Thursday, November 27, 2008
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME
Eleven years ago today (ok, maybe not on this date, but you get the point) I gave up eating meat. It was supposed to be a one-day thing, but here I am more than a decade later with no regrets.
I had turned 18 years old a few weeks prior and was the furthest thing any living (or dead) person could have been from a vegetarian. I absolutely despised vegetables and fruit. I ate hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken taquitos all the time and was so far removed from any semblance of healthy eating that I didn't put lettuce or tomatoes on my burgers -- just bun, ketchup and meat.
I don't remember how or why I decided to give up turkey, but I vividly recall the word "protest" being a major force behind my decision. This was very similar to why I never drank or did drugs in high school; if everyone else was doing it, I wanted to be as far away as humanly possible. This motif continues today.
As long as I can remember, animals have always had a soft spot in my heart and the thought of thousands -- if not millions -- of turkeys being slaughtered just for selfish reasons was enough to turn me to the dark side. In fact, one of my earliest memories is going to the LA County Fair in kindergarten. My parents took me out of school (which turned out to be the ONLY time they ever did that) and I had what I remember was a bonding experience with a horse. Before you get your mind in the gutter, I'll explain...My memory of this day is nill except for how much I loved petting the horse's head and talking to it. My parents probably thought I was strange, but you know what? They still do. Anyway, leaving the horse made me very sad. I don't know why, but I felt some sort of connection with the beast, all cramped up with no movement for anything other than his or her head. Somewhere there's a shrink analyzing that thought, but I don't care to do such a thing.
I got to my aunt's cramped Torrance apartment (I have a large family) and shoved everything on my plate except turkey. This meant taking more potatoes and stuffing than normal, but I was fine by that. As far as I could tell, no one noticed and my turkey-free Thanksgiving went off without a hitch.
I woke up the next morning and had challenged myself to see how long I could keep up the no-meat diet. Trust me, it wasn't easy. My family is not veggie-friendly and I had no idea what I was doing. The first month or two was filled with more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and grilled cheese than I'd ever consumed before. When mom microwaved a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, I did my best not to eat the chicken, but I enjoyed the noodles and broth. Like I said, I was lost.
I don't have an exact date, but roughly two weeks into my vegetarianism was the last time I purposely ate meat (there have been a few times when someone swore there wasn't meat in something and there was, but I don't count those as I unknowingly ate flesh and threw away the food once I realized that). Mom threw some chicken taquitos in the oven and I put a few on my plate. As I was doing so, I told myself it was ok because the vegetarian experiment was over. "I'm not a vegetarian," I said to no one but me. I thought of my friends giving me shit for it and how, until then, I never told anyone I was a vegetarian because a few days of something is not long enough to start labeling yourself.
Like always, dinner was served in my bedroom. I took one bite and the taste was fine. Then the food hit my stomach and I knew something was wrong. I didn't vomit or have crazy poop, but the best I can describe this moment would be like this: Imagine a balloon expanding in your gut and not stopping. I felt like my belly was about to explode and there was nothing I could do about it. I writhed in pain, tossing and turning on my bedroom floor. This lasted a couple of minutes. Once the pain subsided, I put the extra taquitos back on the tray for someone else to eat.
It's been a pretty fucking awesome ride ever since.
Instantly I dropped 10 pounds. My diet was not what anyone would call healthy, but I was trying. I started buying veggie burgers and they tasted like shit. Just a big onion, which was definitely not what I wanted. But I kept at it. Veggie dogs? Yuck. More shit taste. But I kept at it.
I hate to be a sappy boyfriend, but it wasn't until a year later, when I met my girlfriend, when I was exposed to proper vegetarianism. She was a veggie too, which was a huge reason why we hit it off. I've heard of lots of couples in which one person converts for the other. That's noble, but ours was different. She knew way more about the subject than I did and started cooking me food that I'd never heard of and taking me to the now defunt Papa Jon's on Second Street in Long Beach. Oh how I miss you and your mush and tofu balls, Papa Jon's...
Our first visit, she ordered stir fry broccoli tofu. I looked at the menu and the dreadlocked hippy waiters and wondered where the hell I was. On paper, the food looked very unflattering and I went with an old standard -- a plate of black beans. Her dish came out and I was glad I didn't order it. Too much green for the young me. My beans were bland and dry and I pushed them around the plate more than I ate them. A while later, she cooked me falafel, something I'd never heard of. She promised I'd love it -- and hummus -- but she was wrong. I couldn't finish it and she made no bones about how this upset her. But she had the last laugh as I would inject falafel and hummus into my veins if I could. Her, on the other hand, she's over both of them. More for me!
I won't bore anyone with the details, but once I discovered fruits and veggies, there was no turning back. Tofu was and still is an awesome thing and my palette and awareness began cutting out more animal-based foods. Unfortunately, I don't have a vegan anniversary date, but my best estimate is about five years.
Like I said earlier, I gave myself a one-day challenge and upped the ante to see how long I could keep this up. Once I had a few months distance between me and meat, I was still telling people how one of these days I'd eat flesh again. Eleven years later, I say the same thing about dairy. But you know something? I can honestly say I'll never be a carnivore again, and if history tells me anything, I probably won't go back to milk, cheese and milk chocolate either. Not only is it the right thing to do on a compassion level, my body is much happier without all that shit in it. And if they could talk, I'd bet the animals are in favor of my decision as well.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not the type to preach my beliefs. No one forced vegetarianism or veganism on me and I don't wish to do the same. Now, when people ask, I give them honest, blunt answers. But it's not for me to tell others what to do. I came to this on my own and I believe people who make choices for themselves have a greater shot of sticking with things for the long haul. Veganism is right for me. On so many levels, I'd say it's right for you, the Jim Hall Sleeps All Day reader, but that's just my opinion. It's up to you to decide what you put in your body and why you do so.
Just yesterday a college student told me the thought of eating Tofurkey disgusted her. I told her she could think whatever she wanted, but I explained how there is no way she was more grossed out by fake turkey than I am when I think of the blood, guts and flesh of a formerly living creature entering my mouth. No thanks.
I still get crazy looks for non-believers and I don't care. Diets are not pissing matches, but I can always walk away knowing I'm doing what's right for me and for the greater good of humanity. I'm amazed at how many so-called religious people condemn me for my hedonistic ways (and trust me, there are plenty of them), but they still can't comprehend how they are contributing to torture and murder by eating meat. Again, I get the last laugh because religious nuts are destined to live a miserable life anyway.
And now it comes full circle. I am in the (incredibly slow) process of moving to Portland, Oregon, where veganism has taken over. As a vegan, I never thought I'd move somewhere because of food. That just wasn't possible until I went north. I'm not saying that's the only reason I want to live in the PDX, but it's a pretty big part of it. Even greater is knowing that I'm surrounding myself with like-minded people who don't think I'm weird for caring about fuzzy little creatures who can't speak up for themselves. Well don't worry my animal friends -- I'm here for you and I'm not the only one. I don't think we'll win this battle (or the war) but we can't go down without a fight.
Geez...this is one of my longest posts ever and I didn't even get into the raping and pillaging of Native Americans. I'll save that for next year.