Wednesday, February 22, 2012

occasional vegetarian

This year, as once before in high school, i have decided to give up eating meat for Lent.

In some ways, it's almost too easy a decision to "count" as a Lenten sacrifice. In others, it is unimaginably difficult and complicated.

I eat meat nearly every day, because that's how you put together a meal: meat, grains (like rice or pasta), and vegetables. Except that, while you do need iron and protein every day, you don't need to get it from meat. You could serve pita bread with hummus and carrot sticks and still have a balanced meal, and with much less of the fat and salt that tend to accompany meat.

Cows are meant to eat grass. They are left all day to graze on grassy meadows. But when it's time for a real meal and not just all-day snacking, they are often fed grain instead of hay. This is because grain makes cows fatter faster, and people like their beef plump and juicy.

It takes about fifteen pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. That's fifteen pounds of grain that could have fed a starving child instead of clogging my arteries and padding my hips and draining my wallet. Because cows are left to graze all day anyway, and hay is pretty cheap. Grain, on the other hand, has to be bought, and that makes the beef more expensive. We are paying more money to die faster and let children around the world starve just because we like our burgers extra juicy.

I like chicken okay. I like roast pork and ribs sometimes, but i don't eat them very often. I'm not a big fan of turkey, ham, or roast pork. I love sea food, and the thought of bacon, steak, and burgers makes my mouth water.

But i eat chicken nearly every day, because it is a cheap and easy way to provide the meat that i somehow feel i am supposed to have.

If science could come up with meatless bacon, steak, and burgers that are as good as the real thing, i'd switch to vegetarianism in a heartbeat and never look back. But somehow, even turkey burgers are not quite the same thing. And i almost never eat these meats, because they are expensive and harder to cook than chicken, and because i know that chicken is healthier.

For the next forty days, i will be deliberately planning meatless meals. I will endeavor to get my daily allowance of protein and iron from other sources, and since i only eat red meat and bacon about three times a month, i won't miss them too much.

After Easter, who knows? I'll be glad to sink my teeth into a fat, juicy, steak: pink and tender in the middle, seared in olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt. But i doubt that i'll eat bacon or red meat any more often after Easter than i do now. And chicken is just something i buy to "finish" my meal. Why not plan meals more deliberately to exclude meat? Why not alternate between really delicious meats that i actually want to eat and no meat at all? Doesn't that seem more sensible?

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