There were vegetarians in the suburbs – I’m sure of it. I just never saw one.
Up until I was in my thirties, everyone I came into contact with was a bacon-for- breakfast-burger-for-lunch-and-steak-and-potatoes-for-dinner kind of person.
When, in my childhood, I complained of not feeling well, the diagnosis was usually that I was anemic and therefore liver and onions was on the menu until further notice.
We fortified our diet with lots of whole milk. My father called it the nectar of the gods.
My mother showed her love with ice cream. She gave me chocolate shakes in my bottle when I was a baby.
There must have been vegetables in my childhood but I swear to all that is holy I can’t remember seeing anything other than green beans and corn.
I am not criticizing my parents. They grew up in a time and circumstance that dictated different priorities. Red meat and dairy were what you fed kids if you wanted them to grow up strong and healthy.
When I had my kids I followed the same guidelines. To show them I loved them I made cold cut sandwiches and roasted beef with gravy and our family time on Saturday mornings revolved around a huge breakfast with and abundance of bacon and eggs.
So imagine my wonder when I moved to Baltimore and learned about such things as Meat Free Mondays in local restaurants.
I scoured the menu looking for some savory slab of flesh to gnaw on but my every growl was denied.
I often went to McDonalds for their cheeseburgers even though I learned very quickly to stop admitting to that unless I wanted to endure the judgmental scowls of the more enlightened (if not less polite) folks in the city.
My point is that I am not a vegetarian. I love to eat meat! My survival depends on it.
But eventually I started looking up from all the carnage and at the things that were being pointed out to me.
My daughter, of all the unhealthy eaters in the world, was the one who recommended that I watch the documentary appropriately named Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.
I was horrified and became a new person for about a week.
Then books like Fast Food Nation made me curl my lip at the thought of my favorite fried chicken sandwich… for a while.
But I am a living, breathing beast and I need food!
And not only salted meat either. I am also a junk food junky. I am addicted to sugar, fat and (apparently) corn syrup!
I eat so much of the stuff I imagine my waste must resemble caramel by now.
I was in a quandary. I had no shopping or cooking skills that included vegetation and, now that I was getting a glimmer of understanding, everything I ate was seasoned with guilt and shame and peppered with the very real fear that I was being poisoned!
So I tried to change.
I kept watching the documentaries and checking the facts which convinced me that they were right about the dangers to my health if I don’t add plant food to my diet.
I asked my vegetarian friends for recipes and got familiar with such erstwhile enemies as Brussel sprouts and eggplant.
But I was still all about red meat.
It wasn’t until I watched Get Vegucated that I saw something that stuck to my mind like saturated fat sticks to my arteries.
In the movie of my life it pulled the camera back so that I don’t only see myself or the characters that are playing important roles but I see peripheral characters as well. If the camera goes back far enough I can see the whole planet and all the creatures who share it with me.
And that’s what happened when I saw the callous way in which corporate food producers inflict suffering onto so many of God’s creatures. It was such a scale that my mind was boggled. I cried.
That was months ago and I find that ever since then I have been conscious of the level of suffering involved whenever I make my food choices. Now that I realize that our culture of consumption has hit the spiritual bottom I find it much easier to drive past the drive through.
Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer.