The first eighteen years of my life, I was not a rebellious child. I had no curfew because I couldn’t stay up past 9:30 PM. I was allowed to be unsupervised with friends because my father had witnessed the tween drama that ensued when I accidentally sipped Mike’s Hard Lemonade and subsequently thought I was dying. I was permitted to hang out one-on-one with males because my best friend growing up was a boy and, when I had my first kiss as a senior in high school, I told my parents about it.
I was the spitting image of a good Catholic school girl, except that I went to public school in my later years and also made far worse fashion choices.
But I rebelled when I went to college. I cut loose from the throngs of societal propaganda. I started making my own decisions. I still went to church. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I never pulled an all-nighter.
I rebelled in a weird and unorthodox way: I stopped eating meat.
Growing up, I gravitated toward animals, forever knowing that my career path would revolve around them. I pet stray cats and lured lost dogs onto our doorstep so we could find the owner. I threw back any fish I caught in the summer, smiling as it swam away. I saved earthworms from the sidewalk on rainy days while I waited at the bus stop. I cried when we boiled crabs on family vacation because I thought the bubbling was them screaming.
But like most children, it took me all of my childhood to understand the association between the meat on my plate and my barnyard friends.
It was my dad who inadvertently gave me an inkling that hamburgers were once a living being. He always checked to make sure his burger wasn’t pink or bloody. He wanted it well done.
Blood? I thought. Why would a hamburger be bloody?
When I first began connecting the dots and voicing my disgust at the meat casserole on the dinner table, I was informed that I needed protein, and that my only option was to make my own non-meat protein-filled dinner.
I was a busy child, spending my evenings and weekends in sports, after-school clubs or piano lessons. I grew up when the Internet was coming into its own, before Google was the go-to encyclopedia. I didn’t have time to make my own meal (still not sure how Mom managed it in her schedule). I didn’t yet understand that every opinion should be warranted, educated and informed.
While I have since debunked the meat industry myth that a big fat steak is required for proper nourishment, I probably would have stuck to tater tots and ice cream if I had to make my own dinner growing up. So instead I hid pieces of hamburger pie in my napkin and naively continued eating chicken without batting an eyelash because birds are not mammals so surely there is something different going on there. Surely.
Red meat was easy to cut out because I related it so easily to animals. I became nauseous when bacon fumes wafted under my nose as I couldn’t help picturing a pig’s face. (Pigs are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.) Soon I began to recognize that chickens have feelings, too.
Then I read Temple Grandin’s Animal Behavior by candlelight lying in a monkey-poo-stained hammock in a bamboo hut while saving animals in the Amazon. And I knew I had to do this commitment thing for real.
Initially, I was a pescatarian, informed only about the inhumane treatment of the meat industry. I committed to eating meat only if I killed the animal myself. I couldn’t. I can’t. So I don’t.
When I took a marine biology class and learned that overfishing is the number one problem plaguing the oceans, I stopped consuming commercial seafood cold turkey. I said I would only eat marine life if I sustainably caught and cleaned the fish myself.
And then I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t look a fish in the eye and say, “I need to eat you. I need you to survive.”
I do realize that, yes, it is a privilege to be able to choose not to eat animals. And I do realize that, yes, some animals are overpopulated or invasive, and hunting them is considered a part of population control.
But until I am put in a situation in which my survival depends upon eating another living, breathing being, I am dedicated to this decision, my conscientious choice, to not eat animals.
So when you poke fun at me for not eating meat, when you wave a burger in my face and say it tastes sooo goooood, please know that I’m crying inside and secretly thanking that cow without a name who died for the pleasure of your taste buds.
Later, I cut dairy out of my diet originally to lessen the pain of post-Lyme disease that manifests itself as arthritis in my joints. Now, that decision also roots itself in morality and environmental reasonings. To read more about how changing my diet has helped me fight my battle with Lyme disease, click here.
Follow my blog to catch tomorrow’s sassy post on veganism that is sure to elicit oodles of controversy. Yay.