Whaat?!? You Don’t Eat Meat?!?!
I became a vegetarian around 2002 when I was in my mid-40s and my twin daughters were in junior high school. The tipping point for me was reading the book Fast Food Nation, which had been published a year or two before.
The complete name of the book is Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, and that last phrase pretty much sums up my diet as a kid growing up in New England: meat and potatoes – meatloaf with ketchup, pork chops with applesauce, lamb with mint sauce, hamburgers, roast beef, the occasional steak, and sausages and bacon with fried eggs.
The book’s description of America’s flawed and poorly-regulated system of producing meat made me rethink my childhood food habits. I devoured its description of the interconnections between that corner of capitalism and environmental degradation, worker mistreatment and animal cruelty. I figured I’d give not eating meat a try.
It was surprisingly easy. I didn’t feel any loss of strength or stamina. In fact, sometimes when I ran or played tennis, I felt lighter and stronger.
I didn’t miss the taste or texture – about the worst for me was not having pepperoni on my Friday night pizzas, and, when going out, having to skip the prosciutto e melone. My wife and daughters were interested since we’re in complete agreement about most things, such as eating, politics, pets, traveling, eating, their grandparents, family, eating, living, loving and having fun. (Did I say eating?)
We quickly abandoned meaty meals.
But there were occasional challenges. Like when friends holding menus in crowded restaurants said, “Whaaat?! You don’t eat meat!?” and looked at me expecting to hear why. I didn’t want to go into all the details about haphazard killing practices in slaughterhouses, or what the Dalai Lama said about “ingesting the suffering of the animal” when you ate its flesh.
And, as a guy, it can be tough. My friend Bob, a hard-core carnivore, had organized a sailing trip with a bunch of guys. We’d be stocking the boat with food, beer and snacks. There wouldn’t be a lot of variety on the dinner menu. “You’re eating meat,” he said.
Foodies wonder why you’d want to cut out more than half of your dining options. I call this the Anthony Bourdain stance.
I eat a lot of protein shakes to supplement my diet of nuts, fruit, beans, veggie burgers (with ketchup of course), pasta and the delights of the many vegetarian restaurants springing up in every city these days. When we cook, it sure is easy to clean up – knives and cutting boards only need rinsing.
And moments of affirmation happen. Like when I stood before a buffet of fancy dishes in a 5-star restaurant in Delhi, India. The table ran the length of the room and there wasn’t a meat dish in sight. And when I had biryani in Hyderabad, the city in which that delightful dish was born. Two high points of a memorable business trip.
I attended a conference recently with 200 people who wore name tags in plastic holders that also held yellow food preference cards. A colleague I’ve known for years - a runner, skier, cyclist and hard, creative worker - turned to shake my hand. His tag flipped to reveal that he’s a vegetarian. (Hadn’t known that).
I’m not a strident vegetarian. At a wedding in Italy I had to give the local cured meats a try. (How could you not?). And on a trip to South Africa I took up the challenge and tried a local delicacy – the fried larvae of an insect. (For the record - wish I hadn’t).
But, on the whole, I just feel better not eating meat. Animals experience the world in cool ways we can only imagine because our busy minds get in the way. I prefer to just observe and admire them as interesting creatures - as fascinating as my loving family and friends and all the other intriguing beings around us.
Buon appetito (vegetariano).
*Charlie McCurdy is the Sakara Dad of Olivia McCurdy-McGee, social media manager at Sakara Life.