People are funny. We tend to label each other with overly-simplified titles in order to categorize the ways that we think about each other.
"He's a teacher."
"He's a runner."
"He's a vegetarian."
But when it comes to actually getting to know a person, these titles become much less valuable. Each of us are much more complicated than these generalizations would suggest. In fact, these labels can often be misleading to the point of being destructive to our relationships with each other. And maybe even to our relationships with what we consume.
I grew up in a typical Midwestern family. Meat was always on the dinner table. Beef. Chicken. Pork. Turkey. Sometimes fish was thrown in when we were being exotic. We had vegetables too, but they were always a side dish.
I never really considered myself an "omnivore" or "carnivore" or any kind of "vore." I was just doing what everyone around me was doing.
I knew about vegetarians, but didn't know many personally. They seemed weird and extreme, like they were practicing some kind of strange religion. They always seemed to be on the other side of a philosophical debate, way outside the mainstream. They talked about animal rights. They claimed they were being healthier. But their all-or-nothing approach always seemed uninviting to me.
Over the years, I got to know more vegetarians and I started to get it. I would watch movies like Food, Inc. and King Corn. I learned more about factory farming and all the unhealthy ways animals are being raised in order to get cheap meat on our plates. Eating a diet without all that meat started to sound healthier.
I learned that meat production has a huge environmental footprint, and that beef alone has a much greater impact on the planet than any other food. Maybe those weirdos were onto something.
But man, avoiding meat altogether? To completely give up the diet I've known and loved for so many years? What an extreme move that would be. It seemed like the kind of thing that totally redefines who you are as a person. Forget about it.
Then I heard about a growing movement called Meatless Monday. Its history dates back to World War I as a form of voluntary rationing, but it was gaining momentum recently for health and environmental reasons. Some well-known vegetarians like Paul McCartney and Moby were supporting it. It made sense. For just one day a week you can try being a vegetarian. No big commitments. Just one measly day a week. A person could go that long without eating any food at all if they had to.
So I gave it a shot. My girlfriend was on board and helped encourage me. Changing behavior is always easier when those around you are doing the same.
At first it was a lot of grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches. But I also learned to enjoy more veggies and I started buying less meat in the store. We found new recipes, we explored, we and came up with some excellent meals.
For over two years now, my Mondays have been free of meat. And something funny happened along the way. I no longer feel the need to eat meat on the other days of the week. I used to crave meat in order to feel full, but I no longer have that feeling. It's incredibly liberating. Like breaking an addiction. I still enjoy meat a few days a week, but it's more of a conscious relationship. I know that plants are better for me. Not to mention cheaper. And when I do eat meat, I know to look for healthier and more humane options. What first felt like a sacrifice now feels like a win-win.
If you must give it a label, may I suggest "enlightened eater." You don't have to have all the answers to be an enlightened eater. You just have to be open to learning about where your food comes from and willing to make meaningful changes in your diet.
Join the Movement
Here at FearLess, we discussed adding a Meatless Monday feature to the blog. After all, there's strength in numbers. The more of us that cut down on meat, the healthier we'll all be and the more positive impact we'll have on our food systems.
Starting now, we'll post meatless recipes on Mondays. And the best part is that the recipes will come from you, our awesome readers! If you have a favorite vegetarian recipe, simply email it to Ana (ana at fearlesscottage.com). Please include a nice photo of your dish and a brief statement about why you love it.
We look forward to eating with you!
By Jeff Oeth