Like the idiot I can sometimes be, I've recently been sucked into online arguments about traditional eating vs. vegetarianism. The contentiousness on these opinion boards is nasty to the point of contempt. I am always surprised how vicious people can be when trying to force others to accept another line of thinking. In the case of vegetarianism vs. meat lovers, it is particularly hostile.
Although I am a life-long lover of meat, I enjoy cultures whose cuisine celebrates a more plant-based philosophy. I don't need to eat meat, I just enjoy the flavors and harmony that meat brings to many dishes. In fact, one of my favorite meals is cornbread and butter beans. No meat, just the broken pieces of cornbread laid into a big bowl of salted lima beans, soaking up all the juice. I also enjoy Lebanese food, with it's many vegetarian offerings like hummus, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, flatbreads, delicious cheeses, beans, and salads.
I wish it was so simple.
My twin sister is a vegetarian. In a cosmically ironic twist of events, we ended up being very different, despite being genetically identical. Years ago, as she became interested in vegetarianism, she would cock a perfectly plucked eyebrow at me and say, "I won't eat anything that has a face". To which I would guffaw and commence to full-scale teasing. I still give her a hard time, but whenever the family gets together, we always make an effort to include meatless options for her- just as she makes an effort to sit at a table where everyone else is enjoying a traditional meal, full of lots of meat. In other words, we work together with mutual respect and love. Its not always easy. Deep down inside, I admit to finding some vegetarians and vegans preachy, haughty, and inflexible. At times I feel that they use this lifestyle as a mark of status to belittle those who don't agree with their philosophy. Having said that, I also personally know many vegetarians who would never think of behaving that way. I also know countless meat-eaters who don't hesitate to ridicule vegetarians with hateful language, don't care where their food comes from or how its treated, and never will.
I think its time to stop pointing fingers, and start working together. Vegetarians and vegans will never convince meat eaters to abandon their delicious protein, and meatatarians won't succeed in changing the minds of those who prefer a plant-based diet. So instead of never-ending bickering, I'd like to see moderates on both sides move towards mutual support for the animals they both claim to love. Moral vegetarians follow their lifestyle because of their concern for livestock animals like cows, pigs and chickens. Frankly, they aren't wrong. Commercially farmed meat animals are treated in a dreadful manner; Agribusiness personnel (I won't call them Farmers), skate as close as possible to the letter of whatever laws are in effect regarding the treatment of these animals. On this massive scale of food production, cows, pigs, and chickens are commodities; units that must be tallied on a production schedule in order to fill the endless demand for their meat.
The thing to remember is that the vegetarian movement of the 70s really did make a difference. It succeeded in introducing Americans to a new way of thinking about food. It gave people options- which is never bad. Some vegetarians and vegans prefer a plant-based diet for health reasons that have nothing to do with livestock welfare. But again, the more options, the better. Although in 2015, fewer 4% of Americans follow a vegetarian diet, (http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/) they are a vocal and politically powerful minority.
One simple way we can start to support each other is by frequenting websites, blogs and FaceBook pages that give equal time to all thoughts, ideas and philosophies. Some I've recently found are Kitchentreaty.com, thekitchn.com, and of course LeighShearin.weebly.com. Fair websites are a bit hard to find, admittedly, but small regional farmers are interested in everyone's point of view, and many of them have wonderful websites and FaceBook pages. I like The Elliot Homestead, Homestead Revival, Eat Local Grown, Living off the Land, and Slate Creek Farm. Seeking out your small and local farmers and growers is the best way possible to undercut the profit machine of commodity farming.
If we can just work together, for the sake of livestock animals as well as our own, imagine the changes that can be made. The barn door is now open.