Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Eating Meat

Nearly six years ago, after twenty-one years of eating and enjoying meat, I became a vegetarian. There are lots of good reasons to go veggie, but for me it was primarily the environmental impact of eating meat that pushed me into decisive territory. I'm not so sanctimonious as to think that vegetarianism is the right choice for everyone (although I think it's one of those things people should at least consider), but it has been a fine choice for me. As I prepare for my China trip, however, it will soon be time for me to head back down that forbidden, succulent road to meat city, and I have to admit that I am feeling good about taking my first steps in that direction...

In my experience, when non-vegetarians find out that I don't eat meat, there are three main questions they tend to ask:

  1. Why did you become a vegetarian?
  2. How do you get enough protein?
  3. Do you ever miss meat?

Let me address those questions here:

  1. Primarily environmental reasons. Also, so that I have something to feel smugly superior about. (I jest.)
  2. Short answer: I don't know. Longer answer: I'm sure other vegetarians think a lot about this, but I honestly don't. Nutrition is not something I make a science of. If something looks good and I'm hungry, down the old gullet it goes. I don't feel like I have any less energy than I did when I was eating meat, so I assume I'm getting an adequate amount of protein. It's also worth noting that according to several reliable sources, it is not very difficult to meet your daily needs with plant-based proteins. So all you skeptical meat-eaters out there take heed: the protein issue is sort of bogus.
  3. No, not really. The fact of the matter is that I adore the taste of meat, but there are just as many delicious vegetarian dishes, so I rarely even notice that an entire section of the venerable food pyramid is missing from my diet. That being said, I do wish there were a suitable vegetarian substitute for liverwurst...

    Now, to be fair, I haven't been entirely meat-free for these past five or six years. I make three exceptions to my vegetarianism. I will eat meat if a) I'm in a hospitality situation where it would be rude not to, b) if the food is going to be thrown away otherwise (wasting meat tends to go against the environmental justification for being a vegetarian), or c) if it comes from an animal I have never eaten before (I'm a sucker for novelty). Even with these exceptions, though, it's pretty rare that I eat meat.

    All that is going to change when I go to China. In order to compile the most comprehensive guide I can, I will be eating (almost) whatever street food meat comes my way. Naturally, this will include some animals that we in the West aren't used to eating (e.g. snakes, scorpions, pigeons, and (though it will likely distress some of my readers) dogs) and some parts of animals that we aren't used to eating (e.g. kidneys, feet, eyes...those sorts of things), but I plan to draw the line at primates and endangered animals. Anything else I find is (literally) fair game.

    I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to having a good excuse to put my values on hold for a few months and rejoin the world of eating animals. Meat is, after all, delicious. Also, there are so many fantastic-looking Chinese foods (street food and otherwise) that I had to pass on when I lived in China before. Like I said above, I'm a sucker for novelty, so I'm really looking forward to trying some of those dishes. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a cast-iron stomach, so I have very few concerns about my capacity to handle these dishes after rarely eating meat for six years. Time will tell, of course, if this is unjustified hubris on my part. Like Odysseus, my hubris could end up being my downfall (or at least make for an awfully long couple of days). We shall see. In either case, you can be sure that I'll keep you updated right here on this blog. 


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