I stopped eating meat October 1, 1985. I was 17. I did not yet believe in God, having been raised without religion. However I think this life choice at 17 was the beginning of a journey toward God for me.
I was a punk rocker as a teen in the eighties. I was very serious about it. I was in a local punk band. I had a punk radio show on the college radio station. I was as politically active as a teenager who can’t vote can be, very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, (lots of people were then of course, during the Cold War) about poverty, the environment, human rights.
I was withdrawn with most actual people though, holding society largely in contempt, except for my closest friends. To me people cared about all the wrong things and too often were inauthentic and mean. My dad raised a good point when he said, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?” I didn’t have the answer to that. I didn’t know. I had the self awareness to figure out what I believed in and act on it as best I could, but not enough to know why I wanted to save a world I had so much disdain for.
My best friend in High School, Philip Iselt, and I picked up a book about vegetarianism in ’85, and we read it aloud together after school. It was a pretty radical book called Animal Rights by Peter Singer. I don’t think it would be my favorite now. However it opened our minds to the fact of animal suffering and what happens in factory farming. We read all we could about this issue for the next few months.
We decided on October 1 of that year to quit meat together, support one another and hold each other accountable. Going vegetarian is pretty easy these days as far as finding stuff to eat. However, it was not easy in a small Texas town in 1985. Not at all. There were no “garden burgers” or “Beyond Meat” patties at the grocery store, definitely not much vegetarian fair at all in the school cafeteria. Restaurants offered you salad, and usually of the iceberg lettuce and pale tomato variety.
I remember having to go way into our sister city to find shampoo and other personal items not tested on animals at a tiny health food store called Calico Foods, if memory serves.
I gave away my awesome black leather motorcycle jacket I had found at a second hand store for $10. I gave away my combat boots I had gotten from the army surplus store.(Back then it was so hard to find any for my small feet!) Since I was trying to embrace nonviolence I got rid of the ammunition belt I had bought from the army surplus store. too that I used to wear.
My favorite food had been chicken fried steak. Ooph. Giving it up wasn’t easy.
I was responsible for cooking for my dad and myself back then. My parents were divorced and at that time I lived with Dad. He was pretty annoyed. He wanted to know my limits. “No fish either?” I explained I didn’t want to eat any living thing that could suffer; nothing, certainly, with flesh that would try to avoid being killed. He said, “Why don’t you just not eat anything that smiles at you?” My dad is funny.
My mom was supportive about it but a little worried whether this was a healthy choice. Once she saw I was reading about what to eat and also seemed OK she was OK too.
I found a little paperback vegetarian cook book called Laurel’s Kitchen at Calico Foods. Philip and I learned a new way to eat from that lovely book which is still my favorite cookbook. I’ve had to buy new copies many times over the years. It has since been updated. And now that I am vegan I just adjust the recipes for that.
The choice to go meatless was the first intentional lifestyle choice I ever made, and the first one that was a sacrifice. It was my first try at anything ascetic. I believe this was a gentle inspiration from God. The Lord knew how to reach my heart and begin to open it: with animals and Philip, who was a gentle soul I loved very much.
Like any decision that lasts a lifetime, my commitment to vegetarianism has grown, broadened, deepened and evolved for me. I broadened my reasons to include not only the animals but the good of the poor around the world, and care of the environment. I believe that the sacrifice of not eating meat opened my heart and helped me become a more gentle person, even opening my heart just that little bit more to God who created all life. My sense of connection grew into being a part of me.
There is a sense of joy that comes with a vegetarian way of life. It’s an aesthetic choice to me as well. It seems to me to be a more beautiful way to live.
I shared it with my children and raised them vegetarian from the womb.
Conversion and many years of prayer have given me a sense of open-ness and tenderness toward all life that only fills out my dedication.
I don’t have any problem liking and loving people anymore either, thanks be to God.
No our Catholic faith does not require vegetarianism though there is an ascetic tradition of it that runs through our history, especially in some religious orders. Though there is no requirement in our faith for it, I do see a plant based diet as being in line with charity, care for our common home, and positive self denial. I would also argue that in these times, it is no longer necessary to eat animals or even dairy. If we can go without doing so, why not let meat go? Biblical people ate meat sparingly unless they were rich. They would have had milk in season, in the Spring when it was naturally available. Now we manipulate the bodies of animals and raze the land so that most of us have dairy and meat several times a day. Why not cut back? Every little bit helps.
I have been vegan on and off, a year or so here and there. When my husband and I were fighting his brain cancer, we went vegan as part of that. He had glioblastoma multiforme. He made it two and a half years after diagnosis with a grade four brain tumor which ten years ago was pretty good. There were a lot of reasons for his living with it so long. I think eating super healthy was at least one of them.
After his death I had trouble eating at all so I went back to just vegetarianism.
The way I got back to veganism a few years ago was going vegan on the Fridays of Lent. After a while I added Wednesdays as well. Once Easter came, I thought, “This is working out!” So I have stayed with it. I’m very grateful. When I make a beautiful vegan meal, with all it’s colorful happiness, I always thank God that I have been able to do this.
I recently read an article from America magazine that suggested going meatless every Friday and not just during Lent the way the Church used to do and how much it would benefit the world. Obviously I think this is a wonderful idea. Why not? It could do you good, do the world good, aid you to live in love just that little bit more.