As a child I like the idea of becoming a vegetarian but there wasn’t any way at all for this to become a reality. Almost everything in The South is cooked with some sort of animal in it, and the idea of someone not eating meat was, and still is in some places, being gay, or an atheist. Actually, refusing to eat something someone has cooked for you is worse than being gay or atheist, or for that matter, a gay atheist. Gay atheist vegetarians are damn near unknown until you get past the Mason- Dixon Line.
As I grew older I tried to escape the limits of my cultural culinary but the same problems presented themselves in different places and situations. The holidays always had a lot of turkey or some other sacrificial animal. Any celebration or get together was an occasion to grill something dead. I experimented with vegetarian dishes but there were lonely meals eaten by myself and most of the people I knew thought it was very odd.
Eventually, you have to be the person you want to be, or you have to be the person someone else wants you to be. American society as a whole advertises a very unhealthy lifestyle when it comes to eating, and I no longer want to be any part of that process. I don’t want to be the product of an industry, but rather the person I want to be. Vegetarians in The South have far fewer choices is what to eat when it comes to dining out, and we have virtually no choices when it comes to grabbing a quick bite to eat at some local restaurant that can serve up a healthy meal without a dead animal in it.
I want to make a reference to those in the Vegan movement who treated me as if I were some sort of criminal for not converting in an instant. This sort of life change will not happen overnight. I have to teach myself how to cook, and shop, all over again. I have to go from almost mindless planning of meals to buying new spices and new things that I never have had to do before, and it will not happen overnight, and it will not be without some problems. Even those of us who want to be Vegans, and who want to change, are going to face some obstacles, and we need your encouragement, not your condemnation. We are discussing here a cultural shift that is going to be fought against by those who make money off meat, and those who simply think that not eating meat is rather sissified. Having the attitude of moral superiority is going to turn people away, and cause very little but the continuation of the behavior condemned.
Last Saturday I made some black beans and rice, and took it to a party. The hostess is a Vegan, and she likes the idea I’m turning into one, too. I’ve also found support in people online, and that helps. Sunday, still slightly hungover, I looked up a recipe in my brand new Vegan cookbook and made a red bean stew, replete with red bean, three types of green, a lot of garlic, and a handful of spices I had never used before. It was a slow cooker full of meals for the rest of the week, and in the meantime, I’ve been hitting salads and raw veggies, and trying out a few minor things here and there.
I think this has been the first week I’ve gone without beef or pork in my life.
This is not going to be easy past this point nor in fact will it be a definitive separation from meat, I fear, but rather a migration. It took the better part of half a century for me to get to where I am not, and it would not surprise me if it took a few months for my cooking habits to catch up with my new cuisine. I’m a good cook, really, and I accustomed to things coming out very well, or at least mildly edible. There was the recent incident with the vaporization of the Haberneros, but that was a freak accident even if it did cause some mildly psychotropic reactions.
For me to convert to Veganism is paramount to the pope becoming a Pagan. I’m from The South. I’m from South Georgia. This is the Land Of the Fried and Home of the Bacon. I’m not only a Southerner, I’m a male in The South. But I do believe there are many health issues directly connected with our addiction to eating the dead flesh of our fellow animals. We have recently discovered animals who consume feed that contains the remains of their own kind can contract diseases from that type of diet. Is it that far of a jump to consider that meat of any type might actually be poisonous to us in the long term? Worse, all of this may be directly related to the fact we now have industrial farms where animals are more the product of chemicals, hormones, drugs, and spreadsheets than living creatures.
There is a moral issue here, an ethical equation, and as human beings, we have to ask ourselves if we still have the luxury of considering food as a form of entertainment, as a means of destroying ourselves and our earth. We must ask if we ever had that luxury at all, and if in fact, we ever had the right.
My migration has begun, not ended. A week is not a lifetime, and the way will not be without failure, as all endeavors worthwhile always will be. Yet just as surely as one person with an idea can become more than one person with an idea, each meal leads me to another point in time where I can ponder what has gone inside of me, and what it will produce within, and what I will become because of it.