I blame it all on a book. Specifically, I blame it on The Omnivore’s Dilemma by one Michael Pollan, which I read in March of 2008. I remember this clearly, because I was visiting my dad in Colorado for a little late-season skiing. We are both terrible skiers, but I do remember trying to chat my dad up about grain elevator politics during the Carter administration. It wasn’t the most lively discussion, but I guess not everyone can get excited about grain elevator politics.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan pursues three meals by getting down and dirty with “three principal food chains”: industrial (think fast food), organic (think friendly neighborhood co-op), and hunter-gatherer (think hunting wild pigs). For his hunter-gatherer meal, Pollan actually traipses into the wilderness with a shotgun to win his dinner of wild boar and chanterelles with his own two hands. He concludes that this hunter-gatherer meal is the most gratifying of the three, largely because the path from sun to energy to human is so honest and direct.
Readers, this planted a pernicious little seed in my brain.
Although I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea of eating other animals, it’s just too easy when supermarkets go out of their way to make meat look as little like meat as possible: boneless, uniformly-shaped food objects wrapped neatly in plastic wrap. We can convince ourselves that these tidy packets bear no relationship to the creatures we love. But after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the whole meat-eating thing finally made sense to me: it was OK to eat meat — carnivores and omnivores occur naturally in the wild, after all — but only if I was actually OK with killing it, too.
I have clung to this romantic notion for a couple of years now, halfway believing that someday I would eventually get around to going hunting or even lending a hand to one of my farming friends with their livestock. But then, just the other day, I finally had the obvious epiphany: I don’t actually want to kill anything.
So, as the nerdy librarian type, I’m looking for some lit to help me hash the rest of this out. I think my philosophy has morphed into one of avoidance more than anything else. I’m sure a few little tasty morsels of bacon will find their way into my diet here and there, and I don’t expect friends and family to make special exceptions for me when they’re entertaining. But I do want to stay away from it whenever there are other reasonable alternatives. Pollan’s chapter on “The Ethics of Eating Meat” looks like it has some great leads, such as Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Ill Nature by Joy Williams, and Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. I’m also pretty psyched to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Anyone have any other titles to recommend? I’d love to hear about them!
I had the same epiphany about 15 years ago (after watching the movie Baraka) and have since made a slow shift from avoider of meet to only eating fish to vegetarian to almost completely vegan.
More than books about vegetarianism/veganism or the meat/food industries, I would recommend reading some great cookbooks. When I realized I didn’t have to neglect my taste buds to avoid eating meat, it made the transition much easier.
Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian is a great place to start. Also some great non-veg cookbooks like Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Italian Cooking and Diane Kochilas’ Glorious Foods of Greece. My wife has a great list of our favourite vegan cookbooks on her blog: http://bit.ly/9vNE9E
I would recommend Animal Factories by Singer and Mason to give a good overview of factory farming. There’s nothing preachy here, just an open an honest look at the industry.
Good luck on your journey. When you start thinking more consciously about what you eat, you’ll find you start living more consciously in general.
Anthony, thank you for the suggestions! I will definitely look into World Vegetarian, and I’m very intrigued by Laurel’s Kitchen, as well.
It’s comforting to know that other thoughtful people have been on this journey before, too ~ I feel good about the decision to start slow, with conviction, and see where the transition takes me.
This was a great post. I’m not surprised that your area talented blogger along w/everything else.
But I did want to comment on your mission as it reminded me of a time in my former life (different town, etc.) when, after 7 years as a vegetarian, I decided to start eating meat. This presented an ethical dilemma which left me (like you) examining my role. I decided to start with fish (which proved surprising hard to kill and clean). They were catfish, black with skin like eels. I remember everything about the process– eveb the oily taste they left in my mouth. Later I butchered a deer (just the butt end really) that my husband(ex) had accidentally hit with his jeep. That kept me in (foul-tasting) meat much of the winter. Not long after I switched back to eating meat from stores, with effort put into discovering how it got there. I am okay with it most days, some days not so much.
But I’m excited to read more of the new literature coming out on the subject. Pollan has been a favorite, but I know less about your other selections. I only have one recommendation for you. If you haven’t read “The Deer at Provedencia” in a while, I would pick it up. It’s so terrible and beautiful, and it reminds me of things outside the veg/non-veg divide.
Jen, I am so impressed that you’ve experienced this. Now if I can only get Aaron to run over a deer… ; ) But seriously, that is quite a journey, and I really admire where you’re at. I hadn’t known about “Deer of Providencia” before, but just read a few snippets about it ~ sounds intense and amazing. Thank you for the tip.
I’m so happy for you! Vegetarianism feels so good on so many levels. The most surprising for me has been just how much more connected I am to my body and how it reacts to various and assorted things. Anthony really hit the nail on the head. When you become more aware of what you eat, why you eat it, and what happened before it found its way into your mouth, it really does bring more awareness of the world around you. I’ve found the mindfulness I bring to my meals has bled out into the rest of my consciousness. I wish you all kinds of luck!
As for books, the Omnivore’s Dilemma is always my first to suggest when someone is wanting to make a change to their diet. Seeing as how you’ve already tackled that glorious monster, have you read any of his other books? In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World both have some very interesting snippets in them. I’ve yet to finish either (Pollan wears me out at times) but I thoroughly enjoyed what I read from them.
The one book that has really piqued my interest, though I haven’t gotten around to finding a copy, is The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol Adams. It intrigues me as a text on both vegetarianism and gender roles, and how the two relate. While writing this, I’m kind of shocked I still haven’t picked it up.
You’re a very brave woman for reading Eating Animals. I’ve wanted to since it came out, but Foer has a way of getting inside my head and I tend to be sensitive to animal violence. Please let me know how it is and if it has potential to scar my wee brain. After Jen suggested it, I too sought out The Deer at Providencia. Once I scanned a few essays on the piece, I decided against actually reading it. I’m sure it is profound and moving, but I have a gentle soul and try not to subject it to unnecessary trauma.
Again, I am so excited you’re making these first few steps. You’re an amazing cook and I know you’ll find all kinds of delicious things out there to eat. If you ever want to swap recipes, just let me know. I have a stack of vegetarian cookbooks a few feet high . . . some of which are even in your mom’s basement! I know you’re going to thrive in this lifestyle. Congratulations! ❤
Thank you for your encouragement, Manda! Now that you mention it, I think I recognize the title, “The Sexual Politics of Meat.” Perhaps I’ve even noticed it on your booklist? And maybe we can swap reviews after I read “Eating Meat” ; ) You make such a good point, though, about how the animal violence in many of these books could be a little dicey, to say the least. I’ll have to proceed with caution, interspersing my heavy reading with lots of cookbooks and cute videos of animals on the internet.