Our steadfast vegetarian daughter is away at camp this week. So guess what we’re doing? Yep! Carnivore binging. Can anyone else relate to changed eating habits when the vegetarian/vegan/gluten free family member is away? As a steadfast vegetarian, I appreciate her arguments for humane animal husbandry. Those arguments have led us to buy eggs from pasture raised hens, organic dairy products, even cruelty free soaps and shampoos. When our daughter is home, we cook vegetarian meals every night and use questionably performing deodorants. I have not even purchased a container of chicken stock in years. But…everything in moderation. Including, as it turns out, moderation.
To clarify, I never agreed to be a complete herbivore, I just strive for harmony. And trying to eat dinner where one child was continually chiding another because of the meat on their plate,well, it proved to be too much.
Youngest child: “Why won’t you just eat meat?”
Middle child: “Why don’t you just eat your guinea pig? It’s about the same thing. I don’t eat disgusting meat.”
Y.C.: “I don’t eat disgusting meat, either. I eat tasty meat. Plus, the guinea pigs are our pets. I didn’t know this chicken.”
M.C.: “How can you differentiate between your pet and someone else’s pet?”
Y.C.: “I don’t. I just eat what we buy at the grocery store. Trust me. This chicken was not a pet.”
M.C.: “Animals have feelings too!”
Y.C.: “Not this animal on my plate. Well, not anymore, anyway.”
(Score one for the youngest.)
Our dinner table conversation had become an anguishing forum that only the most hardened PETA supporters could endure. I was worn down. Who can listen to a seven-year-old and a fifteen-year-old argue to the point of shouting at every meal? Not me.
So, In the interest of peace, two years ago, we stripped the meat from our diet.
And we cheated. I bought rotisserie chickens and ate them in the car with our youngest, being careful to hide the evidence before anyone saw. I discovered hamburger wrappers in our vehicle after my husband had been driving. We would sneak hotdogs at the ballpark. It was shameful. And it was frustrating.
We had always been conscientious consumers. Rarely dining out, we were exhausting our food budget on high quality meats. Grass fed, organic beef. Local, free range chicken, heirloom turkeys raised on classical music…kidding. Sort of. But everything was coming undone at the dinner table. Eventually, were strong-armed into change. And at first, it was very positive. Our consumption of grains and vegetables went through the roof. My husband’s cholesterol finally entered the “normal” range. We intentionally consumed more fish and fiber. We educated ourselves on nutrition that included alternative protein sources.
And I began to feel deprived.
On the rare occasion we did dine out, I was ordering the meat platter. With a side of meat. As my middle child looked on with disgust.
Then, the unthinkable happened: the vegetarian began lobbying for our entire family to go vegan…
No animal products what-so-ever. No eggs, cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt…not even ice cream. Cows were being “forced into slavery”. Chickens were “caged”. Goats were forced to reproduce just so that I could “have my cheese”. It was an abomination, declared the now almost seventeen-year-old.
I firmly put my foot down. I understood the “I don’t eat anything with a face” argument; I couldn’t personally slaughter a cow or a pig. I don’t want to look an animal in the eye and take its life. (That’s why my meat comes in neat little packages from some store.) There’s a certain comfort in not having to think about how that sirloin got to that tray; the separation between slaughter and consumer creates a buffer. I had acknowledged that. Because of her argument, I had learned to cook with seitan and tofu. I regularly replaced ground beef with beans and mushrooms. I had done my due diligence on behalf of my vegetarian daughter.
But for the love of all things holy, I was not giving up eggs or cheese. I was not going to become some convert who poured nut milk in their coffee.
And my precious middle child was outraged that I would take the side of the dairy farmer. The cheese monger. Those people who “exploit hens for their eggs”. She would go it alone, if that’s what it took – she and her lowly soybeans.
I gave her my blessing. While spooning my decidedly non-vegan ice cream into a dish and topping it with (surely) exploitative whipped cream.
Shortly thereafter, we ventured out to purchase raw cashews, (used to make “cheese-like toppings”), and procure coconut milk, almond milk, even vegan cheese. While shopping, I flagrantly tossed in the 1/2 & 1/2 and two pounds of butter. At home, we finally took the Ninja blender out of its box to facilitate vegan smoothies. And she headed down that road.
For a bit.
See, when you realize how difficult it is to eradicate butter and eggs from your baking…how tasteless enchiladas are without cheese…how unsatisfying it is to live on smoothies…that vegan cheese is an abomination…how you miss your yogurt parfaits, your bagels with cream cheese, your egg sandwiches in the mornings…things begin to look different. You realize that chickens are kept in coops to keep them safe. That purchasing milk and cheese from a responsible dairy can be a mighty way to make your dollar talk; by supporting local farmers who sustainably, and humanely, produce eggs and cheese, you are putting your money where your mouth is.
My middle child is no longer flirting with veganism. And she has taken a more reasonable approach to our eating meat (although she is still a card carrying vegetarian). We limit our meat consumption to days when she is not home, or times that we dine out. We are healthier for our mostly vegetarian lifestyle and we are extremely conscientious when it comes to the small amounts of meat we do purchase. I can thank her for opening our eyes to factory farming and inhumane animal husbandry. And every once in a while, you can still catch me yelling to the BBQ chef: “Where’s The Beef?!?”