I am a Texan. Cows and chickens and pigs meant about the same thing to me as a ribeye steak, sausage biscuit, hamburger, or chicken tender. I knew the food I ate came from animals. That’s all I needed to know. Meat (and potatoes) is the staple for every meal, even breakfast. Meat was a part of the norm of everyday life.
It wasn’t until I left Texas that I realized I had a name. I was a “meat-eater.”
I first became conscious of my own identity as a meat-eater in graduate school, when I was the outsider, the “meat-eater.” Most of my friends were vegetarians or vegans (a term I learned for the first time).
I was intrigued by these non-meat-eating people. Why would someone choose not to eat meat?
I soon learned that they did so for a variety of reasons: some moral, some environmental, some out of concern for the animals (And I thought I was the Christian!), some for health reasons. Other chose to not eat meat because they could. They pointed out that in America, there is opportunity and means to live this way. They were quick to point out that not everyone in the world could choose to go without meat.
They didn’t seek to change my meat-eating habits; I didn’t seek to change their meat-free habits.
But, when I went out to eat with them, I watched what they ate. Lentils and hummus and edamame—foods I had never heard of. I asked endless questions about what foods they ate and what their favorite foods were. I even collected their favorite vegetarian recipes. When I had a party at my house, I provided both meat and meat-free options.
Soon, I began to try small bites off their plates. I tried food I had never tried before, food I had never even heard of one year prior. I tasted flavors I had never experienced.
I began to order vegetarian entrees on occasion.
I even liked to eat a few meals here and there without meat. I tried cooking a few vegetarian entrees (like a lasagna or a soup), but my husband was very, very resistant to the idea, so I only ate this way with my graduate school friends.
Then I moved back to Texas. Back to the Land of the Cow, and the Home of the Steak. Back to big stomachs and meat, and lots and lots and lots of it. Back to where “vegetable” equals “potato.”
I began to notice something. I had changed. My relationship to food and with food had changed. I no longer looked at food the same way. I no longer thought of animals the same way. Instead of lingering at the meat counter, I often found myself lingering in the produce section, examining fruits or vegetables I had never cooked before, like artichokes, beets, butternut squash, and parsnips. I began to buy organic foods on occasion. I even shopped at a different grocery store, the one that sold nuts, grains, and beans in bulk bins.
I was different.
Some viewed me as crazy. Others looked at me oddly. Others didn’t care. I was called a “hippie,” a “granola,” and a “liberal.” I was different from most Texans (except my colleagues at Baylor and other academics around the state, but most of these aren’t from Texas anyway). My environmentally-friendly, health-conscious lifestyle labeled me.
I was OK with that.
Now, I often eat vegetarian meals when I am by myself—at conferences, at work, at restaurants in Waco. But not all the time. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with eating meat (many vegetarians and vegans do); I just choose to eat vegetarian on occasion. Doing so has made me more conscious, more aware of the world around me.
Now, instead of just plowing into the food, I thank God, genuinely, for the animal who sacrificed his life so that I could eat him.
I linger over food, over the meat and vegetables. I savor my bites. I eat more slowly.
I think about how the food was processed and the workers who spent time prepping the animal and the meat so that I could eat it “without getting my hands dirty.”
I talk with my children about where meat and vegetables and cheese and milk come from. I encourage them to try exotic foods.
Even though I have a different relationship with food, I did not become a vegetarian. Living in Texas, being married to a man who loves his meat, having young children, eating at our weekly church potlucks, and living in a small rural town is not conducive to living a meat-free lifestyle. In fact, I can’t think of one single restaurant in my town that serves a vegetarian entrée. Sure, some of them serve salads, but the entrée salads all have meat (grilled chicken, shrimp, or fajita beef). Even the single-portion salads often have bacon bits. Mexican restaurants serve cheese enchiladas, but that is not my idea of a healthy, fulfilling meal.
It is difficult to eat vegetarian in a rural Texas town.
If I lived in a bigger city in Texas, I would have more access. But, I would still be married to my meat-loving husband. And I would still eat meat. In fact, other than a few Meatless Mondays here and there with my family, I have never gone longer than two meals without meat. Seriously. I eat meat at least once a day. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I still like meat and want to eat it on occasion.
So, I have decided to challenge myself. I have decided to participate in a week-long experiment: to see if I could go meat-free for one full week.
I am in Michigan this week, away from my family and eating in a cafeteria for almost every meal. I have seen signs that there are vegetarian and vegan options at various campus cafeterias, so I have decided that this week is a good one to do it. I will attempt to take pictures and blog about my experiences each day this week (depending on how much time I have; If not, I’ll do it when I get back.).
I hope you’ll join me on my journey.