August 5, 2008

Cut the Meat and Pass the Corn on the Cob

By Donna Acquaviva

When Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, was a guest on "The View" recently, she made some confessions. According to WVTF and Radio IQ, the two public radio stations in Southwest Virginia, she told deep secrets such as she "doesn't wear panty hose" and she "doesn't like bacon."

"At least," the reporter commented, "she's not a vegetarian." I don't know what that would have done for Michelle Obama's image, but it would have been a big boost to vegetarians everywhere. It can get so lonely out there.

I do cheat; I eat fish. And another recent report on NPR informed me that I'm not a vegetarian at all, but a pescatarian. However, it's easier to say "I'm a vegetarian" than to go through all the reasons I refused the steak shish kebob at the Fourth of July barbecue -- and lots easier than trying to spell "pescatarian."

Shortly after I stopped eating meat, a lesbian friend asked my husband what he would do if I told him I just realized I'm a lesbian. "Oh that wouldn't bother me," said the intrepid Mr. Bob. "It was when she told me she was becoming a vegetarian I really got upset."

I can relate to an old New Yorker cartoon that shows two lady friends having lunch. One says, "I started my vegetarianism for health reasons, then it became a moral choice, and now it's just to annoy people." And guess what? It works. People really do get annoyed.

Like the cartoon lady, I started for health reasons. During routine testing a few years ago, the doctor discovered my cholesterol was pretty high. Since I already ate mounds of fruit, veggies, whole grains and legumes, there was only one other thing I could do to bring my cholesterol into this hemisphere. I gave up meat.

Well, two things. I started walking every day, too.

The point is, within six months I'd lost 35 pounds. Now that's a pretty good incentive to stick to veggies. I was hooked.

My husband, for whom breakfast is a sacrament and dinner is High Holy Mass, and who gets a lot of his exercise jumping to conclusions, wasn't happy at all. It makes him feel guilty, he says, if I'm munching on carrot sticks and he's downing a croissant. Not guilty enough to put down the croissant, mind you.

When I told my chubby friends why I was losing weight, their eyes glazed over. "Go without meat?" each gasped. "I could never do that."

Since I made my decision for broccoli, though, I've come to several other reasons why it's a good idea -- and you've heard them all. One is all the grain, land, water and energy it takes to raise beef cattle and hogs; all the pollution they cause; and all that flatulence and burping that's wreaking havoc with the ozone layer, causing it to disappear and making the sun more dangerous. If this keeps up, the cows and pigs will be barbecued on the hoof -- and so will we.

And all those increasingly precious resources could be used to feed the poor, to preserve land and water and to make life better and healthier for everybody.

Then there's the way most cows, pigs and poultry become beef, pork and chicken in the pot. All I've ever read about slaughterhouses made me sick; it's capital punishment minus a crime. According to another report on NPR, some slaughterhouse workers say that killing living things all day actually makes them immune to violence. What could that portend for a society already the most violent in the world?

Sure, my not eating meat doesn't change any of these things. I'm only one little person who hasn't even been able to convert her husband. But I'm not offended when others eat meat in front of me. I understand. I may feel sorry for the dead cow, but I do miss greasy hamburgers.

So what's the answer, folks? Is there a moral right and wrong in this issue? My husband once took vegetarians to task for not caring if zucchini feels pain when it's picked. Well, maybe it does. And I do care. In addition, some scientists say they've proved that corn screams when it goes without water too long. I lie not. They put microphones in the fields to catch it.

I don't want to sound cruel, but we were created for three meals a day and snacks. And if we ate only things that were never alive, we'd be limited to pebbles.

I just hope they never form a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetables. There's no way I'm giving up corn on the cob this summer, no matter how much it screams.

Donna Acquaviva

Acquaviva lives, writes and teaches in Roanoke County. She is a spiritual director, lector and liturgical dancer at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church.

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