Monday, August 22, 2011

Vegetarian thoughts

I make multiple trips past these freezer doors nearly every day. Door after door after door, filled with frozen fish this and grilled chicken that, pork tenderloin this and bacon crumble that, salmon patties and breaded chicken, meatballs, tempura shrimp and steak fajitas. Meat is such an integral part of our culture - and the extensive food industry - that we require a separate vegetarian section just to single out a few dinner items as being meatless.

I'm a vegetarian. Not the Monday through Friday kind, or the kind that eats only fish, or the kind that is selective about where they purchase their meats, but the kind who doesn't eat any meat, period. I'm not always aware of this, but somedays, when I walk past these meat advertisements, it feels strange to me. I've been a vegetarian for only nine months now, but I don't crave this stuff. The only time I really miss eating meat is when Ricardo makes his famous carne asada or shrimp ceviche.

Some people ask me why I'm a vegetarian, and I usually give a general reply, like "multiple factors: mainly ethical, environmental, and public health," indicating I have no problem going into the particulars, but only if they really want to know. I've found that many meat eaters don't want to know the nitty gritty details of the factoring farming industry, and I respect that, because I'm certainly not going to force anyone to listen. It's something you need to want to know; but beyond that, it's something you have to be prepared to make a decision about.

Knowledge can be power, but also a burden of responsibility. I feel shy to share about being a vegetarian. I'm not ashamed, I just feel that it makes people uncomfortable, like I'm going to try to "convert" them or like I'm judging them for eating meat. My intern supervisor used to say to us, "You can't un-know what you know," and it's so true. I guess you can sweep facts under the carpet, but that's not the same as un-knowing something. It's merely a refusal to face reality.

Being a vegetarian is sometimes a daily exercise of staying true to my convictions, while showing consideration toward the preferences of others. Of not being too rigid, keeping perspective on what's most important. Ricardo and I are learning how to cook meals together that are interchangeably vegetarian and non-vegetarian. He respects my decision and supports it, and I in return don't expect him to ever follow suit. When people cook for me and didn't know to use veggie broth instead of chicken broth, I eat it appreciatively. For me, the conviction is good only as far as it doesn't devalue my relationships with people. It's something that is continually held in checks and balances, most of the time not requiring too much compromise.

For me, being vegetarian is more about expressing my respect for the value of life in a way that is broader in scope than I've yet lived. It's teaching me something more about living life with gratitude, of realizing the far-reaching implications of decisions as simple and basic as what I eat, of doing life respectfully and graciously with people like me who hold to their own convictions, as varied as the number of people on the planet.

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