Giving Up the Greens

If you had been a devout vegetarian (or even a pescatarian, or a vegan) for the past decade of your life, what would be the first meat you'd want after deciding to revert back to your carnivorous ways?

That's the question currently being pondered by my significant other, who's decided to return to the meat he abandoned years ago. Surely, dealing with all of the random, deliciously meaty food I eat -- and bring home -- on a daily basis has led him in part to this decision. But the largest factor in his decision was personal: Why am I still boycotting meat? Why meat and not fish? Why meat and not eggs or cheese or dairy products?

These are questions that anyone with a voluntarily restricted diet must ask themselves from time to time (the operative word in this sentence being "voluntarily" -- we're not talking about religious or health reasons). An article earlier this week on Salon.com focused on the personal journey that one longtime vegetarian took when living with a highly omnivorous family in Senegal for four months.

In "Africa Brought Out the Meat-Eater in Me," writer Ryan Brown discusses the powerful moment in which she realized that her vegetarian foundations were being shaken.

For the 10 years prior to my touching down in West Africa, I hadn't eaten any meat. It was a choice rooted in my 11-year-old self's proud sense of morality and justice. At the time, it felt like the most serious and autonomous choice I had ever made, the first thing in my life I can remember really taking control of. I kept it around throughout my teenage years out of a combination of belief and habit. It always seemed like a straightforward -- albeit incomplete -- way to demonstrate that I cared about where my food came from. And what the hell, I just got used to doing it.

But here's the problem with believing in something unconditionally: It gets in your head, it rattles around a bit, and often, if you're not careful, it starts to come loose. By the time I was 20, I had reached a point where I wasn't completely sure why I was vegetarian anymore. The morality behind the original choice felt distant, and I realized there was another ethic of eating that I was ignoring, one that said, "When people open their house and table and prepare food for you, you eat it. No quibbles." How many times as a vegetarian, I thought, had I refused the food that was offered to me, out of generosity and hospitality, because I didn't eat meat? I was suddenly and powerfully ashamed of this fact.

After reading this article, my significant other told me he'd made up his mind after what's been many months of deliberation. I can't tell you exactly why he's decided to eat meat again; he can't fully explain it himself. But chalk it up to -- at least partially -- a recognition that things have changed in America.

No longer does enjoying a hamburger mean that you're supporting a meat industry which abuses and inhumanely slaughters cows before running them through a filthy factory and trucking the meat across miles of middle America before it arrives at your burger joint. You, as a consumer, have the opportunity to purchase organic beef, humanely-raised beef, grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, beef without hormones in it, any kind of beef you can think of. You can even buy beef from -- virtually -- our own backyard.

The same goes for chicken, for pork, for any number of meats that vegetarians may have previously shunned for mistreating animals. Animals -- at least to my mind -- are ultimately meant to be eaten, but that doesn't mean they should be treated like garbage until we do so. That would only mean we're ingesting the same poor-quality food and treatment we've given the poor beasts before they were slaughtered. It's easier now than it has been in a long time to eat meat without a guilty conscience.

So what meat, then, do you indulge in first after a decade of going without? Eric has tentatively decided on a charcuterie plate for his first meat meal in 10 years. But what would you seek out first? A burger? A steak? A bacon explosion? Let's hear it, readers.

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