May 19, 2007

a vapid moment as a vegetarian

I've been some sort of vegetarian for about 7 years now. I've lived vegan but am currently ovo-lacto, except for that ounce of wild salmon I ate on Monday. Why I feel the need to explore this here is unclear to me, but I've been thinking about those 2 tablespoons of flesh all week.

I became a vegetarian because of animal rights concerns, particularly the cruelty of factory farming. Ecological considerations deepen my commitment. For example, do you know what the top two agricultural uses of water are in the water poor state of California?
1) Irrigated Pasture (for cows mainly)
2) Alfalfa (for cows mainly)
Or that 8 oz of tofu uses requires about 460 gallons of water where as 8 oz of steak requires 1231 gallons of water?

What would convince a committed vegetarian to eat flesh? Well, it didn't take much. At a potluck my friend provided salmon that he caught off the tip of Point Reyes. I always find myself stupidly saying that I'd eat wild game before I'd eat farmed animals because wild animals had a chance to live, were never enslaved. Why I feel it necessary to apologize for my diet is unclear to me. I grew up fishing and even hunting deer and squirrels with my dad in Georgia. I said this bit about eating game on Monday, and somehow felt a curiosity about my own philosophy.

I always made this wild game statement in a conditional way, as in, "If I had to eat flesh..." Well, I was at a potluck in San Francisco, clearly I didn't have to eat meat. No one pressured me to do so or insulted my regular habits (god knows if they had, then no fish would have neared my lips). Indeed, the open minded crew whose company I was enjoying was a certain factor in my decision to try fish.

I'm not saying that I feel some heavy guilt over my fish eating. Rather I'm reflecting on my principles here. Perhaps all of the strict rules in my life have made these perverse missteps more likely. My absolutism necessitates some rebellion at times.

No, I don't feel guilty about eating a couple of bites of fish. But I feel a bit foolish. As strong as my beliefs are about eating flesh, I knew that a few bites wouldn't change my habits, so I ate the salmon. But what's the point in that? It feels a bit voyeuristic, kinda shallow. Like the way I think of foie gras consumption. I can't even bear to describe the taste, because that seems so vulgar to me. As it sank into my mouth I couldn't consider the feeling as good or bad, only bizarre.

Above I noted "my decision to try fish". But it's not like I'd never eaten fish before, or like I would start eating it regularly from this taste. For both of these reasons, I'm conflicted. This consumption feels a bit hollow, but also not detrimental really. I suppose I can only take away that I would be much more comfortable not having eaten the salmon.


Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad. My friend who is a dietitian is a big proponent of a flexitarian diet - primarily veg but on occasion she strays because of circumstances. I haven't strayed yet but I've also have only been doing the veg way for 2 years.

Christine said...

Never heard the term flexitarian. Well, I guess i fit into that category!

Seriously, sounds like having those few bites actually made you think about your values and position while not making you feel guilty. I am glad that you are not beating yourself, yet are examining why you had some and what the larger impact may or may not be on the environment.

Lawrence said...

Flexitarian, good one, as with OMNIvore. Opportunism runs deeper in human nature than just about any other aspect of our nature. And some of the best-lived lives are a mix of principle AND pleasure.

I write a blog called "A Better Nation" that often deals with the issues of "treading lightly." And of COURSE I welcome visitors!

Here's to all who do the dance of treading lightly.

JaniceCliff said...

Hey bravo. As an alternative view....i live in the very far north. Have seen MANY a vegetarian, vegan etc, turn to wild meat (caribou, moose, salmon) due to the necessity of protein to keep your body warm, and due to the lack of fresh veggies. It is EXTREMELY difficult to eat according to a belief system, when your survival depends on it, OR when the availability of alternatives is non existant. Any suggestions?

Christine said...

Hey--Colin Beavan is quoting you over at his site today: Check it out:

rachel said...

there are some areas where eating meat actually makes more sense than being a vegetarian. some mountain regions and the arctic for example. you end up eating at higher trophic levels but the energy and land inputs required for agriculture would be too high to make it sustainable.
i don't think everyone has to be a vegetarian or vegan, but as an american, i have a lot of access to vegetarian food. and i kinda reject the meat and potatoes diet that i was raised on.

Natalie said...

I want to point out that it's not hard at all to meet the dietary requirement for protein in a vegetarian diet.
I appreciate your honesty, Janice! There can be some 'competition' among veggies on who's the most adherent or least hypocritical or whatever and I hope there are more of us who can talk honestly about slip-ups. We ARE only human, aren't we? :)

Sara said...

I've been vegan for something like 15 years. At this point, the thought of eating animal flesh really disgusts me, so I wouldn't do it no matter what the actual morsel.

However, I do believe that their are different concerns about different types of animal consumption and wild caught fish is an interesting one. Although the fish have had a chance at free life and a (relatively) quick death, I still can't condone eating fish (except maybe the kind that an individual angler brings up with his own hook) because of the incredibly destructive manner in which large-scale fishing is conducted (here's a reasonable roundup on the issue from BBC.

I don't at all mean to condemn your particular choice on this particular day, just to give food for thought as it were.

marcel said...

think before you think before you do, or something like that is what Buddists' say. i've been vegtarian for about eight years now. it had nothing to do with health or sustainability, but actually came from realising that some of my best friend were animals and how whould i feel if someone ate them? i love not eating flesh and think maybe you needed to go down that road to realise so do you! you rock ! keep writing!

Lrapps said...

I can identify with your thoughts. Thank you for this post.

david said...

Once I ate a veggie burger on an unihabited island in Alaska while the ten or so friends ate freshly caught wild salmon. In retrospect I clearly made the costlier and much less green choice. It was the beginning of a move towards a more omnivorish diet and a more open mind.

rachel said...

wow david, what an interesting scenario. thanks for that.

btw, this fish was definitely caught by an individual, not a commercial fisher. I could never eat commercial meat of any kind. The thought of mass piles of gasping fish on the hull of a ship brings me close to tears.

it's funny to me that even after posting this to my blog, it took several more days to "confess" this fish eatin' to a couple of folks i really love.
i'm still not sure why i felt like i should do that. it's not like i'm no longer a vegetarian b/c i ate an oz of fish. that's the same way i view the compact. it's not like you're "out" if you break down and buy something new.

as i was telling these 2 people (in separate conversations) i realized that i don't really feel guilt but rather shame. and it's kinda like i don't trust myself, so i feel like i should tell my friends that they can't necessarily rely on my steadfast principles either.
and as natalie said, i definitely felt human in revealing this. perhaps this is a moment of growth for me after all. it's given me an opportunity to expose some vulnerabilities.

Makenna said...

The decision to be a vegetarian or vegan is very personal, be it for spiritual, environmental, advocating for animal rights, a combination of all of the above or something of your own convictions.

The decision to feel guilty about eating fish is your own as well. I was a vegetarian for 6 years. It used to drive me nuts to meet folks who said that there were vegetarian but ate fish -- oookay not exactly a vegetarian. It made me wonder if those folks who said they were vegetarian did so to feel good about their actions in the world or to just be trendy, like it was a cool label to stick on their forehead or something. Probably so, and it made me wonder about myself. I changed my eating habits some time ago and it was right for me -- no guilt here. Wholesome eating is my way now.

I say, move on and eat as you will and need to at that moment. If you eat some fish, it's okay, if you don't it's okay. Be happy you have that choice -- and enjoy!!!

paddy said...

Flexitarian fits me too. It's hard to escape from our omnivorous roots, and meat, even though I have eaten very little over the last 10 years, does taste very good.

There is also the fact that grazing animals can turn vegetation to food on marginal lands where crops cannot be grown. And also pigs are very efficient food-waste recyclers. Industrial meat farming is indeed very destructive, but it is unrealistic to expect the world to abandon a million years of eating habits.

The best solution is of course to raise and kill our own animals, in order to remind ourselves that meat is a luxury, and involves the death of something, an important lesson for modern people to remember.

Tamara said...

paddy, I get what you're saying, but don't agree that killing our own meat is the 'best solution'. Wouldn't it be even better to just not inflict pain and suffering on the animal at all, especially when there are so many incredible tasting non-animal alternatives???