The Lousy Vegetarian

The Lousy Vegetarian photo

You're doing it wrong.

Need proof? Take a look at your Facebook feed. Did you vote for the right person, go to the right protest, make the right sign, eat the right thing, wear the right color, see the right movie, love the right celebrity, choose the correct outfit, get the right haircut, save the right animal, fight for the right cause? I'm guessing probably not. Chances are, even if you did, you could have done it better, cleaner, quieter, louder, with more panache, or substance, or grace, or wit, or madness or or or or or …

A year or so ago I made brisket for the first time. My mom and grandmother were visiting from out of town and I wanted to make a big fancy grownup meal. I pulled Ina Garten off the shelf, I read up on the things to do and not do. I went all out. There was creamed spinach, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and cornbread, all of my favorites.

Putting the meal together was mostly easy. I didn't try to do anything new or different other than the brisket; I did a great job of controlling myself and kept the meal simple. Ina is the best. She can teach you how to cook anything, and makes you feel like a genius. 

The trouble for me came when I had to remove the brisket from its packaging. Have you ever cooked a brisket? It's a gigantic slab of meat and it comes in what looks like a clear body bag. It was a gruesome sight. I got so disgusted pulling the meat out of the plastic wrapping that I decided right then and there to become a vegetarian. 

I'm not kidding.

I washed the meat, seasoned it, did everything Ina told me to do while taking very deep and purposeful breaths and then swore off meat forever. I didn't even eat what everyone said was an amazing and delicious first (and last) brisket. Holding blood-covered flesh will do that to you. It did it to me anyway.

I must admit that I've had trouble with meat in the past. It's not like I instantly and from nowhere decided I couldn't deal with eating meat. I've always struggled with eating food attached to a bone, or anything on a plate that looks like moments ago it was running free and living its best life. Couple this sensitivity with removing a hunk of cow from a plastic bag while gently cradling it over a sink. I think you get the idea, let's just say I became incredibly motivated.

I kept my decision quiet for a few months, only telling my husband. He had been flirting with vegetarianism for awhile, so our little family made the switch with ease. I wasn't worried about making the change; I was mostly confident that I could keep us alive without having to hold another bloody corpse. What I was worried about, and continue to wrestle with is: What will people say?

I know what you're thinking. Who cares what you're doing with your life, dude? Nobody cares if you're a vegetarian. I know, I KNOW! Yet, this is how I've been feeling about nearly everything lately. All of my life choices feel under attack. What are people going to say? How are they going to shame me? Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right? I feel paralyzed. If I'm doing it wrong (whatever IT may be), then what's the point. Why do anything?

When I decided to become a vegetarian, I made some very kind and relaxed rules for myself. First off? I am a grown up and I'll eat whatever I damned well please. So, yes, I eat a plant-based diet, but I might occasionally have tuna, or some other fish, or shrimp. I am also from the South, so if I am ever presented with the opportunity to sample what someone might consider to be the greatest fried chicken on Earth (and no, not ALL fried chicken is on this level) then I'm probably going to eat it. I work very hard to not beat myself up about any of these guidelines. They work for me, and that should be enough.

None of these choices are to prove anything to anyone, or to be a better Jew, or to make judgements about your eating habits. I'm doing it because meat mostly grosses me out, and frankly I do believe avoiding it is a healthy choice to make.

My rules are just that, they are my rules for me. Maybe they make me a pescatarian, maybe it's a sloppy vegetarian, maybe it makes me a fried-chicken-atarian, and maybe I have a creative eating disorder. Call it whatever you need to call it, I will continue to think of myself as a vegetarian. I made a choice that works for me, with guidelines I can follow.

When I get bogged down in the semantics, I try to remember that being a lousy vegetarian (or insert the noun of your choice) is better than not being a vegetarian at all. Trying, doing something, doing something that you can actually do and agree to, even if you're doing it "wrong" -- that's way better than doing nothing at all.

Jeremy Owens photo 375
Jeremy Owens is the creator, producer and host of the live-lit/storytelling show ... Read More

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