A Thankful Former Vegetarian
Hi! I’m Todd, the Outreach and Education Manager here at the Co-op. You’ve heard from my coworkers Caroline and Sarah, and my predecessor Meg, here on Serving Up Vermont, and now it’s time for me to add my voice. I thought a good way to introduce myself would be to share this personal tale of change.
I recently started eating meat again for the first time in 12 years. Up until then, fruits, vegetables, fungi, grains, legumes and yes, cheese and eggs, were all familiar supplies in my kitchen. Aside from accidental bits of bacon hidden in my aunt’s favorite salad recipe or an occasional misread order at a restaurant, no animal flesh had reached my mouth in over a dozen years. And I didn’t miss it one bit.
Vegetarianism was a subtle, yet defining part of my life that started back in college. I grew up eating meat and my family had taught me how to be comfortable in the kitchen, but my love of food didn’t really start until I left the nest. Learning how to cook for myself coincided serendipitously with my environmentally-focused studies at UVM. After learning about the impacts of large-scale meat production and the uncertainty around how to feed a growing global population, it seemed like cutting animals out of my diet was a simple, decisive action that I could take. So what happened?
The reason for switching back was simple, but the change was challenging. It was recommended to my wife Alicia, the very person who introduced me to vegetarianism way back then, that she should consider incorporating animal proteins back into her diet. As we work on expanding our family, Alicia's naturopath felt that she would benefit from the extra protein and vitamins, even just a few times a week. We chewed on it for a while (besides deciding to have a baby, this is our biggest life change in recent memory), and eventually we decided to make the switch together. Just as we had learned how to cook together as vegetarians, she and I are now learning from scratch how to work meat into our diets. It took some getting used to – what cut should we get; how do we handle it exactly; how do we know when it’s done?? I imagine our dumbfoundedness was similar to what meat-eaters feel when they try cooking for vegetarian friends. But probably the hardest part about it was the desire to know how the animals were raised. While we’re not quite that couple from Portlandia, we have been known to ask, “is it local?”
Fortunately for us, we know a great place to shop for local meats! And since we’re only part-time carnivores, where meat only makes its way onto our plates one or two times a week, we can be strategic about the farms that our meat comes from and still stay within our budget. We can look into whether the animals lived on pasture or what type of feed they were given, all of which were concerns that led us to vegetarianism in the first place. In this way, I like to tell folks that being a vegetarian made me a better meat eater!
It’s been several months since we made the switch, having re-acquainted ourselves with beef, poultry and pork while still eating mostly vegetarian. We had slowly waded our way back, but then along came the ultimate challenge: what to do for Thanksgiving? Do we revert back to our everything-but-the-bird standards that we had eaten for several years or do we, welp, go whole-hog into the world of whole-turkey roasting? Dollop on top of that the fact that we were hosting the meal for family at our house for the first time, and the quintessential Thanksgiving meal beckoned even louder. So we ventured in. We ordered a small, Vermont-raised turkey and began planning. The ex-vegetarian in me said that I should have gone to the farm, met the bird face to face, and witnessed the end of its life, but alas. Perhaps I will next time.
Sure, my wife and I had observed the art of turkey roasting plenty of times. We had even assisted in the production once when our host had fallen ill the night before. Yet nothing quite prepares you for the logistics and execution of roasting a whole turkey when half of your family is set to descend on your house. I was a bit nervous, desperately hoping not to overcook the poor thing, but also hearing the mantra that a friend once shared: "No one ever intends to give their loved ones food poisoning". After plenty of reading and watching how-to videos online, we felt prepared and knew to avoid at least one trouble area: stuffing the bird.
I'll spare you the full play-by-play, which for the most part was smooth and free of slap-stick. Miraculously, our roasting was quite successful and everything else came together harmoniously thanks to support from family. The bird that we shared that day (and the next day, and day after that, and later on as soup) was probably the best turkey I had ever eaten. Not just because I hadn't tasted turkey in years, but because I had played a part in turning it into food. It was an almost ceremonial transformation, from something that had lived to something that sustains life. And it's a transformation that I will always to be thankful for.