one of the most breathtaking things about being the parent of a toddler is seeing how that kid is learning from you. he's taking in all of the overt things you teach him - "mama, what's that?" "that's an ant, see it go into it's anthill?" - and all of the things that you are barely even aware you are showing him. when i think about my own upbringing and how values were transmitted to me, it was definitely at least 90% by example. mom wasn't big on any kind of direct moral instruction but, never-the-less, communicated to me through the way she lived her life a powerful and coherent set of values that guide me to this day. given all of this, and also, if i'm honest, where i am in life -- this strange "starting over" i'm doing -- i'm making some choices about how i want to live and how i want my son to see me living.
one of these choices has to do with how i eat, which probably couldn't be a more boring or irritating subject to write about. i became a vegetarian at a young age, i don't quite remember when but i was a preteen. i was a passionate animal rights activist as a teenager and my vegetarianism was part of that. over the years, my activism waned, as it, sadly, often will as one ages but my vegetarianism remained, mostly out of habit. when pressed about my reasons for vegetarianism, and when a shrug wasn't accepted, i had some patter about wanting to minimize the suffering that my life caused. it was patter but, fundamentally, it was also completely true. i'm realistic about the fact that, as a well-fed American who drives a car around and generally lives a big ol' Western lifestyle, my living causes suffering - unseen suffering somewhere else in the world - both directly and indirectly. Cutting out the meat just seemed like this really easy way to just eliminate this whole category of Rachel-caused suffering.
But, several years ago, I pretty abruptly decided to start eating meat again. I couldn't give you one simple answer for why. I was craving meat almost constantly (which in my 20+ years of vegetarianism I never had before). I was feeling like my vegetarian diet had drifted to where i was eating a lot of really highly processed foods (fake meats, etc) and i wasn't sure that that was really any better than eating locally, humanely raised meat. And, frankly, i was tired of my partner always sighing and looking sad because i wouldn't try some of whatever delicious thing was on his plate. So, meat. I went for it with gusto - buying half a cow and half a pig from local ranchers for the freezer. For the first year or so, I was still mostly vegetarian, eating meat at home from "our" cow and avoiding meat when out at restaurants. But, living in Portland, many (if not most) restaurants source their meat proudly on their menus or on chalkboard displays. If I could eat the meat from "my" cow, why not from a cow from the same ranch that the restaurant bought? And from there the slope was more and more slippery. I never really got to where I was just blithely eating factory-farmed meat but I was definitely noticing and, frankly, caring, less and less where my food was coming from.
And, so, just as suddenly as I decided to start eating meat, i've decided to stop. I don't plan to be as strict a vegetarian as I was before this meat-eating interlude but I do plan basically eat a vegetarian diet. And I plan to do it for the same reason that I sort of drifted into in my twenties. Basically, it just feels right to me. It feels like a small thing i can do that says "i care about the suffering of other living beings". i know that, for me, that has meaning. and I hope that, for my son, seeing that I'm making choices about how I eat will have meaning. and that meaning might not translate into him making the same choices -- probably won't -- but the message i want to convey to him is that our actions matter, even if they only matter in how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to the world, even if they are only aspirational. what i mean is, I don't kid myself that my diet is really doing anything to end factory farming, but on a daily basis i'm doing something that is a choice for kindness and that changes, in subtle ways, how i think about myself and about my place in the world.
NB (and i hope this if obvious): i don't think you're an unkind monster if you eat meat. you're undoubtedly making awesome choices for kindness in other areas that i'm stupidly blundering along doing what i've always done. this is a me thing, not a you thing.