So as regular readers may know, I recently went totally vegetarian for a month. It was part of a fundraising effort I’m doing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation’s Light the Night Walk: the Foundation Beyond Belief is a “Special Friend” team, I’m the FBB International Team’s Honored Hero for 2013, plus Freethought Blogs has a virtual team that’s part of FBB’s giant mega-team… so I’m doing all these dares and challenges as our team reaches assorted fundraising goals. One of those dares was to go vegetarian for a month… a month that was over on November 8. (We’re currently at $8.587, by the way — if we reach $9,000, I will eat bugs, and if we hit our $10,000 goal, I will eat — shudder — broccoli.) Here’s my report.
Being totally vegetarian was less difficult than I’d thought it would be. I’m close to vegetarian anyway (I sometimes call myself “vegetarian-ish”): I eat some meat sometimes, but not that often, and only certain kinds of meat or under certain circumstances. The exceptions I typically make are: meat that I consider to have been ethically raised (pasture-raised or grass-fed); local specialties when I travel (barbecue in the south, Buffalo wings in Buffalo, that sort of things); bites off of other people’s plates; times when I’m having serious problems with food due to health issues (when I was recovering from cancer surgery and having all kinds of weird appetite and digestion stuff, I gave myself permission to eat any damn thing that seemed appetizing and that I thought I could keep down); special occasions like Thanksgiving; and fish pretty much any time. So as it is, I eat meat, including fish, maybe once or twice a week. Cutting out that once or twice a week was not that big a deal.
The things that were actually challenging about this:
1) Times or places when I ordinarily would have eaten meat — such as food places that had meat I’d usually be fine with. When I was getting lunch at the foodie haven in the Ferry Plaza, I felt sad about all the “meat I consider to have been ethically raised” options I was passing on. I ordinarily take advantage of those when I can, since they don’t come along that often, and I felt sad to be missing one of my chances.
2) Not taking bites. Even at times in my life when I’ve been harder-core vegetarian, bites of other people’s food have pretty much always been an exception for me. It was sad to pass up those tastes.
3) Meat going to waste. This was very difficult indeed. I ordered a vegetarian crepe for dinner at a conference — a chicken crepe, actually, which I asked them to leave the chicken out of — and they forgot to leave out the chicken. Ordinarily I would have eaten that chicken with zero qualms. I have some ethical issues about eating meat at all, and giant ethical issues about eating generic meat raised in agribusiness factory-farm horror shows — but I have much bigger ethical issues about meat going to waste. The thought of that chicken suffering and dying just to be thrown in the trash… no. But I’d made a commitment to be strictly vegetarian for the month, so I stuck with it, and had them pitch it and make me a chickenless crepe. It didn’t sit well with me, though.
(I go back and forth about what this rule means at buffets, by the way. But I’m leaning towards not eating meat — if meat at a buffet goes to waste because I didn’t eat it and other vegetarians didn’t eat it, maybe they’ll serve less meat next time.)
4) Remembering that fish is not a vegetable. Even at times that I’ve been closer to the vegetarian end of the vegetarian-ish spectrum, I’ve almost always been okay with eating seafood (except for squid and octopus — they’re way too smart and sentient for me to feel okay about eating). Looking for the seafood options on a menu is almost reflexive for me. It was hard to remember, “Oh, yeah. Vegetarian. That means no salmon, no oysters, no scallops, no fish sauce.” That wasn’t a sacrifice so much (although it was at times — passing up oysters, sigh) — it was mostly just hard to remember.
So has this experience persuaded me to go totally vegetarian?
I don’t think so — but it’s definitely persuaded me to go more vegetarian than I currently am. I know myself, and I know that if I vowed to never to eat meat again as long as I lived, it would immediately become the one thing I wanted to do more than anything. (That’s what’s happened in the past when I’ve tried to go totally veg — and when I fell off the wagon, I fell off big.) I have enough complicated emotional issues with food as it is — I don’t want to add another one. If I was at a really amazing restaurant with a really amazing meat dish, I think I’d eat it. And I think the “meat going to waste” thing is always going to be an exception for me. Watching that chicken get thrown out was the one time in this experience when I actually felt like I was making a morally bad choice.
(And yes, I am morally fine with eating bugs. Which I’ll be doing if the Freethought Blogs team raises just another $413 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation!)
But for the most part, this was easy enough to do that it seems silly not to do it more. For a couple/few years now, my general approach to meat-eating versus vegetarianism has been a “harm reduction” approach — I don’t feel a need to entirely eliminate meat, but I want to reduce the harm done by eating it — and I’m still pretty good with that. But I do think I want to slide my “vegetarian-ish” dial closer to the “totally vegetarian” end of the spectrum. I think I want to make eating meat even more of an exception than I already do: maybe once or twice a month instead of once or twice a week. I think that even at restaurants that have meat I consider to have been ethically raised, I’m not immediately going to leap at “Here’s my chance! That’s for me!” — I’m going to look at the vegetarian options, and give them at least as much weight, if not more. I also want to reconsider my “local specialties” exception: travel is stressful and eating local specialties is sone of the ways I handle that stress, but when I look carefully at the ethics of it, I don’t think that’s important enough to counter-balance the “agribusiness factory-farm horror show” thing.
And I am re-thinking seafood. During my vegetarian month, whenever I pondered the question of fish, that line from Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” kept popping into my head: “It’s okay to eat fish, ’cause they don’t have any feelings.” And I kept thinking, “Okay, Kurt, fine, you have a point, that’s not very consistent or evidence-based.” (Although I also kept thinking about the line, “And I’m living off of grass and the drippings from the ceiling,” and realizing that I don’t want to go there, either.) I might have to research fish neuropsychology a little bit to decide where exactly I want to draw that line. (Maybe no to regular fish, but yes to shellfish?)
I’m still okay with my harm-reduction model of eating meat. But if I can reduce that harm even more than I am, I don’t see any reason that I shouldn’t.
(In another Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night fundraising challenge, I’ve promised to go vegan for a week. I haven’t yet decided when I’m going to do that, but it’ll be soon. I’ll post about that when it’s done.)