Just over a year ago, I became a vegetarian. This was quite a shock to my friends and family, since they were accustomed to seeing me wolf down steaks, roast beef sandwiches, and more meat-laden pizzas than I care to admit. To them, me choosing to become a vegetarian seemed as unlikely as Hugh Hefner choosing to become celibate.
The turning point for me was a conversation with my kids after school one day. They'd learned about slavery in America, and were appalled that so many people let it happen. They couldn't believe that an entire country could be so cruel. I told them that they were right, and that it's difficult to understand how a nation could let something so horrific continue for so long. But I also told them that it's easy to look back in history and condemn those who allowed cruelty to exist – what's hard is to see what cruelty happens today that we accept as normal.
The moment I said that, I immediately thought about how we treat animals. Deep down I've always known – as we all do – that factory-farming requires horrible abuse to animals, but I never let the idea take hold because, well, meat just tastes so damn good. It's hard to feel sympathy for a cow when a juicy steak is staring at you.
If I had been talking to someone other than my kids, I would've ignored this unexpected concern for animals. But talking with your own children demands a level of honesty that you can't ignore, and I couldn't let go of the fact that animal cruelty popped into my head when I thought about what we do today that future generations will condemn.
Over the next few days I researched how factory-farmed meat is produced, and what I found was enough to turn me off meat forever. I'm not going to be one of those recently-converted vegetarians that tries to shock you with grotesque images of animal abuse, but I will say that there's so much more to it than how we treat animals. The reality of how 50 billion animals a year live and die before reaching our tables should make us worry about our own health, regardless of whether we value the lives of those creatures.
For the most part, I've kept my vegetarianism to myself (well, until now, anyway). I don't expect anyone to cater to my meatless ways when they invite me to a party, nor do I act holier-than-thou when friends eat meat in front of me. It's a personal choice for me, not a crusade (and after all, I've eaten enough meat in my lifetime to fill several farm yards). But when close friends ask why I gave up meat, I'm happy to talk about it. At some point I usually ask why they don't eat dogs, and they usually respond that it's because dogs are smarter than the animals they eat. At which point I ask, "So does that mean you'd eat a retarded dog?," which unfortunately seems to stop the conversation.
PS: If beer and brownies are ever classified as meat, I'm screwed.