I am mostly a vegetarian.
I did not grow up vegetarian. I grew up in southwest Missouri, in the kind of small town where being a vegetarian isn't cool. In fact, it's practically un-American. Saying that I'm a vegetarian gets lots of looks of disbelief, pity, and suspicion. Also a lot of, "So, what do you eat? Salad?"
So after growing up in the land of burgers and steaks (but never eating much of them simply because I don't like meat that much) I went away (well, a few hours away) to college and sometime during my junior year, I watched an episode of X-Files that took place at a chicken farm in Arkansas. I'll spare you the details, but it totally put me off chicken, which was pretty much the only meat I liked to eat anyway, except for the occasional fast-food cheeseburger. My quasi-boyfriend-at-the-time said, "All meat factories are like that." (As in, disgusting.) So fine. It put me off all meat. No burgers either. I quit eating anything with a face for an entire year. Then one day the campus dining hall had toasted ravioli on the menu and my St. Louis-native friends gushed about how amazing they were and so I ate some toasted ravioli. Delicious? Yes. Turns out ravioli, like pretty much everything, is scrumptious when it's breaded and fried.
But late that night, I woke up itching all over and wheezing when I tried to take a deep breath. My suitemate ended up driving me to the hospital, as I was covered with hives. This had happened to me a few times as a kid and we had never connected it to any specific cause except "allergies." I had pretty bad seasonal allergies when I was a kid, so we just assumed that something in the air had really gotten to me. This time was no different--it never occurred to me that it would be connected to something I'd eaten. So I went on, mostly not eating meat but not being strict about "rules" of vegetarianism and then one day my order at Taco Bell got mixed up and I was too hungry to care so I ate something with beef in it and... back to the emergency room. Again. While my face got puffy and hives broke out all over my torso, which made me incredibly embarrassed to have to see the cute male nurse as they ran Benadryl straight into my veins. At least, that's how I remember it.
Finally I got in to see an allergist who glanced at my food diary (they'd told me to keep one after the first incident) and told me she thought I was allergic to beef. I looked at her in total disbelief. I was raised in rural Missouri! Beef cows are my neighbors! I grew up eating meat!
Blood test results came back and confirmed an allergy to beef and pork.
(Looking back on my occasional episodes with hives as a kid, they almost always happened when we were at the farm and had a bonfire. We always chalked it up to me being allergic to the woodsmoke or something, but now I can see that the hives were linked to eating hot dogs when we'd have a weenie roast.)
So now I had a "good" reason for not eating meat. I wasn't just being difficult! I had a real reason that would justify my refusal to eat steak or burgers to all the folks back home. It was sort of shock, and there was that moment of craving a Sonic cheeseburger just because I knew I couldn't have one, but I'd gone without beef and pork for a year and hadn't missed it. In fact, the longer I went without meat, the more meat grossed me out.
So I officially quit eating beef and pork because of my allergy, which was no sacrifice at all. (Fact: Toasted ravioli is just as good when it's cheese ravioli). And I gave up poultry again because it just seemed gross. Plus around this same time they were coming out with the books and documentaries about factory farming practices and the inhumane treatment of animals, and it was horrifying. And then I went to grad school, where every other person in my department was a vegetarian, and it was like I'd found my place in the world with other non-meat-eaters.
Fast forward through those meatless years to a couple of years ago when I read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which made me more conscious about what I was eating, particularly trying to eat locally and seasonally. (I do ok with eating locally when David's garden is going strong... I'm afraid we don't do a good job of eating seasonally in the winter.) It was also this book that made me reconsider my stance on not eating animals.
I still hate the thought of factory farms and inhumane treatment of animals, but I also understand that certain beasts are essentially made for human consumption. It's not like a turkey has some other more fulfilling purpose in life. I guess you could say that I was convinced by Kingsolver's argument that as long as a turkey has had a good life, then harvesting it to eat is not a crime against turkeydom. So I adjusted my vegetarianism to occasionally eat poultry, as long as it was a local, free range, "happy" bird and I can manage to not be grossed out by the idea of it.
I don't EVER cook meat (gag, gag, a hundred times gag) and if I see David preparing meat, I'm usually too grossed out to eat it. Ground beef = gross me out. So eating meat is still a pretty rare thing for me. I ate it more often when I was pregnant because I worried about getting enough protein. And I do eat fish--usually just salmon and tilapia.
So, yeah, I will be eating a little bit of Thanksgiving turkey this year, but the side dishes are MUCH more important, obviously.
Some of my friends have asked if Zuzu will be a vegetarian. I'd say that she'll probably be a vegetarian-with-benefits also. David eats meat on a regular basis (he usually buys some portion of a free range, grass-fed cow and splits the meat with someone else, so our freezer is stocked with dead animal), so I'm not going to "forbid" her to eat meat. Often David cooks a vegetarian meal and then grills himself something on the side, so she could try what he's having, but meat will never be the center of her diet (or ours). But I'm going to be incredibly cautious about introducing it because of my allergies, so I don't know when she'll actually give it a try.
I think the biggest misconceptions people have about being vegetarian is that there is a sense of deprivation, and that it is impossible to plan a meal if you're not planning it around a meat product. Not so! I don't miss eating meat on a regular basis at all. But then again, I never liked meat that much to begin with.
Good news today--I think my appetite is returning. At least the thought of lunch (a vegetarian lunch) doesn't gross me out today. That's real progress.