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March 1998
Editorial: The Great American Meat-Out

By Martin Rowe



Every March 20th, the Great American Meat-Out, sponsored by Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM), asks people to make a pledge to stop eating animal flesh for one day. In the tradition of the Great American Smoke-Out, which did the same for smoking, the Great American Meat-Out hopes to raise awareness of the health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits of a plant-based diet. One would like to believe that not eating flesh for one day would be not a big deal for anyone. But, no! When confronted with the option not to consume meat for three meals out of the thousand or so meals they will have in one year, an amazing number of people fidget, sweat, and get anxious--in fact, the sort of reactions you would expect from smokers forced, if you will pardon the expression, to go cold turkey.

Once you become a vegetarian, it's often salutary to remember that more than likely you once weren't--and that you too would probably have had the same reaction as the confirmed, perspiring meat-eaters above if you'd been handed a leaflet asking for your pledge to the Meat-Out. My own story is hardly flattering. In January 1989, having shown neither much inclination nor indication, with neither fanfare nor great enthusiasm, I decided to become a vegetarian. I moved into a house which I shared with two other people who also called themselves vegetarian. I should be accurate here. When I said, "I decided to become a vegetarian," I mean precisely that: I decided to become a vegetarian. This involved, initially, no longer eating land and air animals. I still ate fish, and, convinced like those of us who eat it, that I would need some form of animal protein to keep healthy, I stocked up on cheese, milk, and eggs.

Not that I didn't call myself a vegetarian, mind you. I did, and was rather pleased with myself for doing so, although I cannot quite remember why. Nevertheless, I thought myself so darned clever that, at an end-of-year dinner outing with my company, fate decided not only that I should choose lobster for my entrée but that the waiter would come and show me the unfortunate animal squirming in his hand before he took it away for the cook to boil it live. A colleague asked me how I could eat lobster but not other animals. I muttered something about cows being more physiologically complex, and therefore more ontologically important, animals than lobsters, and hoped that using big words would hide the big hole in my argument (or at least in my conscience). It didn't. Within a couple of weeks I resolved not to eat sea animals anymore.

For the next few years I began to think more deeply about vegetarianism, and allied it with a growing interest in environmentalism and social justice. It was not until I moved from England to New York City, however, that I became concerned about other aspects of the exploitation of animals--such as vivisection, hunting, and many other violations. In September 1993, I again moved house and stopped eating all animal products. I also began to reduce the amount of leather, wool, and silk I wore. I co-founded this magazine.

It is still a bit of a puzzle to me how I became a vegetarian. While I had been introduced to vegetarianism as a concept by the woman who is my partner four years before I "became a vegetarian," I made little effort to understand it, or even pay her the courtesy of pretending to be curious about it. Becoming a vegetarian for me was not the result of seeing horrific pictures of animals in factory farms, or rabbits suffering the inflictions of chemical testing, or a wolf struggling inside a leg-hold trap. Nobody needed to tell me how much healthier a diet with no cholesterol, less fat, and more fiber would be. And nobody needed to inform me of the devastation to the environment, water, air, and the rain forests that animal agriculture has caused. All that knowledge--important and urgent as it is--came later, as a reinforcement to a rather banal act of will. I don't know if I thought I would be at death's door within a month, or suddenly attain enlightenment, but I felt it was at least worth a try to see what happened.

Nothing physically did, of course, except that I learned how to cook properly, began to look at what was in food, stopped adding sugar to my food and drinks, rediscovered the multiplicity of tastes on the tongue, and introduced myself to a range of ethnic cuisine that had been completely unknown to me. As Mark Warren Reinhardt and others in this issue of Satya show, vegetarianism is more than just an optional lifestyle--it's the sort of thing that can change your life so much that it impacts on the industry you work in, place you live, even your choice of mate. It can get in the way of conducting your life in the mainstream, where you can hold all those unexamined values in blissful ignorance.

So, if it's so much trouble, why should anyone bother even taking the Meat-Out pledge for one day? Well, I could be smart and say that you're likely to have many more days of your lives if you adopt a vegetarian diet. I could even say that by doing it you are allowing fewer animals to have miserable lives. But, that didn't wash with me before I became a vegetarian, and may not wash with you now. Instead, I'll just say--try it. Why not? What is there to lose, except perhaps a few pounds? And once you've checked your pulse at the end of the day and found that you're still alive, why not try it again? And again. Who knows? If you keep on doing it, you may start wondering what all the fuss was about; and, just possibly, it may even change your life.

For more on the Great American Meat-Out, contact FARM at 1-800-MEAT-OUT.


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