My last post about being green upset some people. Let’s see who I can offend now. . .
The summer after my sophomore year, I lived with a hippie who worked at a co-op grocery and strung bead jewellery. Kate also was a vegetarian or a vegan. She inspired me to become a vegetarian, but the change to my lifestyle was gradual.
During college, I worked for a hamburger chain. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself in the “real world”. I had an almost useless degree in the liberal arts. The logical answer, of course, would have been to go to grad school. At the time, I thought that I had "had enough of school”. So, I kept working for the hamburger chain, but as a manager. This was more self-destructive during a recession than being a waitress.
I found out that my cholesterol level was high, a result of a poor work-life balance. I sought to change what and how I ate. My first steps towards vegetarianism were for health reasons. I stopped eating red meat. But I worked for a hamburger chain, and I felt like a hypocrite.
Working for a hamburger chain also had made me think about meat and where it comes from. I started thinking about the sorts of conditions in which the animals that we eat are raised. And I thought about how humans also are animals. I stopped eating pork, chicken, and fish. I never felt like I was denying myself. I just lost interest in eating certain foods.
Then I moved to Chicago. And it was difficult for me to live in Chicago and not think of the slaughterhouses in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
For the first sad six months, I lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Since I was childless and in my early 20s, I hated the suburbs. I became friends with another vegetarian, Joe, who was a nice, funny guy. Joe took me into the city, to the flea markets, landmark buildings, and hipster restaurants. He taught me a lot about being a vegetarian. He probably introduced me to some influential vegetarian cookbooks—the Moosewood Cookbook and some others.
I quit working for the hamburger chain. However, this was largely because my new boss was an asshole. I moved into the city, and a few years later, I shifted to San Francisco, a vegetarian epicentre. Along the way, I came across Diet for a New America by John Robbins. (Robbins had an interview in Super Size Me.) Diet for a New America was published in 1987, so by that time, it had been around for a decade. But it still was influential. (Diet for a New America is the precursor to Fast Food Nation and to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma.)
I like being able to name the ingredients in what we eat. We eat very few processed foods. Instead, we make our own food out of whole ingredients. In part, this is because Five is allergic to everything, including dairy and eggs. (It does take a bit longer to make our own food.)
Food culture is different in New Zealand. Organic fruits and vegetables are much more mainstream. And we don’t allow genetically modified (GM) foods. Cows and sheep are not factory farmed. Our cows and sheep are in pasture outside all year.
For over a decade, I was a vegetarian. Now that I live in New Zealand, I eat meat again. I don't eat a lot of meat, mind you. And one day I may stop eating meat again. But for now, as part of the privilege of living in a remote country with a small population, I can eat meat without too much guilt and enjoy it.