Vegetarians are not evil. There. I said it.
Just last year I argued otherwise in the Yale Herald, dismissing vegetarianism as the childish product of poor self-control, faddism and cultural ignorance. I was wrong. To go veggie is a noble decision in pursuit of sustainability. The data doesn’t lie: Depending on the animal, every calorie of comestible meat demands roughly 10 calories of floral input. From this perspective, vegetarianism makes sense. Although I find its moral underpinnings unpersuasive (despite the deplorable animal cruelty of industrial feedlots), to ignore vegetarianism’s economic and environmental boons would be foolish.
These overtures notwithstanding, my visceral reaction to meatless culture remains unchanged: discomforted bowels. To denounce animal consumption is to betray millennia of accumulated culinary wisdom! It’s like telling Vincent Scully that neither Duccio nor Giotto has historical significance and then punching the Sterling professor emeritus in the face three times for good measure. The clamp around my culinary soul tightens every time a young eater goes vegetarian; from a caloric perspective, my head understands the hypocrisy of “sustainable meat,” but in Sinatra’s words, “my heart just ain’t gonna buy it.” Meat and its preparation are among the few cultural modes we share with our earliest forbearers: animal + spear + fire = good. It’s fundamental!
We all have “that vegetarian friend” who plops down at the dining hall table with two heaping plates of vinaigrette-covered spinach and piles of high-horsey I’m-healthier-than-you mumbo jumbo. Defend! I’m no DSer, but even non-philosophy majors understand that the everlasting soul trumps the ephemeral body. My arteries may be slowly clogging, but my spirit, at least twice a day, shines with gustatory delight. Although vegetarianism may be healthy, the cultural importance of meat-eating is undeniable. Once again, culinary history triumphs over the whims of corporal being. Get edumicated: Eat meat!
But really, Mark Bittman would be disappointed in me. The only solution to the gas-guzzling and meat-munching of the global middle class is to reduce American meat consumption. The United States already emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any other nation does, in large part due to our wasteful, meat-centric food system. My head knows what to do: Eat less meat and respect those with the fortitude to eliminate it entirely. I just need my heart and stomach on board.
In a moment of shock and denial, I learned last week that Ezra Stiles College’s own Master Pitti, a tireless man whom I respect and admire, is a vegetarian. My facial expression said it all: He questioned my consternation with a good-natured, “Hope you don’t think less of me.” Of course I didn’t — but a little nugget of my core felt oddly betrayed, as if his vegetarianism challenged my passion. (I know this isn’t the case: Master Pitti has enthusiastically supported my carnivorous pursuits.)
Clearly I need help pushing past my discrimination. What about self-help books? Perhaps I should do Jane Fonda calisthenics with broccoli in one hand and carrots in the other, cleansing my mind and trying to understand the appeal of eating like a rabbit. But there I go again with my derisive analogies — it’s going to be a long road to recovery. I’ll let you know in September if I’ve made any progress.