Commentary 15 Nov 2012 08:45 pm
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for turkey, ham, beef, poultry and fish.
Beginning in 2013, I’m going to try my hand — and mouth and stomach — at a vegetarian lifestyle, so this holiday season is my farewell tour of the wonderful world of meat.
Goodbye to Red Robin juicy gourmet burgers served with refreshing glasses of freckled lemonade. Adios to Arby’s chicken sandwiches with the lettuce that used to be better when it was shredded. Hasta la vista to succulent sirloin steaks barbecued to perfection in my own backyard, even when the thermometer creeps below zero and I have to stop mid-grill to buy more propane.
Farewell to Mom’s delicious lasagna with the ground beef layered between tender rows of noodles, served with a healthy side dish of guilt because I don’t visit more often. Sayonara to the BK Big Fish, a diet-busting burst of breaded goodness that I devour in the restaurant’s parking lot like an addict with his last dime bag.
This weekend, I practically sobbed my way through a hamburger at Mulligan’s Pub, even as I perused the menu for the kind of tofu-derived substitutes that will be my lot in life should this resolution pass beyond the road-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions phase and become reality.
More than a year ago, my wife totally removed beef from her diet, replacing it in recipes with ground turkey. I went along for the ride because I wanted to support her healthier lifestyle and because, in most dishes, you can’t tell the difference between beef and turkey, anyway.
(One notable exception is sloppy Joes, which taste like napalm in a bun when made with ground turkey.)
She decided that the first of the year would signal the swan song for all meat in her diet. I’d been flirting with the idea, too, spurred on by several students who have already made the transition — some, years ago — and who wrote persuasively about it.
My concern is less for my own health, which is adequate, than for the welfare of animals and the good of the planet, not necessarily in that order.
Many animals raised under modern methods of production live in appalling conditions — shot full of growth hormones, confined in small cages, slaughtered en masse. Even if only a fraction of the more alarmist literature from animal rights organizations is true, it’s enough to give me pause.
From an environmental standpoint, meat doesn’t make much sense. According to the September issue of National Geographic, agriculture is responsible for 92 percent of humanity’s water footprint, with beef requiring 10.8 quarts of water for every kilocalorie, compared to only half a quart of water for roots and cereals and 1.4 quarts for vegetables. Pork, eggs and chicken production aren’t quite the water hogs that beef is, but they’re still higher than any non-animal foodstuffs.
According to the EPA, a single dairy cow drops 120 pounds of wet manure daily, which equals the waste produced by 20-40 people. (That’s a large range — either the EPA doesn’t estimate well or people’s poo production fluctuates wildly.) When managed properly, animal manure can produce electricity and ethanol, but when it’s not, it pollutes our water supply.
If I were really concerned about this — and I am concerned, but not really concerned — I would drop the meat right now, today. But as I’ve said, I need to wean myself off my carnivore lifestyle, especially hamburgers, the world’s most perfect food.
So for the next five weeks, I’m saying goodbye, even as I download vegetarian apps for my phone and brush off the concerns of well-meaning friends and family members who think I’ve finally gone off the deep end because I’m jumping, not falling, off the meat wagon.
Like other more highly publicized farewell tours — think the Eagles and the Who — I may yet return to the cow and chicken kingdom. If not, then in the words of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” it’ll be “No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey a la king! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!” for me.
Meanwhile, this Thanksgiving, as I join with others to reflect upon and celebrate all the reasons I have to be grateful, I also plan to eat myself into a tryptophan-induced coma, where all my meat dreams will be bittersweet.
Originally published in The Review on Nov. 15, 2012.