“Ewwwwwwwww! That’s disgusting! How can you eat that?” my friend M screams as I indulge in a foie-gras hotdog (yes, it exists). Surely, my face registers my puzzled amazement that anyone could think my meal of choice at the moment was disgusting? Seriously?! It was so fantastically good if short-lived. And thus, the oldest clash in eating crests again. Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with vegetarians; they have a problem with me.
As a meat eater, I am often peppered with questions like “do you know what they do to the animal to produce that?” or “have you ever seen a slaughterhouse?” The answer is no. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the animal. Eating meat is a personal choice, but one I take seriously. We actually don’t eat a lot of meat-centric meals, but when we do, we enjoy. However, we DO try and have a conscious as meateaters: we don’t waste meat at our house. We don’t believe in hunting without eating. However, as an animal lover, even with my choice firmly intact, I’ll admit to a quesiness on occasion. Monica Eng’s 2008 article about visiting slaughterhouses around the country best sums up even the most passionate meat eater’s unease about the process. Indeed today’s methods of animal slaughter are seen by many to be as bloodthirsty as the methods used in the 18th century when pigs were flogged with knotted ropes and chickens slit at their mouths and hung to bleed to death. Although modern practice isn’t quite so brutal, there are today many slaughtering practices that are difficult to watch. Remember how aghast we were that at Sarah Palin’s interview with turkey beheading serving as backdrop? I do not remember the interview as much as I remember that visual.
While only about 2% of US adults are ardent vegetarians and less than 1% are committed vegans, surely, images like the Sarah Palin interview galvanize the vegetarian food movement. Indeed it is stronger than ever with 20%-25% of Americans participating in a “modified vegetarian” diet (eating 4+ meatless meals a week), in part because of current social concerns like corporate farming and sustainable lifestyles. But it isn’t exactly a trendy or new food movement. In fact, throughout time numerous religions have supported vegetarianism. In early Egypt, the practice was consistent with the belief of incarnation and in more modern times, Buddists and Seventh Day Adventists have joined them. Throughout writings about and avocation of, vegetarianism, a theme of purity arises. Philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras even suggested that the slaughter of animals was brutal to the soul and thus a vegetarian society was essential to a peaceful human existence. The idea that eating vegetables is good for the body and the soul but also the soul as eating flesh is an intrinsically foul and hateful practice. A cleansing of the soul and the colon? How bad can it be?
Interestingly, that 20% of Americans who eat a modified vegetarian diet has capture the attention of big business corporate food biz. I find this ironic, but for many vegetarians, this might be good news. It may lead to accurate labeling of foods that do not contain meat or animal products. Vegetarian or not, that sounds like a good idea. And, I doubt that Martha Brotherton, wife of Joseph Brotherton (ardent vegetarian) and the author of the first published vegetarian cookbook (1886) could have foreseen the growth of vegetarianism, a quick search on Amazon turns up over 2700 hits for vegetarian cookbooks. So much for the idea that vegetarian eating is limited. But will vegetarians be able to stop hating meat-eaters? Will it always be a divisive dinner discussion?
Its doubtful that vegetarianism will decline in popularity. Might visuals like Sarah Palin’s interview serve as a symbol for a cultural tide turning of eco-eating? Or, despite corporate food, could vegetarianism become less of choice and more of a practical matter as in the Rennaissance when meat was scarce and a luxury only for the wealthy? And the biggest question of them all, will my vegetarian friends continue to treat me as a culinary outcast? Well, if they do, I guess I can be grateful that both marintis and wine can be imbibed with a clean conscious.