Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting down to the meat of the matter

I don't really eat much meat. While I was in Indonesia, I was borderline vegetarian. It was easy there, partially because of the abundance of tofu and tempeh in the Indonesian diet. And it was cheap. Tempeh is considered a low-class food, since the rich people can afford to eat quality meat regularly. Once, a taxi driver asked me about my favorite local food. When I replied that I liked fried tempeh, he laughed hysterically and said that he would invite me over to his house to eat some, and then he laughed some more.

When I went to Thailand, I had to eat meat. Vegetarian options don't abound there, and I was eating most of my meals in the school cafeteria, where there were a limited amount of options every day. And I'm allergic to fish, so that avenue wasn't open to me, either. I complained at several meals to my boss that not only were there no vegetarian options, there were occasionally no vegetables to be found. As in Indonesia, eating meat had an air of socio-economic superiority; vegetables are low class, and our students were upper class.

In Ireland, the cost of meat kept it out of the refrigerator; I ate a lot of eggs. (And cheese. Damn the cost; I NEED cheese.) But when we ate in pubs or restaurants, there was meat again. Vegetarianism hasn't really caught on there, and I only saw a couple vegetarian dishes on menus. Fortunately, I do have a weak spot for cheeseburgers.

Recently, Salon has run a series of articles about people and their relationships with eating meat. No ground-breaking journalism, but it did make me think about my own habits.

I grew up eating meat. Lots of it. Ground beef (from cows that I helped raise, so there's that aspect), Spam (which I didn't raise), and bologna and that bizarre Oscar Meyer ham and cheese loaf (now: blech). But somewhere along the way, I lost the taste for it. I don't avoid meat really for any notion of saving the world, and only marginally less for health reasons; I don't eat meat because I don't really like it. At least this prevents me from going out in search of fake meat; my non-meat proteins don't in any way resemble meat, though I'm not sure how unusual this is.

For the time being, I'm back at home living with my parents, whose dinners seem to consist of a piece of meat and accompanying vegetable or starchy root vegetable. When my mother has asked what I want for dinner, I've told her that I don't eat like them, so if she'll tell me what she wants, I'll make it for her. (There is also the slight problem that almost everything I eat is spicy, and my mother can't handle any degree of heat.) I've decided to eat as they eat; dinners seem more communal if everyone's eating the same thing, and I don't really want to prepare two meals. Also, the grocery store at the bottom of the hill isn't the most vegetarian friendly; they don't have tofu, but at least they have hummus. But I've been surviving the daytime without meat, when I'm only preparing food for myself.

I don't advocate for anyone I've met to eat less meat. I don't think I can change that habit in people so easily; it truly is something ingrained in our culture and habits from a young age. But I have been able to push for local consumption: if you're going to eat that burger or fish, maybe you should know where it comes from, and then decide if you want something from a little closer to home. ("Why is this turkey from Canada?" I exclaimed the other day.) Maybe awareness won't change the world, but it's a start. And everything has to start somewhere.

No comments: