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Chicago Tribune (US-IL): Confessions of a carnivore; After 19 years as a vegetarian, nearly anything is fair game

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  • Karen Dawn
    The Chicago Tribune takes letters at: ctc-TribLetter@Tribune.com or http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/letters/chi-lettertotheeditor.cus tomform ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2003
      The Chicago Tribune takes letters at: ctc-TribLetter@... or

      Chicago Tribune
      October 5, 2003 Sunday, CHICAGO FINAL EDITION
      Magazine; Pg. 15; ZONE: C

      Confessions of a carnivore;
      After 19 years as a vegetarian, nearly anything is fair game

      By Dan Santow. Dan Santow has written for Metropolitan Home, Cooking Light
      and Men's Health magazines.

      I 'm sitting on my couch looking at my dog. With his sad, soulful eyes, long
      floppy ears, and big paws he's so damn cute I could just eat him up. I mean
      that literally. I could eat him up. In the year since I became a carnivore
      after being vegetarian, I've eaten cows, pigs, sheep, ducks, deer, chickens,
      pigeons, capons, buffaloes, boars, rabbits, turkeys, frogs and ostriches. So
      while I don't really want to eat my dog, I'm not against eating a dog. Dogs
      are a part of the daily cuisine of millions of people around the
      world--dogs, if prepared properly, must taste pretty good.

      Even though it's been more than six months since I switched from being a
      vegetarian to eating meat, I'm still sometimes surprised at the gusto with
      which I attack a hamburger or order a new kind of meat from a menu. After
      all, being a vegetarian wasn't just a part of my lifestyle, it was a
      significant part of who I was. Male. Jewish. Vegetarian. That was me.

      Unlike people for whom vegetarianism is a calling, I kind of fell into it in
      that first impressionable year after college. I mentioned to my brother one
      night that I was looking for something to read. He suggested a book he'd
      recently finished. It was called "Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our
      Treatment of Animals" by Peter Singer, who is today a professor of bioethics
      at Princeton University. It didn't sound promising, but once I started
      reading I couldn't put it down. In fact, I defy anyone to read it and
      continue to eat meat, at least for a while.

      I read it and didn't eat meat for 19 years.

      The book is almost 300 pages long in paperback with some really creepy black
      and white pictures of various animals--rabbits, pigs, cows and others--being
      mishandled and abused. A typical caption is, "Live chickens on their way to
      slaughter at the processing plant." I still have my copy--it's dog-eared and
      yellowed. I underlined a lot in it too. "If possessing a higher degree of
      intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his own ends," I
      underlined on page seven, "how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans
      for the same purpose?"

      You get a lot of attitude when you're vegetarian. "Well, you're wearing
      leather!" people would harrumph, thinking they were the first to point out
      what they believed to be my deep hypocrisy. I don't, in fact, think it's
      hypocritical to not eat meat but wear leather. Life is complicated, people
      (including myself) are weak, and I think morality, while a good thing, is an
      artificial construct anyhow. "Look," I'd say, "I vote for Democrats, I call
      my mother at least once a week, and I don't eat meat. That's what I do. What
      do you do?" At least I had discipline.

      But oh, did I miss certain foods! Around the Jewish holidays I sorely missed
      chopped liver. And chicken soup with matzo balls. I did occasionally have
      matzo balls in vegetable broth, but it was never the same as the real stuff.
      And besides, real matzo balls, the kind your grandmother makes, are made
      with schmaltz, or chicken fat, and without it they're worthless.

      I also missed bacon. But only once was I truly tempted. I have a friend who
      took me along for a weekend at her friend's summer cottage on a lake in
      Wisconsin, the kind of summer cottage that has about 25 rooms, several
      boats, Mercedes convertibles insouciantly parked out front, a heliport and a
      cook--a very, very good cook. That Sunday morning about 12 of us were around
      the table as she brought out French toast, eggs, cakes, and muffins. The
      piece de resistance was a huge platter of the most perfectly cooked,
      beautiful-looking, ideal-smelling bacon you've ever seen. There weren't
      three measly slices a person like you would get in a diner, but as much
      bacon as we could eat. Pigs and pigs and pigs worth of bacon. I smelled it.
      I stared at it. I did everything but lick my chops like a cartoon wolf. But
      I didn't eat it.

      Over the years I did, however, eat meat by mistake. Once I ate a pork
      wonton, having been told that it was vegetarian. And once I ate an entire
      beef taco even though I'd ordered it meatless. I was talking while I was
      eating it, excitedly telling some story to my friends without really paying
      attention to what the waiter had set down in front of me.

      There were times I wished I had been paying even less attention to what I
      was given by friends and family with good intentions. A gummy "nut loaf" in
      the shape of a turkey drumstick one Thanksgiving. A charcuterie of tofu
      "salami," tempeh "kielbasa," wheat gluten "sausage," and seitan "brats" on
      another occasion. Lots and lots of eggplant Parmiagiana. I hate eggplant.

      My late aunt was probably the most creative in the give-Dan-weird-food
      category. About twice a year she'd have my brother and me to her house for
      brunch. Inevitably she'd call me about a week before. "Are you still into
      vegetarianism?" she'd want to know, as if it was a crazy phase like
      Stalinism or sadism that might have passed since she last fed me. Though she
      never served anything to the others but regular breakfast fare, all of which
      I could eat, she felt she just absolutely had to make me something
      special--something especially vegetarian. One time she served me spaghetti
      noodles in lemon Jell-o.

      You can see why 19 years of this was quite enough. Besides, my heart just
      wasn't in it anymore. Peter Singer may be right, but I began to feel that
      the good fight could go on without me. I'll leave it to others--like
      Aristotle, Descartes, and even Benjamin Franklin, all of whom have written
      about animal rights and welfare.

      Still, once I made the decision to eat meat again, I didn't immediately chow
      down. My friends and family were thrilled (no more special meals for Dan),
      but though I'd decided to eat meat, I found it difficult to actually do it.
      I thought if I ate my first meal that included meat in front of people I
      might actually cry.

      So instead, about a month after I began to tell people I was no longer a
      vegetarian, and without telling anyone I was going to do it, I sat in my car
      with the flashers on in front of a local gourmet takeout shop, used a
      plastic fork to spear a chicken breast with a lemon-thyme sauce, and just
      ate it.

      I didn't cry, and much to the chagrin of some of my acquaintances, I didn't
      get sick, either. Not then, and not the next day when I downed an entire
      half-pound of chopped liver by myself. In fact, my transition from
      vegetarian to contented meataholic has been without incident, other than I
      now have to pay more attention to my cholesterol.

      Oddly, some people still shoot me attitude. A few weeks ago I was at a party
      when a friend of a friend saw me eating a hamburger for the first time.
      "Ohhh," she said in her best "gotcha!" tone, "so you're eating meat now," as
      if changing my mind after 19 years proved those years had been a mistake all
      along. "I've changed my mind and yes, I'm eating meat, but I haven't changed
      at all," I said to her as I prepared to take another bite, "though I have to
      admit my dog has been acting funny lately."
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