The last time was a pork sandwich, with greens, from the local pizza shop. The sandwich arrived soggy with grease; the pork, a glum gray; the broccoli rabe limp and lifeless. It was, for all intents, a waste of my 10 bucks. That was a Friday. April 8. I’d come home from work feeling tired, hungry and very out of shape. My girlfriend was having drinks with some friends, so I collapsed on the couch, flipped on Netflix, picked up the phone … and ordered the sandwich.
That was the last time, about one month to the day, that animal flesh has passed my lips. I had been toying with the idea of going meatless, without knowing exactly why, for a while now. In fact, I’d been planning to announce my intentions to do so in this very space, my editor’s notes for GRID’s annual food issue. Food, after all, is one of the most hotly contested components of the sustainability question, and meat the most polemical sub-component therein. But it was that perfect storm of laziness, carnivorous gluttony and “what on earth was I thinking?” slovenliness that demanded immediate action.
I’d read how Mark Bittman dropped a lot of weight going “vegan before dinner.” And I’m keenly aware of how much more resource-intensive raising animal protein is than the vegetable variety. However, there was a very obvious disconnect between what I knew and believed, and how I was behaving. All of my acquired knowledge about what was healthy and responsible was being overridden in these moments of choice, moments between making a PBJ or pouring a bowl of cereal, and ordering, say, a pizza, or General Tso’s, or a nasty pork sandwich. So my girlfriend and I decided we’d give up meat. Or try. At least until her mid-summer birthday.
At this point, we’re about a month in, and the results have been interesting. She and I both went through a period early on where we felt a little spacey and lightheaded, but also reported that, in general, we never felt bloated after eating. And we at least felt lighter. We’ve also discovered that eating vegetarian is no guarantee that you’re eating more healthfully—there are as many stupid veggie choices (Cheez Whiz-slathered bar nachos, over-fried french fries, spring rolls) as there are stupid meat choices. Though the effect on our overall quality of life is still to be determined, I think the biggest upshot at this point is that we’re both actually thinking about what we eat.
Whether we’ll be veggie4life or veggie for two months remains to be seen, but I know that we, like most Americans, could stand to reduce the amount of meat in our diets—for reasons of health, sustainability and general humaneness. As GRID’s Urban Naturalist, Bernard Brown (visit his food policy site, pbjcampaign.org), told me over salad and spinach last week, “It’s not a contest.” Not eating meat doesn’t have to be approached as if you’re trying to break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games-played streak. I don’t know that I’m necessarily ready to forever forego prosciutto, for instance, or my mother’s meatballs. But a fundamental change in the my relationship with food is long overdue. And this experiment has got me asking questions (Is this healthy? Is this necessary? Is this responsible?) that I, and probably a lot of you, hadn’t been.
I’ll be updating my progress on GRID’s blog, The Griddle (gridphilly.com). I’m anxious for encouragement, recipe and cookbook suggestions, and to hear your thoughts on the matter.