Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Warning: long post with some gruesome bits (and a bonus curse word)

In my last post, which was a harmless piece of fluff about cooking dinner, a commentor wrote:
"Ahem, I had no idea lamb legs could so peacefully coexist with being a buddhist. . ."

Quite a spirited conversation about vegetarianism followed. I commend all involved for their seemingly good spirits and courtesy. As Obama has said, "We can disagree without being disagreeable."

Now, when I discuss "issues", I always try to use myself as an example. I may read, and read quite a bit, but I tend not to intellectualize. I speak from my experience in the world, and hope that by doing so, I present a jumping off point for others to respond as they wish. I try not to push any dogma at others. I have my opinions, and some of them are pretty extreme, but these are mostly about aesthetics, so I care not a whit if anyone agrees with me.

That being said, I realized that as far as eating goes, I've become almost totally mindless.

So, I'll tell my story, and you can take away from it what you will (not like I could stop you from doing otherwise):

Many long years ago, I bought chickens from a Buddhist farm outside of New York City. They raised their chickens well, but did not cut them up and put them into nice clean packages for sale. You got your chicken whole, wrapped in brown paper, and had to deal with the fact that in order to eat it, you needed to cut off it's head, feet and pull out all the internal organs. Thinking back, I'm surprised they didn't ask you to kill your own chickens. Thinking now, I'm surprised they were doing this at all, but it was a good way to get city people to think about the food they eat, so it does make sense.

I remember struggling with those chickens. In order to cut off the chickens' heads, I needed to place a cloth over them. I did it anyway and always felt badly about it. That was a big red flag that I didn't feel right about it.

And so, I stopped eating meat after a while, only for the fact that I felt if I couldn't kill the animal or even cut it's head off after it was killed for me, I had no business eating it.

At that time, I worked at a historical museum where I lead children's field trips. When we gathered around in the kitchen, I'd always ask the children what they thought people ate in the 1700's. They'd usually yell out "Chicken!" and perhaps a few would say "Hot Dogs! Hamburgers!" but that was essentially it. I asked them, "Do you think people went to the store and bought their chicken wrapped up in plastic?" Plastic was the give-away word, and kids are smart, so they'd all yell "No!" What did they eat? Squirrels. Rabbits. Pigeons were very popular, and still can be bought in stores in England. The kids would squirm and say "Ew!" when I gave them a list of cute little animals that people could eat (and still do).

I wasn't trying to turn them into vegetarians, but I was telling them the truth.

So, I couldn't face up to the idea of even cutting up my dead chickens, and then I read John Robbins' "Diet for a New America", which goes into enormous detail about the horrors of factory farming. No more meat for me. That was that.

Then two things happened. I moved to a rural Maine and started raising sheep. I also spent some time at a Buddhist monastery. Now, you'd think neither of these things would do anything to make me stop being a vegetarian, but they did.

I knew nothing about raising animals, and had a number of mentors. All of these people raised animals in the most humane ways possible. I was raising my sheep for their fleece, but others were raising their animals for meat. If they had sheep, fleece was secondary, except for the few people I knew who had very expensive pure breds, and those folks, most of them, were not trying to make a living. Nor were they trying to feed famillies. I knew people who made their own bacon and sausages, smoked turkey and all sorts of meat specialties. I never touched any of that stuff, even though it smelled great, and I insulted quite a few people by not at least sampling their delicacies.

One day I was hanging around at this fellow's house while he was cooking up some bacon. I've always loved bacon. I kept saying "that smells great", over and over again. Fakin' Bacon just never cut it, but I didn't really care. That day, I was salivating. This fellow was one of those Mainers who doesn't say much. He helped me out so much when I needed help with great straightforward advice, such as the day I found one of my ewes walking around with a couple of hoofs hanging out her back end. I called him up and said "What do I do?" He said, "Just reach in there and pull out that lamb!" That was the longest sentence I'd ever heard him utter. Anyway, he got quite tired of hearing me moan about how good that bacon smelled and stuck a plate under my note and said, "Eat the fucking bacon." When a person like that curses, you do what they say. So I ate it, and it was delicious.

Still, I was a vegan. I had a slip. That's all.

That winter, I stayed at a monastery and almost everyone was ill for months. I heard that they decided later that a little bit of meat in the diet was okay, though not mandatory for all, but it was decided that us Northerners needed it to stay healthy and active during the winter. I didn't think that made that much sense, but at this well-respected monastery, people also smoked cigarettes and drank quite a bit, both things that this new-to-Buddhism person just assumed were things good Buddhists did not do.

Combine that with missing bacon, sausage, cigarettes and booze and I was fired up and ready to return to my past hedonistic ways.

And so, here I am. I don't smoke cigarettes any more, barely drink, and I do eat meat, but not every day. I feel comfortable with what I think of, if I think of it at all, as "moderation". But the thing is, until today, I haven't been thinking about how I feel about eating meat for years.

The comments I read today, along with some Buddhist reading I did earlier, got me thinking. I have no idea what I feel about this subject. Do I even care? I'm going to be brutally honest. I don't even know the answer to that.

So, you've read this far (perhaps) and I have no conclusion for you. I'm glad that I posted yesterday's fluff, for it banged open a window that's been shut for years. Will I stop eating meat? Just thinking about not doing so makes me anxious. Since returned to being an omnivore, I've developed quite the taste for meat, and besides, Dick is an amazing barbecue guy. It would be quite a blow to him if I stopped eating his outrageously delicious locust cooked ribs.

This is the end of the post. A history. Some questions. For me. And if you want to lay it on me, have a spirited argument with me, bring it on! I'm not defending myself. I have no defense. And, I've gotten quite attached to eating meat. The idea of glazed duck makes my mouth water. I'm thinking, "Is this another red flag?"

Photo note: Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce

Addendum: I re-read this hours later and found that in editing, I had garbled some sentences. What I accidentally wrote is quite funny: . . .I've developed quite the taste for the truth, and besides, Dick is an amazing barbecue guy.

Well, I can't deny that one, though facing the truth is quite another thing.


jmcleod76 said...

Stop it ... you're making me want bacon and barbecue! ;o)

(And you're right, fakin' bacon has never cut it ... though veggie sausage is pretty jaw-some).

BitterGrace said...

Wow, you and I do seem to have some things in common, beyond a similar taste in graphic style.

My journey from omnivore to vegan and back again echoes yours. I've written about it here and there on my blog. Here's something I wrote for publication a few years ago:

Julie H. Rose said...

Good article! When I have some time, I'm going to peruse your blog at length. It is a bit eerie feeling, though.

"Our" aesthetics is not exactly popular at the moment, imo.

jmcleod76 said...

Yeah, great article, Maria! I became a vegetarian about eight years ago, then guiltily started eating fish again about five years ago. As I said under Julie's last blog, I just can't imagine myself killing a farm animal, so I don't eat them, but I stop short of saying that doing so is wrong. Factory farming is wrong, though, and gross, and unnatural, and unhealthy, and a million other adjectives I could add. I'm glad that there are an increasing number of people who, even if they can't or won't stop eating meat, at least put some thought into what they eat, and why, and where it comes from. So important!

BitterGrace said...

Thanks! I had fun writing that article, and I still get all my meat from Jenny and Darrin. Jenny and I have become good friends.

Factory farming of animals is certainly unhealthy and cruel. So is conventional crop production. That's the ethical problem that tends to be overlooked in the great meat-eating debate. Conventional agriculture gives us lots of cheap food, but it wreaks havoc on the environment, and causes tremendous suffering and death among wildlife.

I wish there was a simple answer for ethical eating, but so far I haven't found one.