Friday, February 10, 2012

What Natalie Portman and I Have in Common

It was the summer of '94.  The place was Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.  At the time, the little beach village had no real road going to it.  We had taken a bus then hiked the rest of the way in.

I sat in the open-air cafe across from my new friend, Jamal, a "real" Rastafarian.  I had before me a plate of rice and beans, baked chicken, and a beer.  I was philosophizing.  I was asking him about his "beliefs."

He answered, his voice a low rumble and heavily accented, "We eat from the Earth."
"What does that mean -- 'eat from the Earth?'"
Slightly impatient, he said, "We eat what comes from the Earth.  What grows from the Earth.  What the Earth gives us."
He saw my confusion.
"You see that chicken on your plate?"
"It's dead flesh."

That's all it took.  Two words.  There was "dead flesh" on my plate, and I was about to consume it, and upon hearing those words, I did not want to any more.

"Gross," I muttered, as a live chicken walked by.  It occurred to me that the dead flesh on my plate was probably killed very recently in the back of the restaurant.

I collected myself.  "So you will eat the rice and beans because it grows from the Earth?"
"Yes," he said.
"What about beer?"
"It is not from the Earth."
"But you smoke marijuana."
"It is from the Earth!"


To be fair, there were many occurrences that led up to this moment of becoming a "vegetarian."

In Mobile, Alabama where I grew up, I knew only one vegetarian, and he was my speech therapist (I had a lisp), and I found him extremely odd (very very odd), and he had some sort of illness (to my 5th grade mind that's what diabetes was) where he HAD to eat vegetarian.  So, to me, vegetarian meant sick.

Cut to:  College, where I made many friends.  It turned out that an entire handful of them were vegetarians, happenstance!  One from Michigan, one from Texas, one from North Carolina, one from Alabama.  When I asked "Why?" it was almost unanimously because they loved animals and couldn't bear to (gulp) eat them!  (The one from Michigan told me her favorite animal was the cow, so why would she eat it?  To this day, cows are still her favorite animals.  I have never met another person who had the cow as their favorite animal.)   So being amongst these friends at restaurants, I became aware of the limited options on menus for people that didn't eat animals.  But I still ate my chicken when with them with no problem.

Cut (back) to: Summer of '94.  One of these vegetarians asked me to go on a two-month trip to Costa Rica and volunteer with sea turtles and monkeys and the such.  Backpacking.  While my mother was freaking out about me going to a "third world country," I couldn't wait for the adventure.  Once there, I could hear my mother's voice echoing in my head:  "Do NOT eat anything off the street.  Do NOT eat the fruit.  You could get really really sick if you ate something bad...etc. etc."  I don't think my mother has to this day visited a "third world country," but being 20-years-old and impressionable, I was scared to death.  By the time I got off the plane, I did not know what I COULD eat.

I settled for rice and beans, something you could find everywhere.  And then cooked meats on occasion.

Interestingly, after the Jamal/dead flesh incident, my traveling buddies and I found volunteer work on an organic farm.  The man who ran the farm happened to be vegetarian, so now I was surrounded!  By this time (about a month into our trip), I had relaxed entirely on the what-to-eat notion (I mean -- the fruit!), and I decided to partake in the amazing home-grown food on the farm.  Interestingly, the house had many books on the meat industry and other such topics.

Here I was eating "from the Earth," and like a queen.  The food was exquisite, and I noticed that I had so much more energy!

So, in short, this trip to Costa Rica gave me more than I bargained for.  I arrived an omnivore and left a vegetarian.  It simply made sense.  I had been educated, and I had the living experience of being meat-free.  There was no turning back.

It sounds easy, right? Well, growing up and living in the South, it was not so easy.  You'd be amazed at how threatened people became just because I passed up steak and hamburgers!  (Those were my favorite foods prior to Costa Rica, by the way.)  My parents swore that there was no way I would get enough protein.  (I almost believed them but reading John Robbins' "Diet for a New America" debunked that myth entirely.  It seems that the meat and dairy industry and the FDA have been in cahoots for quite a while.  Genius advertising if you ask me, if you like being lied to.)  I dreaded dinner parties because I did not want to insult my Southern hosts with my choice of diet.  And, most of all, I was not so skilled at debate, and it seems that many a meat-lover wanted to convince me, beg me, force me to just eat some cow, pig, chicken, dammit!

Of course, I got older and more used to handling such situations...and it's a more veggie-friendly world than it was eighteen years ago.  I do believe in manners in regards to being a vegetarian.  While I whole-heartedly believe that veggie is the way to go, if you are having dinner with me, please eat whatever you like!  Also, vegetarians can ALWAYS find something on the menu to eat, even at a steak place, so do not worry about us!  And while we always appreciate a thorough selection, honestly, we never expect it.  We are used to it, in fact, and we always manage, so don't rearrange your dinner party just for us unless you are happily inspired to.  Believe it or not, my mom now loves cooking vegetarian because it's multiplied her repertoire of recipes.

On the other hand, if you meet an especially demanding vegetarian or vegan, be patient with them.  They are simply upset at the state of the world, and rightfully so.

A little vegetarian vocab:
Vegetarian:  Person that doesn't eat meat (anything with a face).
Pescatarian (also cutely known as a Veg-aquariam) -- Doesn't eat meat.  Will eat seafood, dairy, eggs.  (Technically, I am this, but I only use this term amongst folks that already have this vocabulary.)
Vegan:  Doesn't eat any animal product at all, including seafood, eggs, and dairy, and sometimes even honey.

Why I became a vegetarian:
PHILOSOPHY: Meat is dead flesh, which is just dead and gross.
ANIMAL-LOVER: I love animals, and the meat industry treats the animals SO horribly, and I do not want to support such inhumanity with my dollars.  I also do not want to consume the bodies of animals that suffered so much in their lives.  Please read up on this topic.  It is so so so sad if you love animals.
ENVIRONMENTAL: The meat industry also impacts the environment negatively, so just another reason not to support it.
HEALTH:  I have so much more energy being a vegetarian that it is crazy!  It's a total no-brainer.
ENERGETIC:  Eating foods closer to the "sun" (aka photosynthesis) have a higher vibration and just feels better.  Think about it:  an orange picked straight from the tree is still alive!  Put that in your body, and wow!  Eating dead flesh that has suffered is the exact opposite of this.
CULTURAL:  It's a sad society that tells its kids that a hamburger grows out of a garden (old McDonald's ad).  Kids should be taught to honor and respect what is on their plate and what is going into their bodies, not lied to about it.  I refuse to take part and contribute to that disturbing mentality.

Really, Paul McCartney, long-time vegetarian, said if for me... "If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do. It's staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty."

Look, I'm not an extremist with this.  I have consciously had bites of meat since that fateful Summer of '94. (Especially when I was pregnant.)  The key word there is CONSCIOUSLY.  I knew where the meat had come from, and I said my gratitude to the animal that died for me to eat (the few bites) of it.  There have been times when my soup was made with chicken broth, and I found out, and I made the choice to keep eating it because I was really hungry.  I even ate wild goat once and some ribs.  And I eat seafood.  (I admit that I have not researched this industry very well and that I grew up on the stuff, so there is some nostalgia there.)

The point is...well, what is my point?  Honestly, I just felt moved to write this piece after seeing this ridiculous photo that was floating around Facebook.
soooo misleading! says I.

A good friend sent this to me, and it made me laugh because of its absurdity.  But then I thought -- oh my gosh, do people believe this?  And then -- what if the meat industry really is infiltrating our social media in a very, very smart and sneaky way?   Without sounding too much into conspiracy theories, I mean...stranger things have happened....

I thought I'd post some other vegetarians...just to settle the score:

'Nuff said.

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