November 12, 2009

Part 1: The Conversion

Before I begin, I want you to know a few things.

Most importantly, I grew up on a farm. I don't just mean there was a farm behind our house; I mean, my grandparents ran a working farm as their means of living. We had cattle, sheep, and crops. In the fall, we loved going to the barn because of the trailer full of soft cottonseed. We loved giving the cows salt licks, and I had the distinction of being the oldest so I got to go up to the hay loft, cut open bails with wire cutters, and pitch down hay into the trough.

I have known my whole life where beef comes from, and even though my siblings and I would name the cows every year, I understood that the little white parcels with red stamps reading, "Bone-in ribeye" or "Chuck roast" were the cow's (many of them were named after Disney characters) way of saying, "Thanks for giving me such a beautiful life on the farm."

In fact, I don't have a problem with meat that is raised in the same way I was so familiar with growing up: a family of farmers pitches hay from the loft to the trough, never takes a vacation from tending the animals, and is sure to round up the chickens every night before the sun sets.

It wasn't until I learned of the atrocities of factory farming that I began to think that meat-eating wasn't such a great idea. Industrial agriculture, from the prominence of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods to the way commercial animal farming operations (better known as CAFOs or factory farms) are run, makes me squeamish and conjures up images of animal suffering, biohazards being dumped into processed foods, and swampish pools of byproducts and waste. Gross.

On a micro level, foods grown (the word grown is too organic; let's used processed) that way make us unhealthy. One look at obesity rates and Type II diabetes statistics, and that's clear: our food is making us sick. And food-borne illnesses are on the rise, too; the E. coli outbreaks in meat as well as vegetables (between spinach and tomatoes), and other things like salmonella account for 76 million illnesses in the U.S. each year.

On the macro level, though, these gigantic industrial food plants are directly causing huge amounts of pollution and making entire communities sick (studies show that children who live near factory farms have higher instances of asthma).

It's not just because I'm 200 pages in to Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals that I bring this up; over the last few months, I've been making gradual changes in my diet. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan) and seeing Food, Inc. especially, we started cutting out things like fast food and sodas. We became Readers of Ingredients Lists. We began shopping regularly at the farmers market and bringing home vegetables from my mom's garden.

This weekend, I did the unthinkable. I turned down BBQ from the one place I never thought I'd forsake: Louie Mueller BBQ, where I grew up eating award-winning brisket and jalapeno sausage. Excuse me for a moment while I drool all over my keyboard.

I watched as my family enjoyed hot links, ribs, and moist brisket, not tasting a bite—all in the name of my newest personal endeavor.

I'm going vegetarian and I'm determined to be successful.

Coming up: Part 2, The Reaction....


Kit said...

Yeah! Welcome to the club!

General Tom said...

Thanks for share good post. Useful information, keep it up. I like your post.

catherine said...

Another book that was a really amazing read was "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. It addresses a lot of the food politics you mention. Not that it sounds like you need more convincing. :)

As always, it's great to read your lovely writing.