Turns out that twenty-five years of being a vegetarian was enough for me.*
Versions of being vegetarian have been a part of my life for so long…I admit that at first I felt a little naked shedding that shell that distanced me from others for two and a half decades.
Still, I will always be proud of my 10-year-old self who boycotted tuna when I found out about the dolphins getting caught in the nets (even though nobody else in my family did, and so our consumption was only dropped by about one tuna fish sandwich a month).
I’ll always be proud of my 11-year-old self who wrote to McDonalds demanding they stop cutting down rainforests to raise cattle (they sent me a letter thanking me for my correspondence along with two Happy Meal coupons).
I’ll always be grateful for Sassy magazine for understanding how to talk to girls like they were people, and for entrusting us with real issues – like vegetarianism, the article that inspired me to stop eating red meat at the age of 13.
I’ll always be grateful to my dad for mentioning it to a vegetarian client of his who was so impressed that he gifted me with his own copy of Diet for a New America. Even at that age I plowed through the thick book and got my first understanding of the carbon footprint on a pound of beef, a glimpse into the factory farms industry, a push to quit eating chicken and fish.
Even though I am glad to have striven to let my outward life speak my inner beliefs, last year I gave up being vegetarian. I know that you can still feed more people with the grain the cows eat than you can with their meat, but in my life there are now other issues that override those concerns. Niggling discomforts that were always there, but which I could no longer ignore.
In my life here in Nicaragua, there are many things that separate me from my neighbors: they live with their extended families while I hop on a plane once a year to see mine; they buy food meal-by-meal, I buy mine for a whole week at a time; they take the bus, I have a car. We’re separated by language, income and skin color…and we were also separated by food. Although my neighbors don’t eat meat every day – if you kill a chicken for every meal pretty soon you won’t have any eggs – they eat it often enough, always on special occasions and certainly if it’s offered to them. Free protein…I was the only one crazy enough to turn it down.
For years I’ve been given giant, conspicuous salads at every party while everyone else eats arroz a la valenciana (basically rice with ketchup and hot dogs, I know I haven’t been missing much with that particular dish). Nobody understood it, but they just accepted that we are the weird foreigners (“You don’t eat no meat? That’s okay, I’ll make lamb.”)
Then last year at the school Mother’s Day party I was enjoying the show the kids put on, enjoying my neighbors’ company, enjoying being just another mom of Nicaraguan kids. I was feeling like I knew people well, like I was part of the community. Then I got handed my giant plate of iceberg lettuce that just grew and grew as I imagined people staring at me. I knew the teachers had prepared it especially for me so that I could be part of the celebration, and I just thought, “It can’t do this anymore.”
Still, my own discomfort at being different and at being a pain to invite to a party was not the main reason I started eating meat. It was the fear of what I have done to my girls. We have raised them as vegetarian (Paul grew up vegetarian and describes himself as “very vegetarian”) and though we’ve always said they can try meat if they want to, our actions and attitudes have said differently. I don’t want my girls to miss out on experiences because they’re trying to follow some nebulous family doctrine. I certainly don’t want them to miss out on human connections because they feel they must avoid eating meat.
I want my children to be curious, to be open, to eat what’s put in front of them and to understand that it’s more important to be polite than to be right.
But how are they going to get that message if I don’t model it myself, letting my life speak that particular belief? So I gave up being vegetarian.
This separation, this otherness that I have felt is not just here in Nicaragua. Although I don’t believe I was ever judgy with meat eaters, many people I love seem so relieved that I eat meat now, like they can finally be themselves with me. I saw my nephews at Christmas and they were gleeful when I told them I was eating meat, they even shared precious bacon off of their plates with me.
I see them so little, and can share so little of their lives, why not share bacon? It was tasty, tasty bacon, too. – Becca
*Note: Please understand that I am not criticizing vegetarians. I was never a militant vegetarian – even in my seven years of being vegan – and I certainly will not be a militant ex-vegetarian. I believe that what you choose to eat and not eat are intensely personal choices, and no single choice is right for everyone, we each have to find our own way.