Thursday, March 29, 2007

On becoming a veggiebuffalowingatarian

This is going to make me sound like a loony, but at the start of the year I had a really intense nightmare that seemed to have a very clear message: stop eating meat. In reality, I think it had much more to do with the giant beers and platefuls of buffalo wings I had before going to bed than any sort of cosmic communication from the universe. My body was whimpering "must... have... leafy greens," and I decided to listen -- I swore off meat the very next day.

At first my reasoning for not eating meat was shaky to say the least... I had a dream that told me eating meat was wrong? Okay, crazy lady. Since I have all the willpower of a wet noodle, I needed a better reason than that if I was going to stick with vegetarianism. I did really well the first week or so -- no desire for meat whatsoever. But then I started to feel like my options were kind of limited... maybe quitting meat cold tofurkey wasn't for me. I decided I would start eating fish again, since fish are not particularly cute and in fact, I've always thought they were a little creepy. I realize that "high creep factor" is a terrible justification for eating something, so I came up with other reasons, too: fish is much lower in saturated and trans fat than other meats, plus we're always hearing about the benefits of omega-3 acids.

But one day as I sat staring longingly at the tantalizing orange-ginger chicken my boyfriend had ordered from a local Chinese place, I remembered that chicken? It's delicious. And I love it. I began to panic a little as I realized how difficult it was going to be to keep up a meat-free diet. This radical life-change stuff couldn't be done on a whim.

Over the last several months, I've become much more aware of my relationship to the environment, thanks to some general waking-up I've done on my own and a lot of inspiration from Sara. And as I considered my personal impact on the environment more and more, I couldn't help but begin to apply that same critical thinking to other facets of my daily life. Like, where did my food come from? I had always disassociated the end product on my plate with the journey it took to get there. I started to think long and hard about the implications of being a carnivore. I did a little internet research, and after seeing some pretty disturbing stuff on PETA's web site and reading Sara's post about the effect of unsustainable agriculture on the environment, I had some compelling reasons to go veg.

But anyone who was raised on a meaty diet knows that deciding to be veggie is a huge deal -- and you're confronted with it three square times a day. Even though lots of animal rights organizations and environmental groups urge vegetarianism, and it's a highly commendable lifestyle, I know it's not for everyone. And it's not entirely for me.

Factory farming seriously gives me the willies for what it does to the animals, the environment and our health -- but there are alternatives. Lots of farmers, grocery stores and restaurants employ methods that respect animals and the environment. is a great resource for learning what exactly sustainable food is, why it's important and perhaps most helpful of all, where to buy it. This handy feature allows you to enter your zip code and find all the places near you offering earth-friendly foods.

Obviously my "no meat" policy has undergone several revisions in the last couple months, but I think I've finally settled on something I can feel good about. My plan is to only eat meat that is sustainably produced. Sustainable meat isn't available everywhere you go -- you kind of have to seek it out. That works really well for me, actually, in that my meat intake is already being limited just due to availability. It's great in terms of health (I have a med-student friend who completely stopped eating red meat after dissecting a couple cadavers and seeing what it does to the body... umm, ew) and it also means that my contribution to greenhouse gases from unsustainable agriculture is seriously reduced, too. AND, when I do get to eat meat (yay!) I don't have to feel guilty because the entire process has been as kind to the animal and the planet as possible. Plus, it makes me more creative when preparing non-meat meals. I've discovered all kinds of delightful foods I've never had the motivation to try before. I've included some recommendations and tips below:

-- Trader Joe's has tons of organic, meat-free and animal-friendly foods -- and they're cheap! I'm totally obsessed with their veggie buffalo wings, as you can probably tell from the picture above.

-- The Audubon Society has prepared this pocket guide to knowing which types of fish are most eco-friendly.

-- There are some great imitation ground beef products out there -- I like Smart Ground. It tastes fantastic and is a great meat substitute in tacos, enchiladas, shepherd's pie, and pretty much anything you'd normally put ground beef in.

-- Go out for Indian food. Most of India is vegetarian, so Indian food restaurants have tons and tons of veggie options. The flavors are mind-blowing, and you'll experience mouth-watering dishes you'd never dreamed of.

-- I'm going to say with 99.9% certainty that if a restaurant/grocery store/etc. doesn't explicitly state that their meat is organic, free-range or in any way sustainably raised, you can bet that it's not eco-friendly. Establishments that sell sustainable food are proud of that fact, and they'll definitely tell you about it up front.


aaron Case said...

Way to go Becky. I've been various levels of vegan/vegetarian for half a dozen years now and I think I found something that works for me. I like to think of it as sustainable eating. I now eat some cheese, occasional eggs and occasionally eat mollusks and crustaceans when I go out to eat (nothing with a spine). These changes are nice because I don't worry if baked goods have milk and eggs like when I was vegan and there's the side effect of other people not thinking it's crazy, which I think is important, because if everyone ate sustainably (as it sounds you are doing) we wouldn't need factory farms, just regular size ones.

molly said...

Yes! I just took the ecological footprint quiz and found that we would need three planet earths if everyone lived like me. Check it out:

A BIG part of that footprint is eating meat. I'm also trying to cut down to twice a week: Meat once and fish once.