For as long as I can remember, I have been a vegetarian. Ever since I was a little girl, it seems my parents have come home from work every Friday, carrying brown bags filled with vegetables and fruits from the farm market. It has always been my job to then stock the fridge, every week, with the food for the upcoming week. Precisely at seven, my mother begins to cook the dinner every night, and the wonderful aroma of curry leaves and tomatoes boiling in water with a myriad of other spices, wafts through the house. These are a few of the many things that, now, make me proud to be a vegetarian. Unfortunately, it wasn't always that way.
I clearly remember the day I sat down at the pale green table marked "first grade," with the rest of my friends. Laughing and giggling, we each unwrapped our sandwiches and looked around to see if there was anyone willing to trade. One girl leaned across the table and stretched out her hand. "You wanna trade?" she asked.
"Um, what's in yours?" I gingerly inquired.
"Bologna," she replied. "You?"
"Tomato and cheese, but I don't eat meat, so I can't trade with you." I still remember the look on her face. It was a mixture of puzzlement and contempt.
"You don't eat meat?! Why not?"
I remember turning red and then mumbling something about my culture and being nice to animals. She leaned over to the girl sitting next to her and whispered something in her ear while pointing at me at the same time. And then it seemed as though everyone at the table had that same look of scorn and bewilderment. At that point I wished that the cafeteria floor would just open and swallow me whole.
Unfortunately, it didn't and I was forced to sit where I was, bombarded with questions about why I was so different. Sinking lower and lower into my chair, I thought about the same thing everyone else was, "Why was I vegetarian?"
One of the many aspects of Hinduism is vegetarianism. Being a Hindu, I am also vegetarian. There are many reasons why I follow this tradition, and here are some of them.
The cow is a very sacred animal to Hindus all over the world. There is a belief in the Hindu religion that God resides in everyone, all creatures, both great and small.
Animals should be able to live their lives without the brutality, cruelty, and death caused by humans. Killing animals for food is a form of violence. I am a strong believer in peace and harmony. Therefore, killing animals for food or sport is against my beliefs.
Studies show that being on a vegetarian diet can cut the risk of cancer by 50%, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, prevent and actually reverse diabetes, and reduce obesity and the risk of heart disease. Therefore, being a vegetarian keeps me healthy and fit.
Eating meat affects the environment adversely. Forests are cut down to make room for more cattle. People kill the homes and habitats of millions of animals just so they can eat the food they want. Getting the nutrition I need without slaughtering other living creatures makes me happy and content because I live in harmony with nature.
Although being a vegetarian may seem like a fashion statement to some, it is truly a way of life for me. I no longer am embarrassed about being a vegetarian, and I have no problem telling others I am one. I was brought up a vegetarian and will continue to be one throughout the course of my life. My first grade experience has taught me that while I may be unique from many others in this world, it is something that I can be proud of, most definitely. I am glad that I can help the world in some way, however small it may be, and I am proud to be a vegetarian.
Having moved to Texas from Connecticut almost five years ago, I can certainly say that a dietary culture shock was experienced. Although I quickly discovered that, contrary to popular stereotypical belief, there are no shoot-outs in any saloons, nor do children ride horses to school, it is indeed the land of cattle, and by no means is a Longhorn a creature of myth. Here lies satisfaction for any carnivore, be it an all-you-can-eat rib night for $12.95, or winning a free meal for complete consumption of a 48 oz. T-bone. It appears as if the famed "yellow rose of Texas" is not a woman at all, but more likely a five-pound rump roast.
My revilement of meat was produced by way of my first job, filling orders at one of Texas's most notorious fast-food stops. Its "innovative" to-go window and company emblem of joyously dancing chickens, pigs, and cattle characterize it, although, for what reason they appear so merry I truly cannot say. Turning sixteen had made me eligible to become a member of that infamous teenage work force, and I leapt upon the opportunity for a taste of financial independence. But with those ill-fated words, "You're hired," I embarked upon the learning of a nauseating lesson that I will never forget.
The "rodeo plate," as it is known, consisted of three meats, three side orders, a large drink, and a dessert. I had never known it was possible for any one person to consume that much food, but, let me tell you, it most certainly is. In fact, that was probably the most popular order. If this caloric and cholesterol-laden delicacy did not touch your fancy, there was always the Chopped B-B-Q Sandwich. This was available regular or Jumbo-sized, but first the meat and about six inches of oil needed to be stirred back together, as they separated when left sitting. I remember the vile experience of pork sausage oils squirting out and burning my arms as I attempted to cut links into sizzling servings for eagerly awaiting customers. I recall the horrid repulsion of watching chunks of lard and bacon float lethargically about in inserts of pinto and green beans when business was slow. When we locked our doors at 9 p.m., it was time to clean the frying vats, and the revolting stench of greasy scalded chicken guts would saturate the air as the fry cooks scraped glutinous lumps of flour and fat that had gathered at the bottom into trash cans.
Even as I attempted to console myself with the reassurances that it was just an easy job that earned me some cash, a weight too heavy to rationalize away began to push down upon my conscience with rapidly increasing intensity. How many mothers ordered four chicken strip meals with double fries and gravy for their obese young children, who then asked if they could also have pie? How many men told me they wanted triple brisket and three sides of pinto beans on their rodeo plate, and then paused to breathe in with great effort, while their bellies protruded over their belt buckles? I should know, for it was I who called out those fried chicken orders over the intercom, and served up those heaping mounds of brisket with extra sauce. I gradually grew repulsed by my own actions as I considered my contribution to those consumers' obvious health problems. One man even asked me to make his meat lean, because he had heart troubles and was actually not supposed to be eating any red meat. But he told me he "absolutely loved" our brisket and special sauce, that the taste was just "to die for." "To die for. . . ." Those fateful words resonate through my memory even as I type them. As I replied with the customary responses of gratitude expected by our managers, smiling, saying, "Oh, thank you very much," I wanted to jump over the counter and shake him, ask him why he was doing this to himself, and tell him to leave and never come back.
It was then that I realized that I must take my own fantasized advice-I must leave, and never ever come back. I knew that those patrons would not be convinced to change their habits and that it was foolish to try. But it was not I that would serve as assistant to their bodies' appalling demises. I put in two weeks' notice that night in March, resigning my duties of serving up heart attacks on Styrofoam plates to those more able to silence the voices of morality within them than I had been, or perhaps unfortunately devoid of such voices at all.
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.
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