Some five or so years back, P-Diddy made an announcement. In his mind, it was an announcement of epic proportion.
For those of you who don’t know who P-Diddy is, he’s a rapper. A rapper with cloying, adoring fans who probably hang on his every word.
Back in 2005, I think it was, P-Diddy revealed he was changing his name. From that point forward, people could simply call him “Diddy.” Why? “Because the ‘P’ was getting between me and my fans.” “Because I need to simplify.”
The only reason I heard about the change was because Jon Stewart made huge fun of Diddy on The Daily Show. And rightly so, of course.
So I have here a similar announcement no one should really care about – it’s important to me to get it off my chest, otherwise I wouldn’t bother anyone about it. I’ve been meaning to write this for months, but it’s hard to publicly abandon one of my most closely-held values.
I’ve been eating chicken.
There. I said it.
Only chicken, and only from Creswick Farms, a farm I trust to raise and slaughter their livestock humanely. But I’m eating it.
Few people other than me will care about this. My vegetarian friends will probably be disappointed – we always are when another one bites the dust, and we so often do. When one of my first vegetarian role models, Mark, started eating meat for a time, I was pretty upset and disappointed with him. I felt like he was pussing out, and we had quite an email argument about the whole thing.
And yet, here I now am.
Part of the dilemma I now have is… what do I call myself? When someone offers me meat, how do I politely turn it down without launching into a story about how I only eat meat from one farm that I know and trust? I’ve been cheating and still calling myself vegetarian (which means I did, indeed, lie to the disgruntled meat salesman, but it was out of habit rather than out of a desire to Make Him Go Away,) but I’m not veggie anymore. I guess I say, “no thank you,” because no one will care why I don’t want whatever is being offered.
Am I a “kindavore?” Most vegetarians tend to view that label with great skepticism. That lifestyle, that choice, is for people who lack the resolve to fully commit to a meatless diet. A kindavore is ostensibly someone who only eats humanely-raised-and-slaughtered meat, and that pretty precisely describes what I am… a chicken-specific kindavore. I cannot, however, bring myself to use the term. I don’t have a term with which I’m fully comfortable, because I am not comfortable eating meat.
My objections to eating meat have never been founded on “it’s bad for us,” or “it’s unnatural.” I recognize humans evolved as omnivores, and, like many aspects of a healthy diet, meat has its place. My reason for going vegetarian was, first and foremost, the abject cruelty inflicted upon factory-farmed animals – the source of most meat in this country. Secondarily, giving up meat is one of the best things a person can do to be kinder to the environment. Lastly, but perhaps of equal importance to the first reason, is my love of animals. Franz Kafka is famously quoted as having said, “Now at last I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.”
When I was very young, I asked my parents where meat came from. When my mom told me, “from cows,” she says I was devastated. I was too young to remember, but I can imagine. Mom says I teared up as I asked the following question, very slowly:
“You mean we … eat… cows?”
I think I was meant to be vegetarian all along, I want to be vegetarian. So much of my identity is wrapped up in being vegetarian, it’s hard to think of myself as a carnivore.
Let’s talk about the why, though.
This isn’t something I reversed lightly. I spent many a tortured night envisioning the chickens being slaughtered, what primal terror must go through their little chicken minds as they are seized, stuffed into a killing cone upside down, and have their throats slit, perhaps by someone they had viewed as a trusted caretaker on some level. Do chickens feel betrayal? Perhaps not in the same sense we do, but I believe most animals can develop trust and that they have the capacity to be unpleasantly surprised when that trust turns out to be unreliable. I have seen it first-hand – I’ve been on the wrong end of it, too, with a catch net or choke pole for the wolves I took care of daily and then suddenly, with no reason the wolves could discern, turned on them, captured them, drugged them.
But I digress. The Why.
I haven’t had any serious meat cravings in years – I’ve always been able to shrug them off just fine. Even living with Mike Neir and cooking meat for him didn’t really impact me – until I stopped eating gluten. A short time after I lost that protein source, whenever I cooked Mike chicken, I felt like every cell in my body was reaching out with gnarled clawed hands saying, “YOU WILL GIVE THAT TO ME NOW!!”
After fending them off for awhile, I thought perhaps I wasn’t getting enough protein. I upped my intake of legumes and other higher-protein foods, but the demands did not abate. I was confused – I’d fought off emotional cravings for seven years – what the hell, body?
One night, I carved a portion of chicken breast off for myself at dinner. Mike was surprised, and asked “are you sure you want to do this? It might be a slippery slope.” Mike hasn’t ever urged me to give up being vegetarian, or pressured me in any way. This was my own choice. I ate the chicken breast. I didn’t enjoy it at all.
“Ok, I don’t need that,” I declared, satisfied that was a good enough litmus test.
After another month, though, my body’s demands had ramped up by an order of magnitude. I felt like Dracula drawn to the pulse at a damsel’s throat. I gave the chicken another shot and it was a wholly new experience. I felt sated and relieved.
Long-term, I don’t plan to remain a carnivore.
I’ll be healing, getting well and finding a vegetarian path that will fill all the nutritional requirements I have. Most of the time, I don’t enjoy eating chicken. Mike does a great job BBQ’ing it, and I can appreciate it being tasty, but the texture, the knowledge that I’m eating an animal, is largely repugnant. Oh, the irony – all those years spent in search of a fake meat that tastes like chicken, and when I’m eating the real thing, I don’t want it.
My own chickens are 100% safe. While I respect and deeply appreciate those who can raise their own meat, I am not among their number. While I usually never say never, in this case, I have promised those chickens a good, long existence until their quality of life is at a point where it is the humane thing to end it.
Cows and pigs are likewise safe from my culinary intentions – I place them on a higher level on the scale running from Inanimate to Plant to Low-Functioning Animal to Higher-Functioning Animal, I suppose. They live long enough and are intelligent enough to grasp what’s going on in their final moments. Creswick does as humane a job as possible, using a .22 shotgun for the cows, but I object to using a CO2 chamber for the pigs as they do. I’ve seen videos of what happens in them, and cannot abide it.
There’s my current line in the sand – no ham steak, no sirloin, tastes good enough to participate in the slaughter of its body.
In the grand scheme of things, I would rather eat fish; however, our fishing practices are unsustainable, and much of the catch is contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. I may turn to fish lower on the food chain at some point – the more sustainable smaller fishes, the ones who have less of a life span to build up toxins.
But for now, here I am, at odds with myself. I know the carnivores amongst my friends will encourage me and tell me it’s the natural way of things, some will be quite happy. A few less well-intentioned will feel smug and victorious.
However, I have turned my back on something so deeply important – it haunts me at night. This would be akin to my true-believing, devout Catholic friends telling God to take a hike, like my dog-loving friends kicking puppies, like my most honest friends maliciously lying to their loved ones.
It’s a big deal, but only to me.
And to the chickens I’m eating.
Given the level of emotional discomfit, this likely won’t last a very long time. Unless, I suppose, a part of my spirit dies and takes this guilt with it. Honestly, I hope that doesn’t happen.
I paused a long while before hitting the “publish” button here, as if this somehow makes it more real. It doesn’t, of course, but it does make me more honest with myself and the world.