I’ve been an advocate for animal welfare and reform in the factory farming industry for many years now. My dedication to the overall movement of animal rights will be with me until the day I die. But as a writer, I am obligated to be honest, and so I must confess: Every once in a while this girl chows down on a cheeseburger. That’s right, my name is Krista Houstoun and I’m… a crappy vegetarian.
Judge not: Lord knows the “oops, I’m an honest vegetarian who accidently slipped on a slab of meat and ate it” club is immense. And this is my written dedication to that club.
So. Once you accept that you are primarily a vegetarian and only very rarely eat meat — and very sustainable meat, thank you very much — you have three options:
First, you could re-label yourself as an “ethical carnivore.” And I do not recommend going down this road. Ethical carnivore essentially means you reject factory farming but not meat itself; it means you buy really expensive meat and it probably means you care more about your health than the health of animals or the environment — a clear divergence in thought from vegetarianism. And a world where a TV show called Cougartown is revered just isn’t ready for that kind of highbrow foodie philosophy.
If you do go down this road, you’ll come off as snobby considering most lay-people don’t really 1) understand or 2) give a crap what that means. And second, the concept of an “ethical carnivore” is, as it stands, mythological — even the spearhead of that movement, Michael Pollen, cheats like hell and inevitably eats factory-farmed meat since, as he puts it, “social values matter more.” Bottom line: Eating meat sometimes but not other times and trying to label yourself something esoteric only confuses people and makes you seem like a pretentious jerk who isn’t true to their convictions. So, no.
The second option is to drive yourself crazy via self-imposed or societal guilt-trips. Don’t do this. Guilt-trips are so 20th century; in the 21st, it’s all about entitlement. And you, my “do-gooder” friend, are entitled to flexible morals — a misstep here or there? No big. At least you are trying, and as long as you are trying to eat less meat, you are making a difference, because do you know what you have that many people do not? Awareness. And awareness is pivotal to eliciting change; it’s the first step. So, now that that’s settled, being a bad vegetarian ends up only being terrible on the social front. Because society will judge you.
Which brings us to the third and most desirable option: Keep your meat-eating slip-ups as private as possible. If you don’t feel guilty about eating a grass-fed — or even better, grass-finished! — steak every once in awhile, leave it to your friends, family and larger society toguilt-trip you into feeling like a dreadful human being. You cannot let this happen. Do not let them — whether ‘they’ are meat lobbyists or PETA activists — tell you that you aren’t doing good enough. Unfortunately, the only way to truly be a guilt-free, on-again-off-again vegetarian is to be truly sneaky.
I have been sneaking around for many years now, and have thus compiled a set of guidelines for bad vegetarians everywhere. Consider it my little slice of community service.
Rule #1: Eat your “occasional” burgers in total privacy. If you cannot seem to follow this one simple rule, read remaining rules.
Rule #2: If you need company in order to eat, you must pick one sole confidant. A confidant should be someone who you know will never use it against you as black mail. It’s someone who isn’t jealous of you and would never have a reason to wrong you or debase you in front of your friends. In other words: It isn’t your lover.
Once you’ve found your person, make sure to never slip around anyone except them. If you start slipping around more than that one trusted person, your group of friends won’t take you seriously when you recommend that new organic, vegan restaurant down the road for lunch. And you would hate that.
Rule #3: If you are forced to break down in front of people, make a scene about it. Girls, I recommend you put on your theater hat and act a little faintish (or even better, if you’re a natural Julia Roberts, do faint). Once your friends have taken notice and are cooing and comforting you, subtly suggest, “I’m at the end of my period cycle, maybe my body needs iron?” Your girl friends will understand and your guy friends will shut down at the words “period cycle.” Voila: burger granted, guilt-free. Guys, I don’t know what to tell you other than don’t you wish, just this once, that you were a woman? There’s really no get out of jail free card for you that I’ve found.
Rule #4: If you come from a conservative family, never ever slip around them. Conservatives love meat more than Wall Street and almost as much as God. Coming home and saying you’re a vegetarian to conservative parental units is almost like coming out of the closet as gay. I’m talking about the risk of excommunication here — scary stuff.
However, if you’ve finally convinced your meat-three-times-a-day family to prepare vegetarian options when you come home to visit, never slip around them. I don’t care if they’re family. Family schmamily — they are your worst critics. They live to judge you. If you slip once, they will never take you seriously again and you’ll be making your own salads every time you visit. No more home-cookin’ for you, sucka! Plus, think about if after declaring your homosexuality you “just once” dated a boy and told them; they would always think there is a slight chance that you’d turn out “the right way.” Never give them a sense of false hope like that.
Rule #5: You must eat vegan whenever you are around vegan friends to repent all carnivorous slips. Otherwise you will just feel like a shithole whenever they order a soy-cheese quesadilla for lunch and you just accidently had bacon for breakfast. You must eat the soy cheese because you must keep yourself disciplined and balanced. Vegetarian is the middle way, but if you are going to be radical and chow on some bacon every once in a while, you better make sure to discipline yourself with soy cheese. Consider this reciting your Hail Marys.
What we eat matters. It matters a lot. When we change what we eat, we change the world — perhaps more so than any other act. What example are you going to set? What kind of vegetarian are you going to be? Are you going to be the vegetarian who flaunts their infidelity, making everyone around you think vegetarianism is just a joke, just a trendy hipster fad? Or are you going to be the kind of vegetarian who holds their affairs close to their chest, all the while giving those around you a moral compass to reference and, hopefully, mimic? I think you know which is the right choice. Don’t let the whole world down.