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To meat or not to meat.

That, apparently, is a hot button issue.

I brought it up yesterday on Facebook and Twitter (rather apolitically, I might add).

That was it. What followed, particularly in the thread of comments on Facebook, could have, with less civil participants, been yet another battle in what what one friend termed, the “Paganinvore War”.

Thankfully, it was not.

People get really heated over the question of whether or not to eat meat. It’s charged. It brings up a whole host of topics that I hadn’t considered when I updated my status (i.e. privilege, cultural traditions, cruelty, sustainability, etc). My accidental slip into vegetarianism, a way of eating that I took on for nearly 6 years at one point in my life, happened just before falling to sleep…. on the eve of World Vegetarian Day, no less.

“I probably shouldn’t eat meat,” I said to my husband, a vegetarian for over 20 years.

That was it. I’d eaten a lamp gyro earlier in the day, and then I thought about lambs, and then it didn’t feel right to eat lamb gyros.

Simple as that.

I think it’s important to note that my husband has lived in many different financial situations during his life as a vegetarian. I wouldn’t normally think to include something like that here, but I read a number of arguments in support of meat eating that seemed to paint all vegetarians as rich, privileged Westerners. My husband lived off of lentils and brown rice for a good stretch of time. He could have spent that money on cheap meat, but he chose not to.

And ugh…. This is where it seems to get complicated. I’m doing what I read others do on my thread, and what I think might be a behavior that makes it so difficult to talk about food choices. I’m getting defensive. I’m justifying my husband’s choices. I’m making my case.

I’m a big believer in making the choices you can or want (depending on your situation) to make. I’ve been eating meat for a good while, in part because I’ve thought it made me feel better, physically, and also because I just enjoy the taste of meat. But I’ve also made the choice not to think about what I was eating from time to time, or where that food had originated. In a way, I think it’s been necessary for me to do so in order to feel ok with some of my choices.

I don’t think that willful denial is really a responsible way to live.

People should eat how they want to eat, and in certain cases we eat what we can eat. (I mean, I was a big consumer of potted meat on white bread sandwiches when I was a little kid. That stuff was cheap and delicious.) But we also need to be honest about where our food comes from. All of us. That means the vegetarians who live on nothing but beans and rice, as well as the vegetarians who eat nothing but high priced meat substitutes. Same goes for the meat eaters. Those who eat the meat from Wendy’s need to have a sense of where their food comes from, as does the guy paying a truckload of money for that cut of organic, grass-fed cow.

I have to assume that, having not developed a relationship with a farmer/rancher which enabled me to source where my food was coming from, I have been complicit in an industry that I would consider (if I had the opportunity to observe it from a close distance) inhumane. If I’m going to eat meat that comes from that industry, I think I need to own up to that fact.

What I don’t want to become, however, is someone who shames other people into taking on the same way of thinking. If I reach the conclusion that I’m going to refrain from eating meat I have to make that decision for myself. I can’t hold it over someone else. And if I decide to keep eating meat I need to own that decision as well. Shame can come from either direction, and I’d rather not become someone who cultivates a practice of shaming others for their choices.

Be the change, right?

(Gandhi was a vegetarian, by the way.)

I need to — paraphrasing the Pope — reach for what is good, as I conceive of what good is.

“That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

So for now I’m going to hold off the lamb gyros. I’m going to beef up (no pun intended) on my bean intake. There are a lot of ways to get your protein, after all.

And, no doubt, I’m going to sit back and watch as more of my readers and friends explain what motivates their dietary choices. The discussion on my Facebook post was insightful, and wonderfully civil.

Carry on.

P.S. I kind of love the Pope.