My path toward vegetarianism was well-established by the time I left for college. For more than a decade now I have eschewed the consumption of animals. Through spats of veganism and many years of subsisting on a pescatarian diet, I recently realized that I might no longer be a vegetarian. While I will likely regret admitting to all of the internet that I have (for quite some time) stolen bites of my husband’s proscuitto snacks, I still considered myself to be a vegetarian. Then came the yearly tradition of baking a bird, and I was faced with my dietary decisions of the past. Our Thanksgiving turkey from Whole Foods was raised well, fed well, and killed humanely. It tasted delicious, too. And as I ate leftover turkey sandwiches for a week I began to realize that I might be a hesitant, tentative carnivore once again.
My vegetarian decisions made when I was in high school were informed by long drives across the Nebraska plains, where the only punctuation for the endless rows of cornfields were feedlots. I simply felt that I couldn’t support such an industry. Slowly, these deplorable conditions became the vogue subject of many a book and film, and I have come to realize that the choices that I began advocating for so long ago – better living conditions, fewer antibiotics, et cetera were finally being realized on a large scale. Therefore, as someone who believed that the evolution of the animal-based agricultural system should undergo this reformation, I should support the industry that practices humane husbandry. Likewise, as reported in Good, there is an environmental argument for eating some meat as opposed to none at all.
For me this decision isn’t as simple as just weighing the costs and benefits of the different options. Last summer I spent a week at my in-law’s ranch in Montana. As a pescataerian’s first trip to a cattle ranch I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I fell in love with the land. The days were long, lazy, and time was calculated by estimations of when the fish were most likely to be biting. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings were spent on the lake. I did my part to control the aquatic population by catching a prized trout, but more importantly to me, I learned how to do the dirty business afterward of bleeding, gutting, and filleting the fish. For me, as a non-meat eater, I have placed a high value on the ability to know not only where my food comes from, but how it is prepared – to understand how it comes from animal to grocery store shrink-wrapped specimen. Blogger and rural woman extraordinaire, Ashley English, writes about her desire to hunt and learn how to prepare meat after her return from vegetarianism. I’m not there yet, and highly doubt I will ever be, as ground beef browning turns my stomach, but the concept is one with which I can relate.
The tentativeness with which I approach this decision is likely born out of a hesitation to be associated with those so-called “flexitarians.” As a potentially former vegetarian I used to deride these “meatless Monday” eaters as individuals who are carnivores but intentionally consume less meat than their American peers, which is as much a health decision as an environmental one. Likewise, I’ve written previously about the concept of naming (in OWS in particular) and I think that this correlates. For, while I don’t know that I can rightfully claim the classification of vegetarian anymore, I am hesitant to describe myself as anything else. I like the feeling associated with a voluntary self-identification that is contrary to that embraced by the majority of our culture. However, I no longer feel legitimate. So, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I’m a bad vegetarian and a worse meat-eater. As much as I like things to be neatly defined, the significance isn’t the labels at this point. It’s the choice. Continued advocacy for food production standards that are better for consumers, animals, and the environment and supporting these producers with my purchasing power. I may not be a vegetarian, but I might be a better consumer as a result.
All images my own.