Photo Credit: Stacy Spensley
“So I haven’t eaten any meat since I went to Medieval Times,” I told Kate, my BFF, travel partner and platonic life mate. I was up in Madison and had barely survived the three-hour bus trip from Chicago having consumed nothing but black tea and a banana for breakfast. “I’ve decided to be vegetarian again. Maybe vegan, if I can do it. Christ, I’m hungry.”
“Well, I know a place where we can get free-range, grass-fed, locally-raised steaks,” Kate said.
Kate knows me really well. We ended up at the Weary Traveler that night, and I ended up eating that steak.
Obviously, I have my work cut out for me as a new vegetarian-maybe-vegan.
Wait a minute, you might be wondering. I thought I was reading a Food Geek column. Weren’t you writing about pickled beef tongue and barbecue not that long ago? Don’t you have a codependent relationship with pork dumplings? Didn’t you eat an entire package of bacon that one time?
I was, and I do. And let’s not talk about how many times I’ve eaten an entire package of bacon.
But there’s this little thing called factory farming, y’all. I could write an entire column that would disgust, shame and horrify you, listing out the details of all that is wrong with industrial-scale slaughter and consumption of animals.
Fortunately for all of us, I couldn’t begin to do justice to such a topic in a 1000 word column, so I’m just gonna link to this interactive Rolling Stone article that caused the downfall of my own carnivorous habits about about six weeks ago. Read if you dare. It’s really not for the faint of heart.
I was a vegetarian for most of my teens, inspired to action after my aunt dropped off a number of PETA magazines, and my sister brought home a few Animal Liberation Front zines from a local anarchist distro. I proselytized the wonders of organic produce and soy protein to anyone who would listen until I was 18, when I accidentally ate some steak that was in some soup my sister had made. A few days later, I not-so-accidentally ate some more steak. And then some bacon. And then some sushi. I dropped my vegetarianism as easily as if it had slipped from my lard-smeared hands.
And now, a decade later, I’ve picked it back up again. Hopefully, I’ll be less of a naive, proselytizing asshole about it this time around.
In the meantime, though, here are some things I’ve learned in my six weeks of a mostly-meat-free life in Chicago:
1.) I am always hungry.
Seriously, I am a vast pit of hunger. My stomach is a black hole; my gut is death, destroyer of worlds and boxes of breakfast cereal. I don’t remember being this hungry as a teenager, but maybe it’s because I was living at my mother’s house, and there were things like coconut ice cream and the aforementioned Chik’n Nuggets around to assuage my constant need for caloric intake. Now that I’m buying my own food (or occasionally stealing it from my roommates), I’m constantly eyeing other people’s leftovers. I get anxious if I leave the house without having a bag of almonds, a protein bar, an apple, two oranges and a handful of dried fruit in my bag. I shudder to think of what kind of carnage will incur if I’m caught unaware during a snack attack.
2.) The flavor of soy milk has not improved in the last ten years.
Meanwhile, my own tastes have changed, and now the taste reminds me of licking an empty ice cream carton. The memory of flavor is there, but it mostly tastes of cardboard. Almond milk is slightly better, and I’ve heard good things about hemp milk. But I am not willing to spend four dollars on a quart of something that I’m just gonna dump in my tea or oatmeal.
3.) Being vegetarian/vegan-when-I-can has not made me lose weight or save money.
Every vegan cookbook ever lied to me. Not that this is that surprising: See the above note on being a vast pit of continual hunger.
4.) Mother of god, I fart so much now.
Legumes and my G.I. track just don’t get along. And since beans, split peas, lentils and chickpeas are now a major part of my diet, I produce more gas than a Citgo pump. I am contributing directly to the degradation of Chicago’s air quality. Sorry, folks. I’ll invest in bulk quantities of Bean-O soon.
5.) Fats are my new best friend.
Avocado. Olive oil. Almonds. Pumpkin seeds. Fake cream cheese. Potato chips. Chocolate. Peanut butter. Chocolate peanut butter. (This is a real thing. Expect a future column comparing and contrasting different brands of chocolate nut butter.) I have stopped craving sugar and started craving fat. I never realized how much of my fat intake was from the greasy hamburgers I ate on a weekly basis.
6.) I have leveled up on my rationalization skills.
“There is literally nothing vegetarian on the menu, and I don’t want to ask them to make me something special.” “It’s my roommate’s birthday. That means I’m allowed to eat six pieces of bacon at brunch.” “This salami is from some tiny farm in Wisconsin where they probably hand-knit sweaters for their pig, so I don’t have to feel guilty for eating it.”
This is how I ended up devouring a (truly delicious) steak at the Weary Traveler. I’ve been telling people that my goal is to quit eating animal products in the same way that I quit smoking: taking it one day at a time and not getting mad if I slip up. If I get drunk and bum a cigarette (or a hamburger, I guess?), it’s not the end of the world. I can’t have my diet be an integral part of my identity, and I can’t be a proselytizing asshole like I was at sixteen. I hate that shit.
Furthermore, rather than just boycotting meat and animal byproducts entirely, I’d rather support people who are trying to farm differently. Occasionally, anyway. I’m still figuring all of this out, and I reserve the right to change my mind about it later. Especially if Kate and I end up at the Weary Traveler again, the next time I’m in Madison.