Vegetarians — avert your eyes! (Day 331)…


I know this seems silly, but a part of me wants to make 366 green changes to my lifestyle (yes, that’s 366 — up until now I’ve been saying 365, but of course it just happens to be a freakin’ leap year), without resorting to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

I don’t have a problem with vegetarians; for at least five years of my life I was one of them, and now I only eat meat about once a week — and it absolutely has to be happy meat. Furthermore, I realize it takes a LOT of water, land, energy and other resources to raise and feed the animals, slaughter and butcher them, then package and ship the meat.

But there’s something about those old-fashioned farms with animals grazing outside, being all cute, fertilizing the pastures (and, OK, farting a bit of methane into the air, too) that makes me want to support the people who run them. Same goes for organic dairy and free-range egg farms, even though I don’t actually eat eggs much because they gross me out.

Anyway, like I said, props to the vegetarians out there — you’re leaving a lighter footprint than me, you have great restaurants, but I want my vitamin B12 and I don’t want to get it from nutritional yeast flakes.

Where the hell am I going with this post, you ask? Here’s where:

Wait, have the vegetarians left yet? Because they’re not going to like this.

My green move today was… to sign my father and I up for a butchering class. WAIT! Don’t go rushing to the comments just yet; hear me out. It’s taking place at the Healthy Butcher, a family-run store in Toronto that gets all their meat from local, organic farms. They run these courses where you can go and see where your filet mignon comes from, learn about the different cuts, the different ways to prepare and cook them, and practice your knife skills. This will, I hope, accomplish two things:

One, I’ll have to confront my meat, which will mean I’ll have all the more appreciation for it whenever I decide to consume it; and Two, it’ll help me learn how to cut it properly so that when I try to trim the fat or bone off something at home, I waste less.

OK, that’s it, post’s over. Vegetarians can open their eyes now.

29 Responses to Vegetarians — avert your eyes! (Day 331)…

  1. Julia says:

    That is a fantastic idea, and kudos to you for having the stomach to do it. One of the big problems with supermarket meat is that people are so removed from the source material – me included. I have a much harder time eating meat when I actually take a moment to stop and think about where it comes from, and that moment of thought is one of the things necessary to be an ethical/conscious consumer, methinks. Anyway, I look forward to hearing about the course!

  2. Sasha says:

    I think many many more people should do something like this. In my opinion, if you’re going to eat meat then the best thing you can do is have an appreciation of where exactly it comes from and how it is processed and prepared.

    Sasha 🙂

  3. D says:

    I’m vegeterian, and I think it’s a great idea!
    Actually one of my issue with meat eaters (not that I’ve told anyone, but still) is that they shouldn’t eat meat If they don’t have what it takes to butcher it themselves.

  4. Erin says:

    What a cool class! Let us know how it goes!

  5. Mark says:

    Got a call yesterday from the guy who sells pork and poultry at the Wednesday farmers market in our town (spring to fall only) who reminded me about the CSA, or CSAH (community supported animal husbandry?) he’s established. Nice guy — Dan from Sumner Valley Farm, Sumner, Maine — and $110’s worth of food from happy animals for each $100 share. When was the last time anyone from Whole Foods called and chatted about the pleasures of raising pigs?

  6. blah says:

    my grandpa is a third generation farmer (on the original plot of land!) They have raised everything from turkeys, cows, pigs and every other animal you can think of. They also had crops and for the most part were pretty self sustaining. I think it’s a great idea you’re doing this. I personally don’t agree with being a vegetarian for myself, but if others want to, I guess that’s ok. I think that you will really gain an appreciation for what you’re eating and thereby be more grateful for the food because you’ve seen it up close. Good choice.

  7. Oldnovice says:

    Don’t forget to thank it before you eat it. (I always loved that idea, but never remember to do it).

  8. Enky says:

    I applaud you. More meat eaters need to do this. I’ve helped to kill or butcher a lot of animals over the years, and while it’s never been fun, it’s been humbling and *important*. If you can’t kill it/butcher it, then you shouldn’t be eating it.

  9. Ahhhhhhhhh! I looked, I looked! 🙂

    And it wasn’t so bad! *wink*

    I think this is a great idea. Everyone just has to do what they can. For me, it is being vegan, for others, it may be eating better meat instead of eliminating it altogether. I applaude you for not ignoring the subject altogether.

    Thanks for all the great posts!


  10. May says:

    Hey, just cuz I gave up meat, doesn’t mean I lost my balls. Heh.. I kid.

    I think that’s a great idea. I’m all for us being more deeply connected with our food. Plus, who that grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t fantasize about watching animals get slaughtered now and then?

  11. Aimeé says:

    Does it make me weird to say I think that sounds like a lot of fun? I’m jealous! Maybe they have someting like that around here…although my grandfather was a butcher for several years, so I guess I could just ask him for a primer… Have fun! I want to hear all about it!

  12. blah says:


    Maybe your next step could be to only eat fish that you catch yourself? It’s a hobby, it’s a moderate workout, and you work up an appetite doing it (oh, and you can also drink beer while you do it…essential to any pre-approved sporting activity according to Dr. blah).

  13. I applaud this tip. I am working towards living on a plant based diet, but I love the taste of meat. It is also just one more reconnection to reality. It is annoying that we have been made stupid by grocery stores packaging meat under their own descriptions (in the US anyway.)

  14. Emma says:

    I say let them eat meat!!! Going veggie or vegan would be too easy a step for you 🙂

  15. trina says:

    Great idea. My husband and I just took the Trackers NW Butchering and Skinning 101. I have always worried that I wouldn’t be able to kill my own meat until this class. I don’t think it will ever be something that I like to do, but it is something that I can and will do when my living situation allows it.

  16. marimann says:

    Let me add my applause to the others here, I think this is a great idea for you and for anyone who makes the decision to eat meat. And your committment to eating only Happy Meat is laudable too! Congrats and Happy Butchering!

  17. arduous says:

    This is a fantastic idea. It also sounds like the kind of thing that would never ever be allowed in the US. Stoopid FDA.

  18. gettinggreen says:

    WOW! You guys always surprise me — I checked my inbox today and saw the flood of comments, and immediately prepared myself for the worst, but man, not one single angry tirade. Not even that Sense of Balance blogger who always finds a way to criticize me got any digs in.

    Anyway, I’m going to try and bring my camera to the class and take a few photos for y’all (let’s just hope I don’t smear any cow blood over the lens).

  19. Lloyd Alter says:

    Read the last section of Michael Pollan’s the Omnivore’s Dilemma and you learn that butchering meat in the store from an already cleaned out cow is quite different from starting from scratch. I once participated in the butchering of a pig and couldn’t look at meat for six months. My mom fed me frozen fish sticks every night (sometimes I think still frozen) until I broke.

    But it sounds like fun and they do have the best meat in town.

  20. Greenpa says:

    Outstanding! No joke.

    It’s been my opinion forever that if you’re going to eat meat, you really should be able to look it in the eye- all the way through the process.

    In college, back in the Jurassic, I once took on the chore of “Sunday Cook” – for our eating co-op (90 people, my normal job was Bread Baker). A special chore, and honor, and I took it on with the proviso that I could cook … roast suckling pig. (That was the bait for being Sunday Cook – you could choose what to cook.) The governance committee thought that was a swell idea.

    Pandemonium ensued. As it shook out; we had 20 people “sign out” for that meal, saying they couldn’t face it; and 40 people trying to “sign in”. Most folks were able to- they just needed the opportunity; and maybe some community support. Couldn’t actually find sucklings, of course; wound up with several 40lb pigs instead. Still looked great with that apple in the mouth.

  21. rejin says:

    Interesting idea.
    When I was 7 I watched a cow being killed at a farm in the mountains of Haiti. About 12 years later when I was on my own Ifinally became a vegetarian. Until then I just had to put up with the meat on my plate, though I thought often thought about what I’d seen.
    I know some people can deal with it, but I think I was born to be a vegetarian.

  22. Mrs. Style says:

    I’m a vegetarian and I think what you’re doing is 100% bad ass. If you’re going to eat meat, you should know where it comes from and have an appreciation for that animal. It’s SO cool that you’re doing this! Too many people aren’t mindful about what they eat, they have no idea what’s in it much less how it was killed or where it came from. Rock on!

  23. Steph says:

    Ok, so I guess I’ll be the dissenting (well, sort-of) voice.

    First, I do think it’s awesome that you’re willing to meet your meat persay. I wish that all omnivores would go through this type of class. I’ll be extremely interested to see what this entails as I have to agree with Lloyd that I doubt you’ll really be getting the full experience of killing, cleaning, quartering, and then butchering.

    I also have to admit that a part of me cringes whenever I hear anyone refer to animals destined to be eaten as “happy meat”. Just seems to be a bit of an oxy-moron to me.

    My biggest issue though is (and maybe you could help answer this…) why these conversations start with “there’s nothing wrong with being vegetarian, but…” or “no offense to the veggies out there, but…” or my personal favorite, “oh, I was veggie for x years, but…” Adding these types of qualifiers to this discussion automatically puts veggies on the defensive where, imho, if you were to just take out all that out and just say, well the last 2 paragraphs of your post (minus the last sentence of course) it would be way more positive.

    I guess to me when I hear people say things like that it makes me think that they feel guilty and must make their veggie friends/audience understand that they know they’re doing something wrong, but they’re going to do it anyway. If all that was gone then I would think that you have consciously chosen to be an omnivore, and now you want to take that step to really know what you’re eating and how it gets to you which would make me respect you much more than thinking that you’re an ex-veggie that just couldn’t hack it and feels guilty about it.

  24. Beth Terry says:

    When I was a kid, we had a yard full of rabbits, which were the result of my dad’s bringing home 2 lab rabbits from University of Maryland for us to have as pets. I guess he didn’t realize he had a male and a female.

    Anyway, my mom had finally had enough of rabbits eating all the grass in our backyard, so they found homes for all but the biggest, meanest male rabbits, and those my dad took to a friend who had grown up on a farm and butchered.

    I wasn’t there to witness the butchery myself, but my parents did, and my mom dutifully prepared them into a stew that evening that we all sat down and mostly couldn’t swallow. I’m guessing the kids had a hard time eating it because the rabbits had been pets. My parents might have had difficulty having seen the animals killed.

    Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up as a vegetarian after all after going through this experience. Or maybe just a more conscientious meat-eater. I wonder if there is anything like that in Northern California I could participate in. There must be. I should find out and sign myself up!

  25. Greenpa says:

    Steph- I’m with you. Surprise. The problem is – there are loads of folks who aren’t, and the process of getting non-emotional about it all seems to take years. New converts, in particular, to either side can be vicious.

    A huge part of the rancor in vego-omni discussions comes from people on both sides having experienced abuse from the other. A lot of folks are NOT relaxed about it, and not willing for you to have your own ideas. They’re right; you’re wrong, and they’re going to explain it to you. With venom, eventually.

    That leaves those inclined to be rational feeling automatically on the defensive- all the time.

    “We”, as in euro-western culture types, give lots of lip service to individual freedom of thought- but the cultural reality tends to be otherwise. You’re free to think- exactly as I do- is the usual way it turns out.

    Hang in there!

  26. Chile says:

    I think it’s a good idea for everyone to be familiar with what it takes to get their meal on the table, whether it comes from animal or vegetable sources. Vegans who only buy highly processed foods can benefit from joining a CSA or visiting a U-pick farm just as much as meat-eaters can learn to appreciate what is involved with getting their meat by butchering their own. Growing their own animals is even better, just as growing their own veggies is the best way to really understand the food process. Gaining an appreciation for this would change how people get or buy their food, what food they eat, and how much of it they waste.

  27. Jia says:

    I hope that Vanessa and the others taking a butchering course get inspired to eat less meat afterwards if they can’t or don’t want to become vegetarian.
    I wish I could be a vegetarian – vegan even, but my blood is too weak to handle it (& I don’t do well on iron supplements neither, even liquid) and I’m allergic to soybeans, as well as most types of nuts, eggs and am sensitive to many grains & milk. I think that not all of us can literally survive as vegetarians even if we all wanted to be vegetarian.

  28. Derek says:

    Vanessa – just heard your interview on the Current, and was surprised at the comment about not being willing to go vegan. So, I’ll be the angry comment you expected …

    This is total bullshit. If you don’t go vegan, you’re not serious about reducing your footprint the environment – period. Yes, there are more considerations in food choices than just being vegan – obviously eating tofu from China or bananas from Peru while living in Canada is not helping the planet. But avoiding animal products is the most important food choice in this regard! (See UN report.)

    Food choices are something we make multiple times each day, and I feel are the most important steps we can take to help heal the planet. The fact that you like the taste of animal products in your mouth doesn’t seem to be a great counterweight to the environmental impact – let alone the ethical considerations. “Confront your meat” (or, victim, as it were) all you like – that doesn’t really change the fact that it took way more resources to produce that food for you than necessary, and that you murdered an animal because it tasted good.

    It’s disappointing to me to see someone who garners national attention focusing on an important issue totally shit the bed on one of the best (and most marginalized) choices that can be easily made to benefit the planet (and all of its inhabitants.)

    Not sure if that’s what you were looking for … but I gave it a shot.

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