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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vegetarian Bandster

I have mentioned that I am a vegetarian a few times, but it has occurred to me that it might make a good post topic so here I go.  I want to start by saying that I do not judge anyone who chooses to eat meat.  I think it is a very personal decision that everyone makes and I cannot say what is right for another person. 

I also know that a few of you have mentioned that you or your husbands have been hunting lately and I want you to know that I actually think hunting is the next-best-thing to being a vegetarian!  What do I mean by that?  Well, most people buy their meat in a grocery store and are really, really distanced from how their food goes from being a living creature to a yummy meal.  Not so with hunters!  You guys see your meat up close and personal.  Not only do you pull the trigger (or pluck the bow or whatever), but you also haul the carcass and often dress it too.

I grew up a meat eater.  My grandparents had a farm and all the kids helped with butchering.  I have plucked chicken feathers from  dead chickens (don't squeeze it or it will poop on you!) and cut beef from the bone to be turned into hamburger.  I also watched my beloved Boppie step on the chickens' heads ("Mama?  Why does Boppie step on the chicken's faces?") to butcher them and walked by the dog house to notice a hog's head in his dog dish.  I remember droplets of blood dripped on the patio as the women carried the dead, headless chickens from the barn yard to do the plucking.  While these things made an impression on me, they aren't the reasons I became a vegetarian.

When I was 18 I went to work for the local animal shelter.  I was looking for a clerical job and this was one of several that I applied for.  Right after I started working, I was called for an interview by Tyson Chicken.  Imagine how different things might have been if I'd taken the job there!  But I digress.  I took the animal shelter job and entered a world I didn't know existed.  A world where animals are abandoned, lost, abused and discarded.  It affected me profoundly.  There are shelters in nearly every city and county across this country and around the world.  Thousands, millions of companion animals pass through them each year.  The people working there do their best to care for the animals, unite them with their families, find new homes for them and give them a "kind" death when nothing else is possible.  It is heartbreaking.

Of course there are animal shelters that do not euthanize animals.  These are good organizations and people are a lot more comfortable supporting them, but what these places really do is further shift the burden onto traditional shelters.  These so called "no-kill" shelters are very particular about the animals they accept.  They take the small dogs, the puppies, the purebreds and they turn away the rest.  I visited one such shelter in New York state that had a screening staff that took phone calls for people wishing to surrender their pets.  On that day, they were turning away black and white cats.  They had too many already, you see, and just as you can't have a showroom full of yellow cars, you cannot have a cattery full of black and white cats.

The real problem is that pets are considered disposable in our society.  People are busy.  They get pets without thinking about what they'll do when they have to move and without committing to the training and exercise needs of their dogs and cats.  They select breeds that are not well-suited for their family.  They have unrealistic expectations about owning and caring for a pet.  And too often they fail to have their pets spayed or neutered.  Animal shelters quietly and without fuss "dispose" of the unwanted, excess so the rest of us don't have to deal with them.  And people blindly continue insisting that they can breed their pet if they want because they don't know and they don't understand.

My staff - Betty, Wilma & Lucy.  They produce eggs in exchange for chicken feed.
I am not nearly as passionate as I was at age 18, but back then as I learned about this problem and became a part of the system that enables the rest of society to ignore it, I became more and more angry and disenfranchised.  I became distrustful of people and again and again felt let down by those around me.  After about a year, I came to realize that I could no longer justify continuing to eat meat, knowing as I did that the situation was so much worse for the animals that are raised for food production.  For many years I also did not eat dairy products or eggs.   

Most people become vegetarian for reasons of either health or ethics.  For me, it was an ethical decision.  Any health benefits were secondary.  I also learned about environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.  But as I said before, I don't expect others to think as I do.  I understand that most people will never become vegetarian.  I believe there is room for compromise.  For example, what would happen if everyone, vegetarian and non-vegetarian combined, refused to buy eggs from factory farms that house their chickens in cages so small that the chickens cannot stand up or turn around and are stacked on top of each other with feces dripping through onto the chickens below?

The righteous indignation of my youth has passed and I am a much more even-tempered person these days.  I've learned to live in this imperfect world and I try to make a little difference each day.  I don't really know if I have ever managed that, but I hope I have!    

(I am editing this post to add this last bit)

It isn't difficult at all to get enough protein on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.  I shoot for 50 grams a day and I am typically able to do it without protein supplements.  Some typical protein rich foods that I eat are:

Greek yogurt (14 grams)
Beans (vegetarian refried 15 grams)
Eggs (8 grams)
String cheese (8 grams)
Cottage cheese (14 grams)
Cheddar cheese (14 grams)
Chili (15 grams)
Tofu (5 grams/ounce)
Meat replacement items (Chix patties, veggie sausage, etc. 8-10 grams)



Lonicera said...

Powerful stuff Amanda, and well put. I've often wondered why animal rights campaigners seem to concentrate solely on animals used for vivisection purposes, and not on normal people like any of us who unthinkingly perpetrate casual cruelty on our pets because we didn't think beyond wanting something cute and small around the house.

I take your point about respecting those who are prepared to kill their own meal, but I can't quite square it with a hunter's motivation which, unlike the original native American who had to do it to live, stalks the creature and sinks a bullett into its hide for pleasure, and then teaches his children to enjoy it too. But that takes us into gun culture territory, so I'll stop there.

You lead by example, and I think you're the perfect subject of the well known quote asking God to grant us "...the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Justawallflower said...

I was a vegetarian, from the time I was 8 years old until I was 20. I don't remember it ever being an ethical thing for me. I just didn't like the taste of meat. When I got pregnant my body craved meat, as you usually crave what you are lacking and with me it was meat. I have eaten meat ever since. My daughter went through a stint where she didn't want to eat meat because she didn't want to eat anything that was alive. I told her that if she was serious about it I would do it with her. But turns out it was something she would do on and off, and not stick it out. Anyway, I always find the vegetarian vs. meat eater discussion interesting since I have been on both sides.

Kerri said...

I am moving towards a vegetarian life choice. I have not eaten cows in 8 years and haven't eaten pigs in 2 years. I do, however, eat turkey, chicken and fish. Since being banded and getting to a pretty good fill spot I am having difficulty eating chicken so I rarely eat it. Less than once a week. I eat turkey rarely as well, usually just turkey bacon or turkey lunch meat. I try to eat fish several times a week because it is so good for you and I love the taste. When I met with my nutritionist prior to getting banded I told him that I wanted to become a full vegetarian after being banded and he frowned upon it. He said that I would have difficulty getting enough protein so I abandoned that idea. Now that I am nearly 6 months post-op I eat meat less and less. I do continue to eat egg whites because I love them. I definitely could not become a vegan because I love dairy. Thank you for the post, I appreciate it.

Jess said...

It is awful what is done to poor animals. I am a major animal lover and I was a vegetarian for over a year a few years ago. I couldn't continue because I started having health issues with protein levels etc but I could easily do it again. I have researched these very things and the way these poor animals are treated like trash and it just breaks my heart.

Christine said...

Great post!
I would love to become a vegetarian for ethical reason, and I'm perfectly happy eating vegetables most of the time. But I ultimately enjoy meat. I don't want to give it up. And I'm admitting and wholeheartedly detached from my food. I've never had to kill a chicken in order to eat it, and if I had to, I would absolutely become a vegetarian. In a heartbeat. I'm blindly ignorant in this particular manner, and I suppose I'm ultimately okay with my ignorance. But I wholeheartedly applaud people like you that can take an ethical stance and live up to it. Bravo!

MandaPanda said...

Well put! I'm a meat eater. Always have been, always will be. I just like it. My grandparents were I've seen the same stuff you have. They were, for the most part, pig farmers and often did pig roasts for various events so I've seen the pigs butchered and cooked. Same with chickens and cows. My family used to hunt (when I was VERY little) and I grew up in South Carolina where everybody owns a rifle so I've tasted some fresh venison and turkey. Like you, that doesn't bother me nearly as much as the commercial meat producers and what those animals are put through prior to the butcher. Now, my hubby and I try to buy free range and hormone free as much as we can. I respect your opinion about it and I think this is one of the more rational arguments for vegetarianism (based on ethics) that I've read in a long time.

Lynda said...

I don't have a thoughtful comment. Just wanted to say that your post spoke to me. Thanks.

Neglected Foster Child said...

When I first read about you being a vegetarian, I figured you would have had to have been an ovo-lacto in order to get your protein. When I was a teenager I became an ovo-lacto as a clever way of being able to cover up my eating disorder, using it as a crutch to deny food by saying that stuff was made with animal products and because most people were really uneducated about vegetarianism, I got away with it.

One day I went to shop in a hippie grocery store and was chewed out by a clerk who explained that being an ovo-lacto vegetarian was like being a pro-life hypocrite who believed in the death penalty. (Thus spawning my ongoing love affair with hating vegans.) While I had decided to eat in the manner that I did (and I was actually dedicated to it, even after I weaned myself off the bulimic habits) from the age of 15 until 20 for weight reasons, I don't remember exactly what it was that brought me back into the meat eating fold.

To this day I attempt to always buy meat (mainly chicken & turkey with occasional beef and pork tendencies) that is farm raised on grain diets with no hormones. It means paying more and often times I just select the fish option instead, but the meat is better and I don't feel too horrible about it. I tend to get a great deal of my protein from other products (cheese, yogurt, legumes) as well, so my meat consumption is nowhere near what the standard American diet entails.

The thing that sucked the most when I would explain that I was a vegetarian (when I wasn't in the bulimic stage) were the comments about how people thought vegetarians were supposed to be really thin. And that was when I was only about 20-25 pounds overweight!

Bonnie said...

Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the protein rich lacto vegetarian choices.

Mo said...

Thank you for writing such a great post. I have been vegetarian on and off over my life, never for ethical, usually health reasons.

With the school I attended we all had to visit an abbatoir at age 13, this meant we never made the choice to eat meat without knowing what that meant (most of us had a pretty good connection to the food chain process anyway but there are many who don't). Some became vegetarian and some didnt.

I was vegetarian at that stage because my mother was (for health reasons), but to be honest, I like meat most of the time. And even my mother who has been vegetarian for over twenty years, yesterday suggested lamb for Xmas might be nice - she came from a farming family so very occasionally will indulge...

But the wider issues of animals really resonate, hubby and I have had two cats, both as a result of others selfishness. And we considered a third, which would have meant two who were "rehomed" because they had a extra child and the cat didnt like the's like they cannot grasp a cat is gonna live so long. We want to go overseas again at some stage to live, and we already have our cat a home lined up should this happen. They are not like a handbag!

Dizzy Girl said...

I just had to comment because I am a vegetarian too- for ethical reasons- so this post spoke to me.

I haven't "admitted" it on my blog yet- for some reason I hate having the discussion with people. But I am in the same boat as you- I hate to see so many animals lose their lives and be treated so horribly while alive. My biggest issue is the waste- I hate that an animal lost it's horrid life so that someone out there can just take a few bites of their chicken piccatta while at dinner with friends before dumping the leftovers. What a waste. I can't stand how wasteful our society is- it embarrasses me. But that's my issue- and the reason I'm a vegetarian now. I've been a meat eater most of my life; I dabbled a little with veganism and vegetarianism a few times in the past but finally it stuck and now I'm just going with it as long as I can. I'm sure one person being a vegetarian doesn't make much of a difference in the grand scheme, but if it helps me to remember to be less wasteful, especially when there are so many people out there that are starving (and animals that are treated so poorly)- than I will continue on!!! Thank you for the great post!

Lonicera said...

Thanks for taking the trouble to come over to my blog with your comment - I have strong feelings about it too and have expounded on it a little after your comment.
You've started a healthy debate - good on ya!

~Lisa~ (Mrs C) said...

I come from a hunting family, live in farm country, and do enjoy eating a good steak. medium rare, thank you. I buy local and know where the meat comes from, and we always have a freezer full of game - fresh meat is so much tastier and healthier and better than the more commercial "gray" stuff you see in the grocery stores. I do respect yours and others choice to not eat meat - that is a good thing. Thank you for the great post and the thinking and discussion that you've inspired!