At the beginning of May, I woke up and decided to stop eating meat. I didn't know it was going to be such a big deal. Comically, and unexpectedly, some of my family is perplexed. "But then, what do you eat?"
I never really cared much for meat. When I was younger, it was often the thing left on my plate, the thing I was encouraged to eat just one more bite of.
Most of my childhood was spent in Texas, where it wasn't unusual for kids to roam their neighborhoods seeking adventure. On our bikes, my brother and our best friends (also siblings) would be outside for hours. The boys with BB guns slung across their backs were always looking for victims, small animals like birds and squirrels, while my friend and I were doing the complete opposite; she and I had our eye on the roadkill, recently harmed pets or woodland creatures we could save and bring back to life. We were quite the foursome, The Hunters and The Veterinarians, cycling contradiction.
I shot a squirrel once, but didn't kill it. It disappeared into the hollow of a tree, wounded. I felt instantly guilty and never raised a BB gun toward another animal again. But I still joined the hunt and would call out possums and armadillos when I saw them. I wanted to help The Hunters without taking responsibility for the harm inflicted.
One afternoon I escaped into the woods with my brother and spotted a rabbit. We crouched down, he aimed, and with one shot the rabbit fell over dead. I cried, "You killed it!"
When we got home - my brother carrying the rabbit upside-down by its back feet - my dad greeted us with alarming news: we needed to skin it because we were going to eat it, "We don't kill for sport."
I was confused and terrified. Isn't what I'd witnessed up to that point precisely killing for sport? There were a lot of birds and squirrels slain we never had to eat. I couldn't imagine cutting into the rabbit, so I politely refused and instead went into the kitchen to make brownies, to try to forget all about it. After I put the brownies in the oven, my dad carried the skinned rabbit in from the garage to prep it for the freezer, and when I saw the hairless body I screamed and cried and retreated to my room.
I still ate meat, mostly chicken and sometimes chicken fried steak, hot dogs and hamburgers. Occasionally I'd eat a pork chop because it's Shake 'n' Bake and I helped! But I never ate rabbit, deer, or even moose when we lived in Alaska, and I would avoid any meat that looked too similar to what it looked like when it was a living, breathing thing. Seafood, unless hidden in batter and fried, I avoided completely.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I started dating a boy. The first time I met his parents, they showed me a video from their recent trip to Thailand. Without protesting, because I wanted to make a good impression, I sat and watched a pig being slaughtered and portioned out for meals. Nothing was left behind, they used every part of the pig for something. It was admirable, but also disgusting.
I stopped eating all forms of pork - yes, even bacon.
When I was 20, I was chased around the room by another boyfriend's dad with a naked Cornish game hen because he thought it was funny that I didn't like seeing meat before it was cooked.
Since deciding not to eat animals, I've had to pick shredded chicken from a bowl of soup, somewhat hilariously, and spit out a mouthful of broccoli salad because it was littered with bacon bits. I was met with a shrug, "Oh, I didn't realize when you asked if there was no meat you meant bacon."
While I may confuse my family as to what they can feed me now when I visit (they are trying to learn), I am thankful I'm surrounded by hundreds of co-workers on a daily basis who have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle. The last potluck we had at the office was 100% vegetable dishes, and I was in heaven. So when I choose cheese pizza topped with arugula for dinner and someone remarks, "Would you like some pizza with your salad?" Or I'm told my energy-efficient, money-saving Prius is a "vegetable-mobile", as if what I eat has anything to do with the gas I put in my car, I find myself the butt of a joke I don't get and therefore don't bother reacting to. It's my choice, but it's not my problem, and losing 16 pounds since May is a pretty good indication I'm doing right by my body.
I don't eat meat simply because I don't want to; and honestly, if I wasn't so lazy, I'd probably be vegan. I think I could easily live without dairy, but I'm not sure I'm ready to live without eggs. Maybe someday eggs will look the way uncooked meat looks to me now...