, 2) increasing the US population is critical to the growth model upon which our economy is founded, and 3) corporate food production companies have very deep pockets and a lot of friends in Washington.
So was birthed the modern American factory farm: bigger, louder, and more consumptive than ever. Have you noticed that we’ve been getting fatter, sicker and angrier ever since? It does make me wonder how far-reaching the effects of that one decision really are. In 2010 the USDA released an estimate that roughly 89% of ground beef in the US contains traces of E. coli. That is fucking scary. Pink slime, anyone?
My choice to be a vegetarian originally stemmed from my general disdain for meat coupled with the fact that I could not ever kill an animal myself. However, over the years it has evolved into a manifestation of my personal ideology. I could not in good conscience go to a restaurant and order a burger off of the menu and feel okay with it. It is more than likely that the burger I order would be meat from a factory farm. If I truly believe that I must live my life always working to act with respect for myself, others, my environment and my community then I cannot be party to this system in any way.
But if you want to be a part of it, be my guest. I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to be you and, therefore, I will never judge your choice to eat the food that you choose. I hope that you can respect the choice that I’m making as well.