Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My name is Elisabeth and I am a vegetarian

1veg·e·tar·i·an Pronunciation: \ˌve-jə-ˈter-ē-ən\
Function: noun
Etymology: 2vegetable + -arian
Date: 1839
1 : one who believes in or practices vegetarianism
2 : Herbivore
(taken from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vegetarian)

If you know me at all you know a couple things about me:
1. My husband was raised vegetarian and maintains that lifestyle still.
2. I am from the South where all food is fried in, boiled with, sauteed in, etc., pork fat.

Growing up it was "One size fits all" and you cleaned your well-balanced plate of meat, bread, and a token vegetable. This is how the majority of middle America lives, eats, and understands the order of the universe courtesy of the USDA food pyramid. Although... have you looked at that thing lately? http://www.mypyramid.gov/ It's become remarkably more customizable.

When I met Noah (who is a fab cook, by the way), switching off the part of my brain that set off an alarm if meat WASN'T included in the meal was... challenging. So we started slowly.

After 7 years of marriage and gradually reducing my meat intake, the leap to vegetarianism wasn't so dramatic, at least not habitually. But I didn't stop eating meat altogether (minus fish now and again) just because it was an easy, gradual switch.

In 2007, Noah and I moved to Davis, California, so that he could continue pursuing his bachelor's degree in sustainable agriculture (he officially graduated this past June. Yay Noah!), an interest he had developed over the years. There are so many different facets to the world of sustainable ag; most exciting and compelling for me (though I was not the one studying it :)) are the impacts on social and environmental justice.

While living in the Davis/Sacramento area, we drove down I-5 to LA a number of times. You only have to do it once to know about Harris Ranch. Long before you can see the ranch, you can smell it. The odor is potent, toxic, and accompanied by a brown cloud that hangs ominously in the air for miles around. Drive by this place and it'll make you think twice about eating beef. Except that, most people forget that this is where their beef comes from!It's not cellophane wrapped, conveniently dyed and sterilized from start to finish. It comes from a once live cow that, unless you are extremely conscientious in which beef you purchase (and let's face it... consumers aren't offered too many choices in the matter), probably lived out its days standing in its own filth, fed all sorts of inorganic matter (not its natural diet) and hopped up on hormones and growth supplements. Talk about bad for the environment!

But... driving past Harris Ranch more than once was not what caused me to quit eating meat.

I had already begun researching sustainability and meat, and trying to buy my beef from places like the Davis Co-op, where I as a consumer actually had an option to purchase meat more ethically raised. But it's not enough.

I'm appalled at how little we actually know about what we eat... and about the practices of the companies that market our food to us. But I'll save all that tirade for another blog... after I do some more research.

In Winter Quarter of 2010 I took a class on Asian American literature. I've not extensively read any Asian American authors... this class offered a broad overview of female authors from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds within the Asian American experience. I learned a LOT... and I read this book:

That's My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki for those of us without super vision.

Ozeki didn't set out to make us all vegetarians with this book. But her ironic insights into the marketing of the American lifestyle had a profound impact on me. Add to that the poignant scenes describing slaughter, not to mention the consequences of mass producing livestock... and I lost the stomach for it.

I decided in February that I would not eat meat anymore. In the beginning I was bolstered by my idealism. As time wore on, it began to get harder. At one point I decided I would be a vegetarian on most days... maybe not on Fridays... and so the other day I ordered a hamburger... and couldn't swallow a bite of it. I was surprised by this change. Until that moment I had thought I was masquerading as a vegetarian and would likely someday revert to old habits. Perhaps not.

I'm able and willing to eat fish now (which is new, I NEVER used to eat fish)... and the Little Pub down the street has some killer fish 'n' chips. But I don't think I'll ever go back to cow, chicken, or pork.

My name is Elisabeth and, whether you agree with my decision making process or not, I am a vegetarian.

2 comments:

  1. My Year of Meats is one of my favorite books; I used to teach it my intro American Studies class at UC Davis.

    Thanks for a great post, and welcome to the vegetarian fold!

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  2. Good for you!

    I was a vegetarian for a few years growing up, but ended up getting very very anemic and went back to eating meat.
    I, too, have just started to eat seafood. I'm allergic to lobster and shrimp, so it's a slow go to figure out what exactly I can eat, and some of it just doesn't do it for me (like scallops). I've been slowly weaning myself off meat, and am happy that there are so many options now, as opposed to 20 years ago when I last tried.

    I was shopping a few weeks ago, and picked up a pork loin and just stared at it for a while; kind of a 'what the hell are you thinking' moment.

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