I have been a vegetarian for almost 23 years. My last hamburger was consumed in 1990, when I casually mentioned to the guy I was dating, "I'm thinking about giving up red meat."
"That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard" he said.
The gauntlet was thrown.
My reasons at the time were warm and fuzzy and fueled by teenage angst. I no longer wanted to be the cause of animal suffering and death. My bedroom door was covered in animal rights quotes and the Smith's "Meat is Murder" became my personal anthem. After watching a documentary on how chickens are processed for meat, I was ready to go full veg. The parents weren't exactly thrilled, especially my mother who announced that she would not be cooking separate meals (she still makes me a meat-free sauce, so I guess she was bluffing). During the summer of 1991 we hosted two English soccer coaches, one of whom was vegetarian. He convinced me that athletes could survive without meat and gave me the confidence to go forward with my new lifestyle. That November I ate my last turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, and as part of my New Year's resolutions vowed never to let anything past my lips that once had feet and a face. (There is still the occasional piece of fish in my diet, technically making me a "pescetarian".)
Shortly after my commitment to go veg, my mom suffered her first of two near fatal heart attacks. Suddenly it was more about taking care of my health than protecting innocent creatures, although I like to believe that it is a little bit of both, plus a conscientious way to reduce my environmental footprint. But I won't get preachy. Everyone has a right to make their own lifestyle choices. Which leads me to the meat of this post. (Sorry, can't resist a good pun.) My husband eats meat. Not frequently - we only have it at home if he cooks it, which isn't very often. That was our compromise. And when we had children, I agreed to expose them to both diets and let them choose. P started out veg, and he's lactose intolerant so we avoid dairy. Or try to anyway. His favorite food is pizza. Slowly he's trying more and more foods and has discovered that he does want to eat meat. J is a different story. Not a huge fan of vegetables or tofu, he devours meat in all forms. Regularly proclaims his love for it and that he is a "meat-eater!" in case I wasn't paying attention. His favorite food? Hamburgers. (The irony is not lost on me.)
J loves to push my buttons, and my diet is prime for the poking - like the other day when he was sampling chicken noodle soup at the store and said, "Mom, I really wish you ate meat. This is really really yummy." But I am supremely confident in my choices. My body is healthy and my conscience is clean. Our kids make choices about food with open minds; they know where it comes from and that different people make different decisions about what to eat/not eat. And if at some point in their lives a girlfriend tells them she is thinking about giving up red meat, I will suggest they offer up more supportive advice. Unless of course that girl is like me, and the little piece of criticism could launch a life-altering decision.
Food for thought.