Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Well, damn.

Yesterday, I got a per diem reimbursement check for a trip I took for work about a month ago.

So, naturally, I went grocery shopping.

It's been a financially tight couple of weeks, so I've been working away at the apocalypse stash in my pantry.  It's been one of those weeks when I grudgingly take up the Kraft mac & cheese, canned/dried soups, and other miscellaneous food-esque items in my pantry, from which I turn away in disdain when my fridge and fruit basket are fully stocked.  I've treated myself to a couple of Taco Bell bean burritos (veggies and vegans rejoice, Taco Bell refried beans are totally animal-product-free... and those perfect portion burritos are only $0.99!), but other than that, it's been an exercise of creative meal planning (I use the word "meal" loosely here).

So, I went to Safeway (Sorry, farmer's market.  Impulse grocery shopping), and between picking up the cheese and the veggies and the juice, I came across their fresh(ish) soups.

One side effect of my vegetarianism has been cooking a lot more things from scratch, or close to it.  I never wanted to stop eating meat and start subsisting on aforementioned bunker diet.  However, like so many of my peers, I'm a busy girl, and I need that "long day" stash.  

So, refrigerated soups.  It seemed like the perfect merging of fresh and prepared.  I grabbed one (sweet corn chowder), checked the ingredients for hidden bacon bits and chicken broth, and tossed it in my basket.  I saw the price (SALE! 2 for $5!), and grabbed another (tomato basil bisque).

I finished up my shopping with that spring in my step that only comes between the famine and imminent feast, lightly swinging my basket and almost humming to myself as a character somewhere between Mary Tyler Moore and Little Red Riding Hood. 

Today I got home, freed my sore feet of business casual shoes, and cracked open the fridge to be greeted by those soups.  

Tomato basil bisque.  Perfect.  You'll be delicious with the baguette and shredded mozz I also adopted yesterday.

As my soup is warming, my bread is toasting, and my mouth is salivating, I glance at the ingredients.  What's the very first listed?

Chicken broth.

Ok.  Now what.  I bought it.  I already promoted the production of this product.  And it's already opened and half in my microwave; I can't return it.

So I ate it.

I am perplexed by the insistence on chicken broth as the base of virtually every commercial soup.  Vegetable broth is just as good, and I don't know of any segment of the population who is making a serious ideal- or health-based choice to stop eating vegetables.

Why chicken broth in a soup that otherwise depends on veggies for flavor and identity?  Come on, Safeway.  There's something wrong about making a hearty vegetable soup and slipping in meat juice.  Like you're hiding the peas in my mashed potatoes, only I am morally opposed to peas.

And does this make me a traitor?  Does this negate the last few months of abstaining from meat?  Just last week, I wrote about my meatless months.  Even more recently, I was talking to a friend about the trial run of meat-free living he is taking and how happy I am with the past few months.


As I try to remind myself in all areas of life: we are not perfect, but we do our best.

And now we read our pre-prepared food labels more carefully.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Meat-Free Matey

"You know, I think I want to stop eating meat."
"You're going to be a vegetarian?"
"Yeah, I guess.  I just don't want to eat meat anymore."
"I think you've done this, like, every year we've lived together." (four)
"I know... but I think I mean it this time.  I think it'll stick."

That's how the conversation went when I told my roommate I wanted to stop eating meat.  I have now been meat-free for about five months.

It was rough at first, but when I step back and assess myself, the takeaway is always one of a stronger sense of well-being.  Physically, I feel lighter and cleaner than I felt when I ate meat, and I don't suffer from the cheeseburger guilt I once did.

I've dabbled in vegetarianism for as long as I can remember, from as young as 11 or 12 (initially lasting about a week) to last year's month-long stint.

I've felt what can best be described as a lingering ickyness about consuming animal flesh, but it wasn't until I watched Food, Inc. and started reading things about the environmental impact of meat consumption that I officially flipped the switch.  I sum it up with a principle of "net good", that is, am I doing more good on this earth than I am doing harm?  I sometimes consider myself born into karma debt: a stable, loving family; no physical or mental deficiencies to speak of; consistent comfort and relative happiness... while so many people equally deserving go without these luxuries I consider normal.  So it's important for me to earn it.  I want to spend the majority of my life in the black.  I haven't gone vegan yet, but I haven't ruled it out.

It's not that I did't like meat.  I LOVED meat.  I loved cheeseburgers.  I loved chicken salad.  I CRAVE meat.  I crave the gross kind, primarily of the mystery variety.  Pepperoni is a big one.  Hot dogs, too.

It's that I can't escape one simple truth: we literally are what we eat.  My body is composed of the atoms I have consumed, in the form of plant and animal matter, for the past 23 years.  In their former life, these atoms were assembled under certain conditions, some of which I want no part in.  I morally can't detach myself from inhumane conditions under which these atoms were assembled, and I physically can't escape the chemicals and other modifications that hitch a ride on these complexly arranged atoms to the construction of my tangible presence.  It's not good for me, it's not good for my fellow human beings, and it's not good for our Earth.  It's about living mindfully.  I am not meant to be a hot dog.  I don't want to be a hot dog.

The biggest challenge, honestly, is just keeping it real.  When I launch into an ethical explanation of why I won't eat meat, it sounds more than a little pompous.  Explaining a refusal of food with "I don't eat meat" or "Do you have a vegetarian option?" has an air of hipster detachment and self-elevation.  I hate that.  When someone extends what may be the most basic and universal of kind gestures (the offering of food) how can I graciously refuse?  It's so counter-intuitive to the net good principle.  If what I consider doing right by the world drives human beings apart... then it's a big fat fail.

Anyway, this casual personal choice (whim, perhaps?) now straddles the line between lifestyle and philosophical obsession.  Vegetarianism and Veganism present such a range of fascinating arguments, both for and against, and I love talking veg.

But for now, it's the vegetarian jokes ("I love animals... I just love eating them more!" "PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals") that help me live with the whole pompous thing.  So adding another to my arsenal is just as exciting as discovering a new preparation method for eggplant.

Who knows how long it'll last.  For now, however, I couldn't be happier to glut myself on spirited discussion, jokes, and meat substitutes.