I used to love pork spareribs. Alas, I loved them too much. I have eaten my fill time and time again; I’ve probably eaten well more than my share.
I’ve never had to chase a pig, hold it down, kill it, butcher it and then clean up the mess. My meat-eating has been a decidedly tidy affair, yet killing animals is not at all tidy. There is blood and guts and squeals and squirming, and I dare say that had killing animals been required of me, short of starvation, I could not have done it. With meat displayed in neat and well-ordered rows, bloodless and without squeals, it is easy to turn a blind eye to all that’s come before.
One year ago, I decided to give up eating meat. By meat I mean animals that walk on two or four legs – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, duck and so on. I still eat fish and shellfish – shrimp, clams, salmon and other denizens of the deep that are caught wild and not farm-raised. I also eat the occasional egg, cheese or dairy product. Health, disapproval of the mistreatment of livestock, and discomfort with the taking of animal life for my own gustatory pleasure were at the root of my decision.
There is a growing body of evidence concerning the detrimental effects of too much animal fat combined with a sedentary lifestyle. Yoga, walking and the occasional baseball catch aside, most of the hours of my day are spent seated before a computer. Spending the afternoon in chase of my next meal is not something that is happening right now.
The antibiotics, additives, and unsanitary conditions in which most livestock are raised really turn me off. The idea of ingesting pharmaceuticals laced into the meat of animals slaughtered for my table squashes my anticipation and enjoyment quite thoroughly, as does one meat recall after another.
Small cages, forced feeding, filthy living conditions, growth accelerated by hormones, beef tallow fed to grass-eating vegetarians; and my sense of decency is too offended for enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the taste and texture of meat. I just can’t put it into my mouth and forget about how it got there.
There are perfectly suitable vegetarian substitutes for animal protein, and therefore I can’t justify the slaughter of animals simply for my own pleasure. Though I sometimes long for the fatty succulence of bacon, sausage, or a medium-rare burger, it is not something I need. I need protein, but I do not need animal protein; between quinoa, chickpeas, soybean products, and other vegetable-based foods, I’m eating all I require, and learning new ways to cook besides. Not coincidently, I am losing weight. As a Type-2 diabetic with coronary artery disease, weight loss and reduced body fat are essential to managing my metabolic disorder effectively. The choice is simple; lose fat or lose toes.
I’m not saying that everyone can or should be a vegetarian, but for me, it feels right. I do think that food production in America is in crisis, and that we all should eat more vegetables. Honestly, the worst part about being vegetarian is not stopping at the butcher counter and enjoying a meaty conversation with my old friend Frank. In fact, I miss Frank a great deal more than pork.