Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Closer to Fine

I saw this post on NPR's website today about our nation's changing attitude toward meat consumption.  This photo reminds me of the poster I saw in the office at Greenpeace when I was newly turning vegetarian:

Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, July, 2011.
Credit: Kevin Uhrmacher/Eliza Barclay/Jessica Stoller-Conrad/NPR

I haven't eaten any beef since December 31, 1989.  I'd like to say I gave it up to save the lives of the cows, but honestly I gave up meat-eating because I wanted to be cool.  All my favorite musicians at the time--Morrissey, Michael Stipe, k.d. lang, Indigo Girls--were vegetarians.  I wanted to be like them.

The summer of 1990 I was looking for a job.  The local Greenpeace chapter was hiring for canvassers.  At first I thought, "Why do they need painters?"  But the job ad in the paper mentioned it offered health care benefits to employees and their domestic partners regardless of sexual orientation, a progressive move virtually unheard of at the time.  That was just too freaking cool to pass up, so I dropped by the office to apply, figuring I could exaggerate my painting abilities.  Turns out canvassing means going door to door to get people to sign petitions and donate money to the organization, so I didn't have to lie to my prospective employers afterall.  I'd walked door-to-door with my mom when I was a kid after my grandfather died of cancer helping raise donations for The American Cancer Society.  

As I sat in the office waiting while my future boss processed my paperwork, I looked at the posters on the wall.  It had been about six months or so since I'd given up eating meat for the most part.  I still occasionally ate chicken, but something about beef turned me off.  The redness of the bloody raw meat.  Yuck.  As I read over the Greenpeace propaganda, a smug superiority washed over me.  I didn't have to admit to people I gave up eating meat to be cool like my idols.  I could tell people I gave up meat because I'm an environmentalist.

Decades later, I've long since softened my opinion on meat eating.  My husband eats meat.  My kid eats meat.  Just the other day, for Father's Day, Will wanted to eat barbeque at Arthur Bryant's.  I ordered chicken, which if I think deeply enough about it, chickens are much less humanely kept in our factory farms than cows are, but they're not so damaging to the environment as a whole...and they just taste better than bloody cows.  Will ordered what appeared to be the tray of death--every kind of meat imaginable.  And Katie wanted ham, her favorite.  

As we sat gorging ourselves on animal flesh, Katie stopped briefly between bites and said, "Mama, am I eating a pig?

"Yes you are, Sweetie.  And I'm eating a chicken."  I try to sound as matter-of-fact about the issue with my daughter, wanting her to make up her own mind about the foods she eats.

"So, it's a pig?"  She wanted to make sure.  

"Yes, you're eating the pig's muscles."  I expected her to spit out her bite and say "Yuck" or something.  That's what I would have done as a kid.  I was nine before I realized meat comes from dead animals.  I thought it just came from a package at a grocery store.

Instead, Katie licked her lips and said, "Mmmmm.  I love ham!  Thank you pig!"

I like her attitude.  When she's a snooty teenager and decides to go vegetarian, that will be fine too.  All I ask is that she try to remain conscious of her food choices and thankful she's lucky enough to have such choices.  I've often wondered what my ancestors who fought off famine would think of my self-limited diet.  I remember reading somewhere that the difference between appetite and hunger is when your appetite has been piqued you choose some foods and not others.  When you're hungry you'll dig a beet out of the ground and eat it raw.  I like to stay mindful of this difference and thank the universe for giving us the opportunity to be choosy.

"There's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.  The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."  -- Indigo Girls "Closer to Fine"