Other than questions about my race, the personal question I field the most is why I don’t eat meat. Answering both these questions can be tiresome because the full answers are complex and can lead to more probing questions. I tend to scale my answers based on the audience. How much do they really want to know? How much do they really need to know?
There are many events that came together to help me make the switch to vegetarianism. The final catalyst was reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, but let’s start at the beginning because without these other events, I wouldn’t have even picked up Foer’s book.
One of the simplest reasons why I don’t eat meat is that I don’t actually like it very much. Like most children, I was a picky eater that eventually grew out of it. Except with meat. When I did eat meat, I almost exclusively ate white poultry and meat that gave no indication to the fact that it came from a living entity. I didn’t like steak or pork chops, but would eat hamburgers and bacon. The sight and mouth-feel of animal parts—veins, sinews, bones, blood—deeply disturbed me. One Thanksgiving my mom made us each a Cornish hen, and the site of the little bird on my plate troubled me so much that I couldn’t eat it. As a child growing up in Texas, vegetarianism wasn’t exactly a well-known option for me to consider, so I didn’t know that I could willfully not eat meat. Also my mom was in charge of food, so I just ate whatever came my way.
When I started college and began living on my own, my meat consumption declined. Mostly because I didn’t like preparing raw meat and I was paranoid about the germs. However, I’d still eat cold cuts and meat at the college cafeteria. At this time, I also met two friends who were vegetarian. Even though I was still eating meat, the seed was planted: vegetarianism was possible! I discovered my favorite restaurant in Austin: Bouldin Creek Cafe, an all-vegetarian restaurant.
Then I moved to Seattle, a practical vegetarian mecca compared to Texas. I was working on a team where almost everyone was vegetarian and cooked delicious meals with no meat. I learned about tempeh! A few months later I stopped choosing to eat meat on my own, but if someone invited me over for dinner, I would eat whatever was offered. Then I transitioned to eating “around the meat” or picking meat out of dishes.
Finally, in March of 2010, I picked up Eating Animals from the library. I was interested in vegetarianism and wanted to learn more without having to watch or read the sensationalist things on PETA’s site. I wanted a more objective take, and I found that in Foer. Now, it’s been over three years since I read it, so this may not be exactly correct, but I believe that Foer was interested in learning more about meat in America in order to become a more informed consumer. This desire was driven by his impending fatherhood. What I loved about Eating Animals is the way it’s written. You get to follow along Foer’s investigative journey and be shocked, disturbed, and grossed-out alongside him. The book offered me enough inspiration and education to officially declare myself vegetarian, and I have never once regretted my decision.
So why don’t I eat meat? I don’t like it, it’s disturbing for me to eat an animal, the animals intended for our consumption are raised in horrifying conditions, much of the meat in this country is unbelievably dirty, and the meat industry itself is horrible for our environment.