The World’s Worst Vegetarian

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Written some years back, here is a a little something from greenlimbs co-founder, Lauren Leonard. Now on the wagon and fully committed to a plant-based diet, the struggle makes her chuckle. 

I am the world’s worst vegetarian.   I fall off the meat wagon so often my knees are scraped and my head is concussed.  I’ve seen all the slaughterhouse videos, read all the books, and understand the moral and environmental ramifications of being a carnivore, and yet, I can’t commit to quitting.

Pride does not let me slip up in front of friends and loved ones, but like everyone with a secret, I find a way to indulge.  When cooking for others I sneak bits of meat while keeping watch in the microwave’s reflective front.  I volunteer to clean the grill in the hopes that a piece of succulent steak still clings to the griddles.  I eat bologna rolls in the light of the refrigerator in the wee hours of the morning.

When I revealed my shameful binges to my most non-judgmental confidante, it was suggested that perhaps the binges are not a lack of fortitude, but my body’s way saying it’s deprived of something.  But blood tests reveal my levels (iron, etc.) to be better or more regulated AV (After Vegetarian) than BV (Before Vegetarian).  What’s more, I have a surplus of energy, sleep better, and seem more focused AV.  So if it’s not actually a physical need why am I still craving carcass?  Because like most Americans, I have been conditioned to eat meat.

Growing up in 1980’s America, meat was not a luxury like in generations before, but the centerpiece to every meal, especially holiday and traditional meals. In many cases, it is the meat that makes the tradition and that’s precisely why it’s been so hard for me to quit.

Eating meat is no longer about fulfilling a physical need, but satisfying an emotional one.  And it’s not just about Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham, but any function where family and friends gather around the table (or TV) to tell stories and make memories. Take for instance, the small, but mighty force that is the chicken wing.

Mysterious and messy, chicken wings hardly constitute a meal and yet the very smell of them sends me into a frenzy.  The reason their pull is so strong has less to do with sustenance and more to do with experience: chicken wings feature prominently in the American idea of a good time.

Chicken wings are synonymous with group fun.  They’re a staple of tailgates, parties, bars, and restaurants.  I fondly remember celebrating after high school football games at a pizza shop where the smell of wings would mix with that of victory (or defeat) and hormones.  I chuckle when I recall my youngest brother sitting at my parent’s dining room table dabbing sweat from his brow while eating wings so hot he risked blowing a hole in his pants during digestion.  If I listen hard enough, I can hear the familiar squeak of a Styrofoam tab being slid back to reveal a heaping pile of wet, orange deliciousness to be shared by gossiping girlfriends.

To me, chicken wings are so much more than flesh and bone, but to eat them is a blatant violation of all the reasons I became a vegetarian: they’re lacking in nutrition, not likely to come from an organic, ethical farm, and are heavily processed and packaged.  My head understands this clearly and is staunchly anti-wing, but my heart, well my heart yearns for them the way a teen vampire lusts for the coursing blood and steady pulse of a high school girl.

I think of the committed vegetarians (and vegans) I know and wonder how they remain steadfastly committed to their values in a room full of carnivores cheering for the home team or celebrating the annihilation of an indigenous people around a golden, steaming bird.  Maybe there is something they know that I don’t. Maybe I’m not capable of enlightenment.  Or maybe, they too fall off the wagon and satisfy a late night craving with a well-hidden stash of beef jerky.

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