08 February 2011

no meat is not American

I have been vegetarian for about 18 years now and here in Seattle and in the circles I keep it is NOT a big deal. Other than the accidental, occasional bite of something meaty it has not been a chore by any means. I have also rarely put any host out which is a concern if you want to keep getting invited to events. Luckily I am not a picky eater and will gladly consume just about anything and genuinely appreciate it.

Thinking back there was just one major lapse that comes readily to mind. Two years ago Shelley and my father and I travelled to Germany to visit my family and my aunt served venison (deer). She had been prepping all day for this big, family meal, the local butcher had just gotten the first kill of the season and I would have been a first class asshole if I had declined. Plus, it was pretty much the entire meal... we had some asparagus (for color probably) and Spatzle and that was it. Except for lots and lots of gravy and bottle after bottle of wine. I don't think the wine contained any meat.

You know how aunts are, as soon as you finish your portion they are piling more on your plate because even at 45 years old I was still apparently a 'growing boy' or some such thing. So that night I had thirds. And a ton of gravy. Bring it.

My position has always been that I don't want to cause unnecessary suffering to sentient beings. I am not vegan nor do I have any desire to be. Even though there is some moral appeal it would be a shit ton of work and then for sure I would be 'that guy' who never eats what you serve and who never gets invited back. No fun. For sure I am playing fast and lose with the term 'vegetarian' because all I exclude from my diet is beef, pork and poultry. That seems to be where factory farming is rampant and so even though this deer did not fall under the abused animal heading it has been easier for me to eliminate all mammals from my diet.

And honestly, because of this moral reason behind my choice it has been a very simple one to make. I can truthfully say that I have not missed meat since I cut it out. I do like some flavors usually associated with meat like Teriyaki but you can get that in a bottle and add it to most anything so no biggie. People always ask me, "Don't you miss the meat?" The answer is no. I sometimes miss the flavors of sauces you put on meat or the char from a grill but not the substance itself. And since you can get all the stuff I do miss without using meat I am good to go. People also ask, "Are you worried about getting protein?" Never. I eat tons of dairy, nuts, beans, you name it. There is no doubt in my mind that people are 1) totally obsessed with protein (just check out any muscle or fitness or Muscle & Fitness magazine) and probably eat too much and 2) people would be a lot better off if they substituted a vegetable or two for some of that crap they call 'protein'.

There have been times when my diet is inconvenient.

I recall a time I was in some fast food-ish establishment in Idaho and after not seeing any meatless entrée on the menu I asked the waitress if they had any vegetarian options. "Oh sure!" said the waitress, "We got chicken."

When Shelley and I were in Portugal it was a bit tricky as well. Meat is just what people eat there and so the kitchens had to go to some lengths to prepare our meals by making omelets or similar fair. I kept trying to insist that I would be fine and not to worry but they always made a huge deal out of it. Thank goodness I do eat seafood (I try to avoid farmed fish) so this did not happen every night. Luckily I also do not get bored of cheese and jam sandwiches on long rides...

Being in these situations makes one think. There is no doubt in my mind that factory farming is not just morally bad but also destructive to our planet in so many ways. In maximizing their ROI farmers push animals FAR beyond what they are capable of naturally and you end up with salmonella contamination, meat that is full of antibiotics and steroids, bacteria that is resistant to the daily dose of drugs the animals get fed, animals being ground up and fed to animals – you name it. It's kinda sick if you take the time to think about it.

ASIDE – anyone who eats meat should take the time to think about what they are doing. If you can walk out of a typical factory farm that produces the burger you just put away at that last tailgate party then more power to you. But if it makes you queasy then freaking give it up. I have very little patience for hypocrisy.

That being said, if you go and kill an animal (as humanly as is possible/reasonable) and butcher it and eat it I guess I'm okay with that. It's just when people don't take responsibility for their actions that I object. This was how I justified eating all that venison in Germany.

This is all the long way of explaining to you what happened at lunch the other day. It made me smile.

I decided to hit up one of the food trucks that are dotting the UW campus these days since the HUB (which contained the largest cafeteria on campus) is being remodeled. The Siganos truck was serving Mexican food and the menu offered up a veggie burrito with some sort of fake meat and they even had a vegan option with no cheese so I figured perfect. I got in line and ordered my fake meat (with real cheese) lunch.

They were pumping out the orders pretty efficiently at this place. Order number 6 was a chicken burrito and my order (I was 7) was a chicken flavored meatless burrito. After #6 left they called out another chicken burrito to which no one responded. When they skipped my number and started serving 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 I finally went back to the window and asked them were my order was. They guy behind the window apologized, reached down and grabbed something that was already made and handed it to me. Stoked, I walked away.

Luckily I was hungry and began to unwrap my food as I walked and took a bite. Chicken. The real thing. Something clicked in my brain and I remembered the unclaimed order. I walked back right away.

At first the guy behind the cash register tried to tell me that the fake chicken looked a lot like the real thing but after I handed him my burrito he admitted I was right and apologized. In fact, he was super nice and offered me a free lunch coupon (which I accepted).

Minutes later the guy behind the pick-up window yelled, "Vegan burrito!" and I claimed my food.

As I walked away I again started to unwrap and eat my burrito and discovered that not only was it not vegan (there was cheese in it) but there was also no fake meat. Oh well, this I could deal with and I had a free lunch in my pocket so I left with a smile on my face.

This experience drove home the fact that no meat is not something most people deal with well or even understand. Ditto for the terms 'vegetarian' or vegan'.Just like that waitress in Idaho who thought vegetarian meant just no beef, this guy in the burrito truck really did not understand what the hell it was that I wanted to eat on this day.

And really I don't blame him. It seems to me that the condition of being vegetarian is mostly a consequence of being relatively affluent, having time on your hands or in some cases being devoted to a cause to the point of being a zealot. Back in the day when you had to hunt to survive vegetarian would have equaled starvation. It's only now that we have all these other options that it's really a viable lifestyle. This has got to be why the most affluent country in the world (America) has such an issue with meat. We produce the most, we eat the most and we hate it the most.

No doubt this is the same reason we have more obese people than any other country and we have the most insane diet industry of any other country. One word: progress.

I guess I was not entirely correct with my title, no meat may not appear to be American but it actually is; big time. Just in a messed up way.

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