I had my first burger in five years yesterday.
Specifically, it was a Bison burger with bleu cheese and bacon from Ted's Montana Grill. We (being Mrs. shipwreck and myself) started with some homemade chips or crisps and munched, happily waiting for our sassy waiter to bring us our meat-wiches. I thought about Ted Turner, where the animal I was about to consume came from, how my stomach would react, and if this was a good idea. The conversation, as it always is with my wife, was good and I was now ready to chow down. Soon, very soon, the burger, plated with the usual and probably superfluous veggie additions and fries, was set before me begging for consumption. With this majestic, heaping American goodness now in front of me (there's even a plastic flag in the thing to prove it's patriotism), I picked up the burger without dressing it, sank my canines in, and went to heaven.
I was a strict vegetarian -- that is, lacto-ovo, so maybe not so strict -- for three years. Two years after that I decided fish was okay and, well, a lot easier when dealing with public dining situations so my title was extended to lacto-ovo-pesco. Definitely not vegetarian but for many of the unenlightened that still qualifies so, at least nominally, I kind of was one. Let's fast forward to this past fall, 2009. I was working the kitchen team at church and handling a lot of meat. This was not foreign to me. My wife was never veg so I would, on occasion, cook bacon or chicken for her. My wonderful Italian mother taught me to make a mean meatball so I'd handled beef on occasion as well when cooking for friends. I'd never really wanted to eat it; my initial convictions remained steady and there was very little temptation. Oh, there were instances where a piece of ground beef or other would sneak into my mouth and nine times out of ten it was unintentional. I was, for the most part, a good vegetarian.
I didn't, and still don't, like the way meat is produced in this country, and probably most of the industrialized world. The idea of suffering animals being stuck full of hormones and antibiotics to keep them alive in otherwise shit-infested living conditions is bad enough, but then to put that stuff in one' body...well that seemed even worse. Coupled with a family history of cholesterol issues (I myself have never had high cholesterol) and the ensuing degradation of the environment by massive factory farms and cattle fiends, it was enough to drive my already sensitive conscience to abstinence.
But somewhere down that long and animal protein-less road I lost touch with those reasons. It must have been akin to what a revolutionary feels a year after the monarch has been killed; why did we do this in the first place? The feeling either results in abdication or a tightening grip, using secret police to squeeze ideals out of your citizens for reasons you yourself forgot. Sure, the meat industry in this country is still nightmarish but there are new options. One article I read extolled the virtues of local, sustainable, organic meat; rich in flavor, easy on mother earth, not so tough to obtain. Evidently quite a few of us ex-veggos are following in the wake paved by the foodies: knowing what you're eating, being somewhat in touch with it and appreciating it, especially when it's not ruining the earth of the future, is cool. Even cooler than abstaining from eating meat all together. In a sense, one can have his cake (meatcake, I guess) and eat it too.
At the end of the day, however, it comes down to the palate.
There I was a few months back, watching my friend (a CIA trained chef and veteran of some of the more prestigious restaurants here in Atlanta) stuff a pork loin and roll it in bacon with a side of love for our newer congregates. Why am I not eating this? I wondered, pretty much out loud. To boot, I had just finished Kitchen Confidential and Bourdain has a love and appreciate of all meat products that could make a lifelong vegan flinch, at least for a second, in hesitation. He's also quoted as saying vegetarianism, especially veganism, is a "first world luxury". This idea is certainly not one I agree with but it merits some thought. The other remaining pressure to stay vegetarian was the fear that I would be "selling out". To what or whom I was not entirely sure but it's the same feeling that keeps from listening to popular metal (at least the bands that my discriminatory tastes deem "unmetal" or "metal by numbers") and playing games that everyone else is. However basing ones diet on popular opinion, let alone perceived popular opinion, is a bad idea. The decision was made: I had stopped eating meat on New Year's Day 2005 and decided to start up again on New Year's Day 2010.
So that's where I am. I'm not on a 100% free range, grass fed, local, organic meat diet yet but I mean to get there sooner or later. In the mean time I'm trying to avoid a fully fledged meat binge in my rediscovery of the treat. The burger I had last night was, simply put, spectacular. And Ted's isn't even a top-notch artisan burger! But the finer taste comes with a clearer conscious. I'm certainly not giving into a complacent lifestyle, I just no longer have a reason to make my taste buds suffer on behalf of the cause.