Do you remember those peanut butter/jelly combination monstrosities in a jar? The striped ones called Goober that looked like a pair of knock-off clown pants? Who refrigerates peanut butter anyway? And what part of the name Goober is supposed to be appealing? Have we really slipped so far into sloth-like laziness that we can’t spread peanut butter and jelly on bread separately? And sloths aren’t even lazy…they’re just slow.
The point is, no one ever asks me if I dislike Goober. I can often be seen crafting my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with segregated jars of peanut butter and jelly, but no one ever assumes that I do that because I dislike the pre-mixed option.
And yet, because I’m a vegetarian, people constantly assume I don’t like meat.
If I’m seen nomming a tofu dog, people sneakily shield their hamburgers from me as if I might be disgusted. When I pull out my tofurkey at Thanksgiving, the hosts start apologizing for the smell of the big bird on the table.
I wasn’t raised by hippie organic farmers. I didn’t grow up in a progressive city or attend an alternative school. I wasn’t exposed to vegetable propaganda or soybean burgers.
My parents, born and raised in the Midwest, were much more steak and potatoes than kale and lentils. I was raised on fish sticks and salisbury steaks. I ate deer meat and hooked worms on the end of fishing lines. I have a vivid memory of assigning a wriggly worm the name “swingset” before sending him to his certain death, but that’s neither here nor there.
A part of me absolutely loves State Fair corn dogs–the giant ones slathered with ketchup and mustard. The smell of my mom’s beef lasagna would make my mouth water even if I’d just eaten a 3 lb banana split with extra hot fudge. And, just between us, sometimes General Tso’s chicken from a Chinese restaurant tempts me more than mixed vegetables.
No. Contrary to the opinion of every third person at a barbecue and despite what my meal ticket reads, I don’t dislike meat.
Individually and consciously, I chose to become a vegetarian nine years ago because I love animals. That might sound childish or unsubstantiated. Fair enough. But it is the purest, most honest explanation to say that I have enough compassion for animals to justify not eating them.
People arrive at the same destination for a myriad of different reasons. As an ethical vegetarian, my choice of this lifestyle might be different from that of a health-conscious vegetarian. But, the important part is just that–It’s a choice.
Just as people choose to give up soda or choose to remain faithful to their spouse, I choose not to eat Goober…and not to eat meat.
And just as it is hard sometimes to turn down the donuts in the staff room, it can be hard to be a vegetarian.
But it’s the mind that controls cravings…not the body. For every person who tells me that they could never be a vegetarian because their body craves meat, I’d like to point out that everyone has cravings. Almost every child craves Cheetos over carrot sticks but somehow still survives.
Don’t dilute the ability of willpower and morals with the weakness of cravings.
Before you start throwing chicken bones at me via your computer screen, please consider that I don’t run a vegetarian cult and I’m certainly not on the hunt for converts.
I don’t stage protests at family dinners or try to share my veggie sausages at parties.
But just as I understand your choice, I hope that you understand mine.
And more than that, before declaring that you could never be a vegetarian, consider your options.
Consider Meatless Monday. (Or Tuesday, or Wednesday…)
By going meatless just one day a week, you can cut health risks, save money, and lessen your environmental impact. You’ll minimize your cancer risks, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save water.
Challenge yourself to give up meat for a month, a day, or even just a meal.
You might like it, you might hate it, or you might realize that a craving for a steak and a craving for chocolate cake aren’t so different after all.