Being a good person is hard work. Seriously, this angel on my shoulder is one relentless bitch. She says things like “good people don’t cuss,” especially in front of young and impressionable children. “Good people support charities,” instead of bashing that stupid pink ribbon. Whatever. She simply cannot comprehend how much I hate the color pink. And there’s one other thing she can be very relentless about:
“Good people don’t eat meat.”
Angel says it’s not ok, and in my early twenties bullied me into becoming a vegetarian. That’s right, I didn’t eat meat for about a year. It was fine, I guess. Until it wasn’t. I don’t recall if it was convenience or gluttony that finally broke me, but I do remember what I first ate. A big, juicy hamburger with jalapenos, and it was delicious. After that burger I slowly ate my way back into a carnivorous lifestyle. What can I say? There is a devil on my other shoulder and he’s much more charming.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a medium-rare steak, a simple piece of nigiri, a rack of sticky and smoky ribs, or a piece of salty bacon. These are flavors and textures that can’t be replicated with vegetables.
“But … the poor animals …” says that dumb little angel (with no taste buds). I hear her argument at least twice a week. Sometimes she gets creative and worries about my health or the effects on the environment, but mostly she feeds me images of cute little piggies and baby lamb chops.
So when I recently finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour,” I found myself smiling.
Towards the end, he tells a story about how his producers thought it would be funny to send him – a beligerant, smoking, cursing, meat-lover – to a vegan potluck dinner in Berkeley. They were right. It was fucking hilarious, but that wasn’t the only reason I was smiling. You see, Bourdain gave me a little bit of peace. This is what he wrote:
“It was difficult for me to be polite (though I was outnumbered). I’d recently returned from Cambodia, where a chicken can be the difference between life and death. These people in their comfortable suburban digs were carping about cruelty to animals but suggesting that everyone in the world, from suburban Yuppie to starving Cambodian cyclo driver, start buying organic vegetables and expensive soy substitutes. To look down on entire cultures that’ve based everything on the gathering of fish and rice seemed arrogant to the extreme. (I’ve heard of vegans feeding their dogs vegetarian meals. Now that’s cruelty to animals.) And the hypocrisy of it all pissed me off. Just being able to talk about this issue in a reasonably grammatical language is a privilege, subsidized in a yin/yang sort of way, somewhere, by somebody taking it in the neck. Being able to read these words, no matter how stupid, offensive, or wrongheaded, is a privilege, your reading skills the end product of a level of education most of the world will never enjoy. Our whole lives – our homes, the shoes we wear, the cars we drive, the food we eat – all are built on a mountain of skulls. Meat, say the PETA folks, is ‘murder’. And yes, the wide world of meat can seem like a panorama of cruelty at times. But is meat ‘murder’? Fuck no.”
He goes on, and I think it’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. No debate about why someone should or should not eat meat, or why they should shut the fuck up and do what they want without shaming or making others feel guilty, had ever resonated so perfectly with me. And while I’m in no danger of starving to death if I don’t eat meat, this perspective made me feel differently about it. Humans eat meat. And I’m ok with that.