I love animals and I have for as long as I can remember. Dogs are at the top of my list and so are horses, but not far behind come cats. I also like chickens, goats, pigs, sheep, and cows. Wild animals are a source of beauty and wonder for me, and I even have sympathy for the little creeping creatures that sometimes make their way into my house. Then there are birds, those fluttering beauties who grace the woods, the fields, and, best of all for me, my backyard.
Here’s a funny thing: I am quite claustrophobic, and I hate being squeezed in by people, which means when I go to the movies, I am not comfortable unless I sit in an aisle seat. However, I have no problem being squeezed by the dog and the cats, and often times, when I am reading on the couch, I’ll have a cat in my lap and a dog pressed up against me. Somehow, this feels cozy and comforting.
So, how does someone who loves animals so much eat them? Especially the ones who live miserable lives on factory farms, which are not only bad for the animals but are also bad for the environment? I’ve asked myself this over the years, and I have come to the conclusion that I am a very queasy carnivore who has more than once considered becoming a vegetarian. As a result of this questioning, last year my husband, Clif, and I resolved to eat mostly vegetarian, with meat added once or twice a week for a treat. We would, however, continue to eat some dairy and eggs.
I am happy to report that we stuck to our resolution, and our meat consumption went down tremendously over the year. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has been a tremendous help as have my Moosewood cookbooks. In the process, Clif and I discovered what we really already knew: There are so many wonderful vegetarian things to eat, and this variety means we don’t miss meat—at least not too much. But we both like meat—there’s no point in denying this—and we enjoyed our twice-a-week meat indulgences.
However, even this reduced meat consumption still made me queasy, and not long ago, I asked myself the question: What would you be willing to kill to eat?
I started at the bottom with clams, which I have happily dug without one twinge of conscience, and scallops, mussels, and other bivalves fall into the same category. Shrimp are a little higher up, but it would not bother me to catch and eat them. The next level includes crabs, lobsters, and fish, and here things become a little more equivocal. I’ve cooked lobster and have eaten fish that I’ve caught. I don’t enjoy the process, but I can and have done it. What about chicken? No. I’ve seen my father kill them, and I didn’t want any part of the process. Sheep, goats, cows, rabbits? Not unless I was literally starving to death.
After reviewing what I would be willing to kill to eat, I came to the next question: Is it ethical to eat food you wouldn’t be willing to kill yourself? For me, the answer has come to be no. If I’m not willing to kill it, then I shouldn’t eat it, even though I have for many years. My love and sympathy for animals stop me from going too far up the food chain when it comes to killing.
The time had come, I decided, to go to the next level, to only eat and cook what I would be willing to harvest or kill—mostly vegetarian with the occasional fish, bivalve, or crustacean added for variety. I discussed this with Clif, and he was willing to go along with this scheme, albeit not quite as completely as I am. For example, when eating out, Clif might still order a meat dish, but he said he would be perfectly happy to eat this way at home. Fair enough. We all have to make our own decisions.
I want to conclude by noting that even with this new eating regime, I don’t plan on applying for sainthood anytime soon. I still have plenty of gray areas in my life. The cats and dog eat food with meat, and that’s just the way it goes. They are carnivores. I still plan to eat eggs and dairy. The eggs come from Farmer Kev, whose chickens live nice lives, and the dairy is either organic and/or local. And, yes, I realize that to keep the eggs and dairy coming, some killing is often involved, however indirectly. But I just can’t give eggs and dairy up yet.
So onward I go, thinking about food as well as cooking and eating it. Will I ever become a vegan? Only time will tell.