Confessions of a Meat-Eating Vegetarian

Categories: Musings
007.JPG
Sticking my head out to judge the Grind.
I recently accepted an offer to judge a burger competition, as I do from time to time.  Recently, our food critic, Melissa McCart, asked me a question about the deep, dark secret I usually keep from Clean Plate Charlie readers. "You're a vegetarian," she said. "How are you going to judge burgers?"

Allow me to explain. True, I consider myself a vegetarian. I also consider myself Jewish, though I haven't been inside a temple in 20 years. I have been screwed up by a traumatic childhood.

As a little girl, I remember almost daily trips to the kosher butcher on Seaview Avenue in Brooklyn. The smells of sawdust and blood, the bright red and white of the marbled meats, the giant prehistoric-looking bones made me ill, made me sick, made me upset. Maybe I've always been too aware, choosing to believe in death instead of fairy princesses, but there you have it. I decided to stop eating meat after my grandmother explained to me that, yes (sigh), we kill animals and eat them. Yes, (sigh), the very same animals that you played with at the petting zoo. You can see how my choice indicated miserable failure for my Jewish mother, who thought I would immediately keel over and die if I didn't eat at least a lamb chop or a spare rib (see? It's a "spare" rib) at dinner.

I didn't die, and from time to time, I experimented with various degrees of vegetarianism and omnivorous behavior -- sometimes going vegan, sometimes lacto-ovo. For a while, I allowed myself to eat chicken (but ducks were too cute); then eggs were out. As a food writer, I'll taste steak, chicken, burgers (except foie gras -- that's a level of cruelty I can't condone. And I won't eat lamb. Why? Because I have a toy poodle, and they just look too much alike. Feel free to mock me; I just can't.)
I know the difference between what tastes good and what doesn't, but in my personal life, I choose not to eat meat. I don't consider this a conflict of interest at all. To me, it's like this: If I were a dentist, I wouldn't drill teeth at home. That's best left to the workplace. So I eat meat "on the job." At home, I eat asparagus.

The other day, I was asked about my strange, sometimes hypocritical, eating habits. I, like most people, don't have answers to all the questions. Someone mentioned a fascinating custom in Morocco where a family brings a sheep into their home for a week, treat it like a pet, then slaughter it for a feast. I countered back with an episode of Taboo I had seen on National Geographic, which had an African tribe caring for a dog as a pet for an entire year, then killing the dog and eating him as part of a manhood ceremony.  Hell -- President Obama admitted to eating dog. What's the difference? Why are some lives revered and others aren't? A question worth pondering and one I don't have an answer to.

I don't preach, but I have to say I'm fascinated by how most people don't connect cute animals with what we're eating. We can watch Charlotte's Web or Babe while eating a ham sandwich.  As a kid (I told you I was traumatized), my well-meaning but clueless parents would drive us to Amish country to eat steak -- with a picturesque view of cows grazing in the field. We would go to upstate New York -- where deer with black eyes glazed over in a death stare would be tied to the backs of cars.  Four-H Clubs all over the country have young children name and raise prize cows, goats, chickens... and then eat them. 

All over the world, restaurants use happy cartoon chickens or pigs to sell their wares. And Chick-Fil-A famously depict cows that are so into self-preservation they turn on their barnyard brethren, holding signs that say "Eat more chikin." Cows, apparently, are aware of the slaughter house but can't spell worth a damn!  Here's a question -- if animals suddenly spoke and wore clothes like in those ads, would we still eat them? Do most of us, as a society, not care, or simply choose to put up convenient blinders? Can't we at least think before we eat?

In conclusion, I'm a meat-eating vegetarian. Call me a hypocrite, because I am. But at least I can say that I try. I make an honest attempt at curbing the pain and suffering of animals. I'm against factory farming. I don't joke that PETA means "people eating tasty animals." I don't think it's funny to tattoo a dead pig, leaving its flesh inedible because of the ink. Furs freak me out, but not leather, because we at least use the rest of the animal. I don't want to eat something that still has its head on -- dead eyes staring at me in condemnation. I think about the animal that gave its life for my meal. And secretly hope that the next food trend is... beets.
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.
My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Yid Vicious
Yid Vicious

Whatever.  A Jew who call shul "temple" turns out to be a "vegetarian" who eats meat?  She is clearly not serious enough about either Judaism or vegetarianism to be given even a passing thought by those of us who are serious about both.

Richard Schwartz
Richard Schwartz

As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I found this article interesting but feel strongly that the author, like most Jews, including most rabbis and other Jewish scholars today, is ignoring that vegetarianism, and preferably veganism, is the diet most consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people, and pursue peace, and that animal-based diets and agriculture contribute greatly to the current epidemic of diseases that are afflicting Jews and others and to climate change and other environmental threats to humanity and all life on earth. A major shift to plant-based diets is essential to move our imperiled planet to a healthier, just, compassionate, and sustainable world.

splash
splash

you are a hypocrite making excuses. I don't lose my morals when I go to work for the day. 

Charlie
Charlie

No such thing as a meat-eating vegetarian.

meadnite
meadnite

have you watched the movie earthlings?  give it a whirl, it helps to put things in realistic perspective.

 http://video.google.com/google...

<http: googleplayer.swf?docid="6361872964130308142&hl=en&fs=true" video.google.com=""> </http:>

Foodbrat
Foodbrat

Been there, done that.

Great rammmmmmmmbling.chef Michael B

Chris
Chris

As a vegetarian turned vegan, sure -- I can see the urge to razz you for your food-duality. But what I find admirable is the mindfulness with which you approach your eating. And that's a good thing. We can all strive for vegan perfection, and fail miserably, but ANY reduction in suffering is better than none. Thumbs up.

Tricia Woolfenden
Tricia Woolfenden

"And secretly hope that the next food trend is....beets." You and me both, girl. Nicely said!

Laine Doss
Laine Doss

 Thanks for not mocking my rambling confessional.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...