I never thought I would try being a vegetarian. I’ve spent the last 19 years gorging on meat: hamburgers, steak, chicken, turkey, bacon, ham, lamb — the list goes on. I always had ethical reservations about eating meat — but never at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Never, that is, until I read Alastair Norcross’s “Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases.” It made a startlingly effective case against eating factory farmed meat — which constitutes approximately 99 percent of today’s meat — by inventing a hypothetical situation in which a man lacks an enzyme that allows him to taste chocolate. This enzyme, Norcross imagines, can only be obtained by torturing puppies. While I won’t go into the details, he concludes that factory farming is essentially the same thing. My reaction was not one of unrestrained horror, but one of disappointment. I would either have to stop eating meat or admit that what I was doing everyday was immoral. With the exception of eggs and the occasional tuna sandwich, I surrendered to vegetarianism.
With Sadler dining hall as my home base, I set out on my quest for moral consistency. I knew this would be especially challenging for me because I didn’t really like vegetables. I ate them, but I rarely enjoyed them. To think they would be my life’s blood for as long as I tried this was disheartening. So I began a torrid affair with tofu, a food whose very mention as a necessary staple of vegetarianism previously would have caused me revulsion. The way its consistency vaguely resembles meat, the way it takes on only the flavor of its surrounding food, adding nothing of its own, yet taking nothing away — it was love on the rebound. Each trip to the Mongolian station filled me with anticipation that those bland, bleached cubes would fill my chicken void.
Of course, I couldn’t eat stir fry for every meal. Eventually, I was forced to move past the awkwardness of ordering sandwiches without meat, which consequently reaffirmed my belief that, with enough cheese, one can enjoy anything. I also started eating salads more often, which, for most of my life, I had either avoided or barely tolerated. As the son of a dietician, salad was never far from the dinner table, and there was always a certain guilt attached to not eating it, but I was going to have to get used to it now.
I would also have to venture to the vegan station, which, for the longest time, I wasn’t aware even existed. There, I found a steady supply of hummus, rice and beans but not a whole lot else. Tiring of dining halls, I would sometimes flee to Pita Pit, where my palate found solace, but my wallet less so.
I’ve been doing this now for over a month, and while I’m used to it, I can’t say that I really enjoy it. It’s just so unsatisfying. I haven’t figured out what to do with this newfound information, though. We’ve all been taught since birth that if we know something is wrong, we shouldn’t do it. To me, eating food produced by mass, systematic suffering is wrong, yet until last month, I couldn’t remember going a day without eating meat — likely all factory farmed. The same could probably be said of most Americans and the general College of William and Mary population. Such a gross moral contradiction is something even the most fervent meat lover needs to confront.
I may very well revert back to my normal habits or something similar. Does behaving immorally while feeling conflicted make me any better? Absolutely not. The turkey I’ve eaten will still have had its nerve-filled beak severed with a hot blade, been crushed in a cage to live out its miserable existence of force feeding and trampling, until it is taken to a slaughterhouse, potentially dying of starvation before it arrives, to have its throat slit or to be boiled alive. And yet, Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
Email Matt Camarda at [email protected]