“The CDP’s Guide To Vegetarianism.”
(Originally published 06-12-06.)
Hello. My name is the CDP, and I’m a vegetarian.
Hold on, don’t leave! We’ve got to talk; me and you. It’s important. It’s about the age-old debate between carnivores and herbivores. You know, if the dinosaurs would have just sat down and talked about their differences like rational beasts, they might still be around today. Hell, we might have even had a Brontosaurus as President. Sweet.
I offer today’s post as a public service to carnivores, vegans and everyone in between. By shedding some insight into what shapes people’s beliefs, you have a better understanding of what shapes the world around you, and what causes people to make certain life choices. Also, I fancy talking about myself, and I’m quite skilled at it.
First off, there are some things you need to know about me:
1. I’ve been a vegetarian for 5 years now. After trying and failing a few times, I finally gave up meat for good when I found myself sitting alone in a Culvers booth, sneaking in a bacon cheeseburger while my wife was at school. This troubled me, as I was now faced with the truth that I felt guilty about eating meat, so much to the point of actually hiding it from the Missus. I didn’t give up meat because of the Missus, mind you. I gave it up for many reasons I’ll explain later, culminating with the depressing Culvers epiphany.
2. I’m not trying to convert anyone to vegetarianism. In fact, I’d rather you didn’t convert, because it would make us herbivores much less of a novelty; therefore, much less cool.
3. I loathe hippies; cannot stand them one damn bit. I don’t do drugs, I don’t own tie-dye and I don’t participate in any marches, regardless of the cause. If you are standing in between me and what I want, chances are that I don’t like you.
4. I hate PETA with a blistering passion. Their marketing campaigns and tactics have done nothing but turn people off of a vegetarian lifestyle, and caused a lot of meat-eaters to get a very negative view of vegetarians. They should be using their donated money towards better things than naked protests at circuses and throwing paint on supermodels. Screw you, PETA; you’re ruining it for everybody.
5. I grew up in a meat-eating household. My dad was (and still is) an avid hunter, trapper and fisherman. I’ve been hunting on many occasions, and participated in the murdering, cleaning and gutting of many deer and small mammals. In my youth, I killed many pigeons and vermin for the fun of it. I also spent most of my childhood on a dairy farm, which cares about cows only as a source of revenue and profit. I’ve seen some nasty things concerning these animals, but I don’t look at any of those things as ethically wrong. Business is business, and dairy farmers are only doing the job they were raised to do. I’m just trying to hammer the point home that the meat-eating and country lifestyle are not lost on me; that was my life for 19 years.
6. I’m not anti-meat, nor am I anti-hunting. I’m not an idiot; I know that steak tastes good, and many people refuse to deprive themselves of such a luxury. Fair enough. I also refuse to deprive myself of a lot of things that I enjoy, but some people find evil and wrong (such as television, gambling, alcohol consumption, death metal and snuff films).
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I also know that deer hunting is an almost vital and necessary tool in controlling and re-populating forest areas. However, when deer hunting, I believe that your kill should be used for something other than sport; I.E., you should eat the meat or donate it to food pantries. If you have the balls to kill, clean and serve an animal to your family, you deserve to eat it, and we all wouldn’t be here today if that wasn’t the case.
7. When I was a teenager, I experimented with different diets to see how they would affect my health. One week, I ate nothing but chocolate-themed items. Another week, I only took in things that were the color green. Yet another week, I ate nothing but foods containing meat (it damn near killed me). In my blue-haired punk days, I spoke against vegetarianism, boasting my position at the top of the food chain.
Clearly, I’m not your stereotypical vegetarian. So, why don’t I eat meat?
Well, for vegetarians, there are three main reasons why you avoid meat. They are:
I consider myself a little of all three.
Morally, I no longer place humans above animals in the dominant chain. This is either because I’ve grown to love and appreciate animals more, or my disdain for human life is growing stronger. Show me a cow that’s minding his or her own business, and I’ll show you something that’s not bothering me. I now know that you don’t need to eat meat to live a healthy life, and I’m not down with the concept of mass murder, human, chicken or otherwise. The treatments, business and sanitation procedures involved in the process of getting a hamburger to my plate is about as corrupted as a stream of Barry Bonds’ urine, and I refuse to be a part of it.
I care for and respect animals, and I’ve done enough bad things in my life without having more guilt on my conscience. More important than my love for animals, however, is my disdain for greedy people. For me, avoiding corporations like ConAgra foods is the same as me avoiding a Wal-Mart. If you’re against what someone does, you disassociate with them, and that’s what I do to protest.
As a side note, I always find it funny when I see some punk or anti-establishment person smoking a cigarette. Here’s this person who refuses to be a cog in the corporate machine, yet he’s puffing on a product manufactured by one of the largest and most vile conglomerates on the planet. In my opinion, you might as well be wearing Nike shoes and spooning with Sam Walton’s corpse, because you’re an idiot.
Health-wise, eating meat isn’t all that great for your body. We all know that, but we don’t really like to bring it up. True, things like fish and poultry are far healthier and beneficial than red meat, but it’s not like we’re comparing apples to lard, here; it’s all filler. Eating red meat causes heart disease, slows your body down and clogs damn near everything in your chest. Vegetarians are far less-likely to get heart disease, certain cancers and many other serious illnesses. Now, I don’t have the exact numbers and percentages on hand, but please look them up if you think I’m way off. I’m not.
Religion-wise, I’m not down with murder; plain and simple. When I look at my cats, I see animals that are pretty much without sin. I don’t see cats cutting me off in traffic. I don’t see puppies taking forever in line at the bank. I also believe that Heaven isn’t just for humans, and you’re going to have some pretty awkward afterlife moments when you run into all those animals you killed.
I know what you’re thinking. “But we don’t eat cats and dogs! Everyone knows that’s wrong!” Obviously, that’s not true for the rest of the planet. The animals we choose to civilize are the same animals that other ethnicities dine on, and vice versa. Who are we to pick and choose what animals deserve to be spared and which ones require worship? Sure, you may think that eating a cow is more ethically sound than eating a cat, but the billion-plus population of India would tell you otherwise.
We see this all the time in the media, as well. Whenever there’s a story where a domesticated animal dies, people put more emotional stock into it than if it were a human life. Meanwhile, millions of other animals are being fed to the woodchipper without so much as a whimper from the dog and cat loving Americans.
Finally, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that my wife was a factor in the equation. She wasn’t a big factor, but certainly someone who made me realize how big of a hypocrite I was being to myself. She’s got this knack for making me feel crappy about myself, which in tune instigates a huge change inside of me for the better. I’d have divorced her a long time ago if she wasn’t totally right most of the time. She’s been a vegetarian for longer than me, and she was responsible in opening my eyes to all of the things you don’t see when it comes to getting a hamburger. I’m not one to be easily manipulated, but when someone dangles the honest and raw truth in your face, it’s hard to contest it.
I mean, I knew that it was wrong; I could feel it deep down inside, but I kept shutting it up for fear I would have to…you know… do something about it (much like a lot of meat-eaters on the verge of changing). It was that lonely night at Culvers that changed me for good. I came to the obvious realization that I wasn’t being honest with myself, and needed to mature to the point of making difficult decisions for the greater good of living with some honor.
So I went home and committed ritual seppuku. Gutted myself like a fish and died, right then and there.
Now, I know that a lot of my readers are meat-eaters, and perhaps some of you are considering making the Big Switch. Here then, a starters guide to vegetarianism: How to start, why to start, what to eat and how to deal with your relatives.
1. You don’t need meat to live. This is the big thing people need to know. It seems foolish that anyone would actually think this, but sometimes it needs to be spelled out to remind you. Meat is a food group, yes, but it’s not vital. There is nothing in meat that you can’t get in other foods (or, at the very least, supplements). That being said, don’t obey the food groups. Anything institutionalized by the government in the 50’s and never updated cannot be what’s best for you.
Case in point; I’m doing just fine. I’ve been off of meat for almost 5 years, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I look and feel better, I’ve participated in distance running and greatly expanded the amount of healthy things I put into my body. When I ate meat, I was sluggish and needed caffeine to function (I’ve actually been away from caffeine longer than I’ve been away from meat). I got sick more and needed more sleep to feel rested. I had slight asthma problems and couldn’t breathe deeply. That’s all changed now, and it’s not because I’m a tremendously healthy eater.
Remember, this is just my own personal story and results, but it’s all true. Except for that ritual suicide thing.
2. Stop looking away.
Most meat-eaters don’t want to know how their food is prepared. They don’t want to know how it gets to their plate, pressed into a nice circle with fake grill-marks on the patty. They don’t want to know because they do know it’s a nasty process, and if they did know they’d have to do something about it. People are ignorant and lazy in general (we all are), and feel that if something is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Never mind the slaughterhouse kill-floors, never mind the holocaust-style feed lots, never mind the legal allowable amount of feces contained in the burger you’re eating. Hell, if you knew all that, you’d probably spoil your appetite.
Quick Tidbit: If you took all the farmland that was being used to simply house the cows we eat, we could grow enough vegetables and crops there to feed almost everyone on the damn planet. Imagine that. If you truly want Bono to shut up once and for all, stop eating beef.
Did you know that the burger you ate last night wasn’t just one cow? Nope, it was essentially scooped from a conglomerate vat of usable cow meat, and when you eat a burger at McDonalds, you could in theory be taking in the meat of over 50 cows. Trust me, not all of them were healthy and clean when they got killed in the rendering plant. In fact, I bet that a few of them were rather unpleasant looking.
Also, there are legal standards as to how much animal feces and rat hair can be contained in your food, and trust me, it’s not zero percent. I’m not trying to freak you out with scare tactics or anything, it’s just the truth. Believe me when I tell you that when you eat a hamburger from a fast-food chain, you’re taking in feces, among other things you wouldn’t even see on Fear Factor.
People tend to ignore things when they bother them or make them feel bad. It’s the same reason we turn the channel when a commercial comes on for the Christian Children’s Fund. It’s the same reason nobody watches the Jerry Lewis Telethon. As long as you stay uninformed about what you eat, you don’t have to question what your morals and ethics are, and everything stays normal for another day. Why change? It’s much easier to stay in the dark about it.
You’re probably getting agitated and annoyed with me right about now. Antsy. Squirmy. You probably want to stop reading. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s how I felt at Culvers. It sucks.
3. There’s plenty of food out there.
Oh, man. “What do you eat?” I get this all the time. My answer? “What don’t I eat?” Listen, meat is just a small percentage of what you should be putting into your body, so if you eat meat exclusively, you’ve got bigger problems than what I can help you with. Remember, I tried that diet and almost went belly-up at age 17.
For just about any meat product you can think of, there is a soy and veggie alternative that tastes really good. Trust me, I’m a notoriously picky eater, and I’d tell you if something tasted like crap. Companies like Boca, Gardenburger and Morningstar Farms make meatless equivalents of practically everything that’s in your freezer right now (depending on if you have human body parts in your freezer, which is entirely possible, I suppose). Here’s what’s been in mine over the years:
Gardenburger Chicken Patties
Morningstar Farms Breaded Chicken Breast
Morningstar Farms Sausage Patties
Boca Sausage Links
Boca Chicken Nuggets
Morningstar Farms Meatballs
Morningstar Farms Hot Dogs
Morningstar Farms Corn Dogs
Morningstar Farms Sloppy Joe Mix
Morningstar Farms Veggie Burgers
Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Veggie Burger
Morningstar Farms Tomato and Basil Pizza Veggie Burger
Morningstar Farms Fajita Burgers
Morningstar Farms Philly Cheese Steak Veggie Burger
Morningstar Farms Cheddar Burger
Morningstar Farms Mushroom Lovers Burger
Morningstar Farms Bacon
These are just 20 of the many meatless products you can use to transition into vegetarianism. I can assure you that all of these products taste quite good, look and smell just like the real deal. Only these are full of soy and proteins, they don’t harm animals and they contain all the healthy parts of real meat, without the bad stuff. They can be microwaved, grilled or put in the oven, used as a side or a main course. My freezer is chock-full of these things on any given day.
Quick Tidbit: Critics will tell you that veggie and soy substitutes are higher-priced than raw meats. In my shopping, I’ve noticed little to no change, seriously. Furthermore, if you could instantly improve your health and ethical mindset for pennies a day, wouldn’t you do it?
Also, Tofu sucks. Whoever started the smear campaign that said vegetarians only eat tofu and rice was an ass. I’ve had it on about a dozen occasions, and I’ve probably been impressed once. It’s all in the preparation and can pretty much taste like whatever you’re making it with, but don’t think you have to eat it to survive. Nope. Not even a little bit.
You don’t need to eat salads and green vegetables every day, either. Personally, I still don’t like green vegetables all that much. Obviously, with all these vegetarian substitutes, your diet doesn’t need to change very much at all. If you want a burger, you can eat a veggie burger. If you want tacos, you can use the shredded veggie hamburger as a base, and it tastes exactly the same. Same goes for ribs, chicken, sausage and bacon. Don’t be afraid to make the switch because you’re afraid you won’t have anything to eat; you can eat everything you’re eating now. In fact, your diet will expand to include things you never realized you enjoyed. Like beer.
4. What’s the best way to do it? What do I tell Mom?
If you finally want to get off the meat wagon and make the Big Switch, I would recommend doing it in stages, taking baby steps. For starters, rid yourself of the meats that you eat the least. For example, if you only eat fish once a month, drop that first. You won’t miss it too much, and you’ll still have other meat items to chow down on. After a couple weeks of that, drop another type of meat. Then another, until you’re done. While you’re doing this, continue to substitute what you’re getting rid of with their vegetarian equivalents. After a month or two of this, you’ll realize how easy it was, how smooth the transition was, how much you don’t miss real meat, and kick yourself for not doing it sooner.
That’s another thing. You won’t miss it. Really, you won’t. You think you will, but you won’t.
In recent years, I’ve seen celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Julia Stiles talk about falling off the vegetarian wagon and going back to meat, describing the transition as ‘orgasmic.’ Not only does this set a horrible example for those trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it also paints these people as weak, moral-less losers who only gave up meat because it was trendy in the 90’s. It’s not like you’re giving up meth or anything. You won’t be convulsing on the floor or begging people on the street for bacon, I swear it.
Honestly, the most annoying part about being a vegetarian is the conversations you have with ignorant people who should know better (which is sort of why I’m doing this post). Normally, I don’t bring this up unless I absolutely have to, and 8 times out of 10 I get some sort of crap for it. These people think they are clever to wave a steak in front of your face and ask you if you’re jealous, not knowing that they’re about the brazillionth damn person to do that to you. The trick is to keep your cool, answer their questions without exposing them for the shallow turd they are, and make them realize that not all vegetarians are pansy, bleeding-heart fools. Pity them, for meat has driven them mad and rendered them sterile.
(It should be noted that I’m in no way calling meat-eaters idiots. It’s when you start mocking non-meat-eaters when you start looking foolish. In fact, whenever you start mocking anything you don’t understand, you run the risk of exposing yourself as a fraud.)
5. Don’t preach.
Okay, so this entire post has been preaching. However, like I stated before, I don’t care if you switch or not, I’m just helping out those who want to switch.
If and when you decide to go vegetarian, don’t go around flaunting it over anyone’s head. They will resent you and take you off the Christmas card list, and you’ll deserve it. You don’t want to come off like an angry young man or woman at a pride parade, sporting a sign that says “We’re here, we’re meatless, get used to it!” because that will only turn people off to the cause and make them squirmy. Be classy about it, try to only bring it up when asked or when discussed in conversation. It’s not like you have to keep a secret or anything, just don’t be annoying.
Quick Tidbit: In my five years as a vegetarian, I’ve been able to find a decent meal at every restaurant I’ve eaten at, with the exception of one. This includes literally hundreds of eateries, including steakhouses. Darn near every burger joint on the planet offers a veggie burger substitute, and you can order just about everything to be cooked to your specifications (potato skins without bacon, pasta dishes minus chicken, etc.). When those around me choose where to eat, I never fret and neither should you; you’ll find something good.
In conclusion, I think this post has been a long time coming. If you’re already a vegetarian, I hope that this reaffirmed your cause. For those on the fence, I hope that this convinced you to make the dive. For those of you who continue to support the meat-eating lifestyle, good for you. Seriously. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s good for you, but make sure to always listen to your brain and heart before you listen to your stomach.
Questions? Concerns? Arguments? Anything I left out? Sound off in the comments section, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have something to say, say it; either in the comments section or via e-mail. Peace.