“Let the boy eat a burger.”
“He’s too skinny.”
“Guess we know who runs your house.”
So goes the conversation at barbecues and the restaurant where we worked.
Yes, I’m a guy. I’m married, I’m vegetarian—and no, my wife didn’t make me stop eating meat.
But I tell them I don’t want a hot dog or I’ve never had the pork burrito that seems to be the overriding consensus.
Apparently the “macho male” and “controlling wife” stereotypes are alive and well.
It was offensive—not just on the level that my sweet wife could be heinous enough to manipulate my diet to meld with her tree-hugger ways, but that I was too dim or it was somehow too unlikely to have come to some morally agreeable conclusion on my own.
My decision was not the result of some marionette controlling life partner, grabbing lettuce instead of ground beef. A choice made with the help of Michael Pollan and New Zealand. I read Michael Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” while working on a dairy farm on New Zealand’s north island. As I worked, I contrasted all that Pollan wrote about factory farms with the rolling green hobbit hills backdrop that the dairy cows enjoyed.
I don’t know if those dairy cows were happy, but it seemed like they were.
Meanwhile, I was shocked to learn about the massive corn surplus that was shoved down cow’s throats in factory farms and the level of petroleum needed to make a cheeseburger. The antibiotics and corn fed meat wasn’t just killing me, it was killing the planet too. The moniker, “meat is good,” seemed a weak justification for plowing through a cheap steak every night if the cost was an unhealthy animal and planet.
Back home I trolled the internet for animal well fare statistics, human health figures, personal testimonies, and stared at the protein figures for chic peas and peanut butter. I decided I wanted to know where my food was coming from and how it was treated. No small task when you live in Alaska.
The simple answer was stop eating meat.
But I didn’t want to go that far. I came up with a set of requirements that meat had to meet before it went in my body. I’d eat wild caught fish and game. And I would buy meat in store if I was confident in the distributors ethical and environmental practices. These two requirements pushed the meat locker at Rainbow Foods well out of my price range. So I settled with taking my fly rod to the rivers when I could, and trading beer for halibut whenever possible.
I guess I’m not entirely vegetarian—Alaskatarian would be more accurate.
I replaced ground beef with quinoa burgers and dabbled with the soy based Smart Ground in my organic, cage free, omelettes. I thought I’d feel lethargic, tired, or hungry but never did. I had more energy. More bounce in my step. I experimented with veganism for awhile and discovered that my energy levels crashed after about three days sans egg or cheese, though I’d consider trying again with some B-12 supplements.
I’m not against eating meat. One of the highlights of my summer was going to a potluck and finding a plate of deer venison on the table. But looking at a plate of meat now, my first thought is, “where did this come from?”
My wife, meanwhile, has gone fully vegan, which means the fish in the freezer is all for me. We’ve arrived at similar dietary preferences for very different reasons. If she can’t kill it, she doesn’t feel like she can eat it. And after waking up racked with guilt last fall after clubbing a salmon, it’s probably the right choice for her.
While I feel a pang of regret every time I catch a fish, I appreciate the meat on my plate more than I ever did before.
It’s a story that falls on a lot of deaf ears as the stereotype perpetuated by modern America plays in people’s minds. And of course it’s difficult to explain the whole process in 30 seconds to an eye-rolling acquaintance or sneering customer when all they see is this poor, whipped, malnourished boy in front of them.
So I smile and take a big bite of salad, wondering how I ever learned to treasure chick peas as much as I do, “actually,” I answer, “it’s the best I’ve ever felt.”
Bonus Video: Waylon Lewis interviews Michael Pollen
Author: David Cannamore
Editor: Renée Picard