From Chicken to Merely Insufferable

I quit smoking over a decade ago after 2 or 30 attempts, depending on how you count them and I’m seeking to eliminate another addiction: meat – also delicious when smoked. I want to become a vegetarian. The decision to give up my carnivorous ways has evolved over the last few years. My mother has been a vegan since her mid-50s and my daughter, who never really liked the taste of meat, announced that she was a vegetarian at the ripe old age of 4. She learned that meat was from animals and that was it. So grandma, stop sending her vegetarian propaganda – you’re preaching to the choir.

I was raised eating meals where meat was the jewel in the crown. My cooking experience is all about matching side dishes to a meat. I love the smell of grilled pork chops, the spiciness in chicken fajitas and on occasion, a big juicy burger when my body screams for a little iron….sigh. There are a lot of reasons for me to make this change, but foremost is that I want to align my actions with my values. The deliberate raising and killing of other creatures for my benefit doesn’t fit with my belief that I should be a steward and not just a consumer of the planet. It’s hard to think about that when you’re hungry, though.

Since having a child, I’ve made many changes to my eating lifestyle. No more fast food runs or meals without vegetables. And a lot of conversations about what mom and dad are eating. The pleasure of eating meat is ruined when your child grills you about what animal it comes from and how it was killed. Sometimes the simple wisdom of children makes you want to snarf down your meal in the garage.

I grew up in small towns in Iowa. I’ve seen hogs and chickens killed and it felt like watching a horror show – until it lay nicely sliced on my dinner plate. It’s a dichotomy reinforced by the fact that now we get our meat mid-process from the grocery store. It no longer looks like an animal – until my daughter chimes in, “did it want to die?” Her natural curiosity reminds me that I need to make choices that are aligned with my heart, emotionally and artery-wise.

The problem with giving up any addiction is that you pick up other, more awful habits: self-righteousness and talking about your choice ad nauseam. I suspect if it’s anything like giving up cigarettes, I’ll be trailing behind servers at restaurants trying to get a whiff of grilled burgers and salivating while watching someone else eat. Once I feel confident that I’ve kicked the habit, I will become virulently anti-meat eating, making “harrumph” sounds whenever a friend orders it for a meal and announcing loudly that I haven’t had meat in a year. In short, I’ll be a real dick about it.

I’ll admit that I’m anti-smoking. I’ve worked in environments where people lived for the next smoke break or where people were so anti-smoking, I didn’t want them to know I had ever smoked, lest they think less of me. I feel strongly about it because it is a profitable addiction that benefits entities other than the actual smoker.   I knew it was bad for me and I still did it, both for the addictive relaxation and for the fact that it isolated me with other self-destructive outsiders. Or as I usually refer to them, my friends.

It takes a lot of self-perception and respect not to impinge upon other people’s choices when it comes to breaking my own habits and addictions. It takes so much effort to make a change that my thinking becomes one-tracked. It’s all I can think about day and night. Before I know it, I’m licking bacon grease from a McMuffin wrapper in the neighbor’s garbage. Change is hard. Explaining to your neighbor why you are licking their garbage, even harder.

I am hoping that my attempts to convert to a vegetarian lifestyle aren’t as numerous as when I quit smoking. All I can do is try, try again until the smell of Chipotle doesn’t give me the DTs. Then I can ride my high horse – just as long as I don’t eat it.