"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.