Having a social justice warrior meme group has brought people into my life who are serious about their politics and also fucking hilarious.
Why I Got Into It
I was living in Santa Cruz, California, an ultra-liberal pocket in the mountains south of San Francisco, full of past and present hippies. In this beach and boardwalk town, eating meat alone didn't ostracize you, but having an opinion was as important as having a pulse -- unless you surfed. Then, you know, you're exempt from the rule. And all rules.
It was in sunny California that I saw my very first PETA video. It might have been "Meet your Meat" or something similar. If you've never seen something like this, first, I'd like to warn you to only watch it on an empty stomach, and, second, that the content is not untruthful. These videos show animals treated extremely and unbelievably poorly in our food processing facilities that regularly pass inspections.
For me, watching those truths right in my living room was a wakeup call unlike I'd never had before. Realizing that I, a consumer barely above the legal drinking age, had the right to opt-out of putting my money toward ethical wrongdoings: Hell yes, I thought, sign me up.
How I Got Into It
Vegetables, dairy, fruits, and beer. And lots and lots of thick asian sauces. My former coworkers (and even Jane!) can vouch for my slight addiction to Thai curries. Tofu every way. Baked goods and more baked goods.
Seafood, though the mistreatments continue in that industry, too. But, honestly, the line was drawn with a Maryland Blue Crab's claw in the sand of my food choices. This Baltimoron cannot physically resist a crabcake, hon.
What I Did Not Eat
Seitan! I'm the leader of a one-woman campaign of Former Vegetarians Against Seitan (and Seitan-Like Products) (FVASASLP). Of all the delicious food combinations you can make with the finest ingredients in the universe, is this the best that we can do? Putting a delicious sauce over this block of repulsive remnant of a New York City soggy cardboard strip adds insult to injury. Lovers of seitan: really? REALLY?
Why I Got Out of It
First five years flew by! No temptations, no health problems, it was all (tofurkey) gravy.
Then, things got a little ... worrisome. I craved french fries and ice cream every day even after doubling on each as a meal a few days in a row. In restaurants with friends, I'd clean my mondo-sized vegetarian plate real fast and pick on friends' plates before they finished. I'd spend $50 on groceries for one and find myself eating everything I'd purchased in three days. My mom made pregnancy jokes that I did not find remotely humorous.
In short, I was hungry. I'm an athletic chick -- I run a few miles a week, play volleyball in a semi-serious league 1-2 times a week here in the city, walk like a mofo like most New Yorkers do. My caloric intake rate just wasn't matching its burn rate. Now, this isn't to say that I was losing weight like crazy -- I broke even, since I ate every single thing in sight. I felt on the verge of an eating disorder, and I knew things could only get worse if I continued.
All metabolistic signs pointed to meat, though my doctor said my levels (protein, all those a's, b's, and c's you need) looked just fine. Though my heart said yes, my body said no. I decided to put meat back in my diet.
How I Got Out of It
Getting out of it was a nervous process that I started over four months ago. I'd always said that if I could lose my veginity to any meat out there, it would, without a doubt, be TGI Friday's Chicken Fingers with a side of honey mustard and strawberry applesauce with an optional lemonade. Though I didn't make it to that fine initialed establishment, it was indeed a chicken's finger that did me in.
The first bite was not impressive. I only had a nibble doused in BBQ sauce (which I am now enamored with -- BBQ sauce, surely, is what advanced species are meant to eat!) and I consciously wanted to avoid any textures of mystery.
A few days later, I got more adventurous: chicken in my Thai food, pepperoni on my pizza, prosciutto with my melon. A few weeks later, I was feeling good: Packing a turkey sando for lunch, going veg for dinner, staying lite on the snackies. A few months later, I got a pretty real, uh, gut check: Easter with my Polish relatives over some kielbasa was no place for pastels or baby bunnies.
I've recovered since then, and since I was technically a pescetarian, I had an easier transition than most. My body had already gotten to know and love some of the complex animally proteins. I'd heard horror stories from friends making the transition that involved gratuitous bodily expulsions I'd hoped to avoid, yet kielbasa may mock me forever.
How It's Going
The differences in my daily eating habits are so marked that I'll notice coworkers ask me if I want to go out and grab a snack, and I'll say, surprisingly, I'm not hungry. My packed cold-cut lunch actually holds me over until the end of the day, and my veggies are doin' their god-given job to cushion the other junk in my tummy pretty durn well.
Cooking is another story. I have no idea how to seek out meat to buy in the grocery stores, and I sure as hell do not know how to heat this stuff to stifle those pesky bacterial armies. To be safe, and because I'm a Supremely Excellent Cook, I err on the side of burning everything. See? It's done! Crispy is done! Could not be any done-r. Dinner is ready, bitches.
There are some things I have not yet eaten, like ribs or anything involving ground beef. I've gone to the Shake Shack for years with my friends and never tasted their world-renowned burger, so that's definitely on my list. I'm also happy to no longer be the passive weight in the where-are-we-going-to-eat discussion among my friends, which happens not because I have jerky friends (they're the best, actually!) but because of jerky restaurants with jerky menus and a jerky lack of options. Jerks.
Yeah, some. Meat still grosses me out physically and ethically. Even cooked chicken that isn't in fried-finger form induces a little gag reflex. I think it's their skin, honestly. When I think about all of those veins snapping and their mucus-filled subcutaneous layers and all the sickly-sweet aromas billowing out of freshly baked chicken ... I'm just not there yet. It feels so primal, so reactionary, so wrong-but-right, like sex on a 100-degree day.
And I've read countless nonfictions chronicling the still-awful things that happen to animals in factories. I do the right thing whenever I can, and I still pump my fist as a rebel consumer who has the ability to choose against meat if she wants, dammit.
But I feel good! It wasn't the sea-change of lifestyle I expected. Socially, I am discovering that New York is a different city when you eat meat for the first time ever. I mean, come on! Dim sum! Food trucks! SHAKE SHACK! NYC pizza! Dirty-water hot dogs from the man on the corner with the silver push-cart! Oops, undo.
Wait...this is not a tech post!
You win $5! I mean, I know. We could stretch the conversation into the technological advances in vegetarianism and talk about the really excellent chorizo fauxsage (that's faux sausage, friend) I've had, but, that's sort of not my point, nor are the tools of technology ever my point, either. I had a problem (hunger); therefore, I ate. My approach to technology is just as functional: if it's broken, fix it; if it's not good, improve it. See how easy that is? I'd seriously like to know why there are so few women in technology when we put it in those terms.
By the way, vegetarians and vegans deserve an incredible amount of respect. Their choices dictate a lifestyle, not an errant choice of what they feel like eating. It's really, really tough to do what they're doing, and they do it because they believe in it. Give them a break! Or a coffee or beer because (most of) both of those are V-friendly. I stopped because I felt like I had to, not because I wanted to. I might get recruited to play for Team V again one day; you never know.