Last week, I made pulled pork for the first time. I had wanted to prepare it for years, but didn’t know how. Whenever I looked at pork recipes, they seemed involved and intimidating. However, I recently noticed a straight-forward looking pork tenderloin at the grocery store. I bought it and decided to give it a try.

I found a slow-cooker recipe online. One morning, I whipped up a sauce with honey, soy sauce and spices, put the pork and sauce in the slow cooker and that evening, we had delicious shredded pork, sweet potatoes and cauliflower for dinner. Best. Meal. Ever.

The next morning I told my husband that my stomach still felt so good from the previous evening’s meal. I enjoyed the pork leftovers the next couple of days. I had a new favorite kind of meat, maybe even a new favorite food! I loved how it tasted and my stomach felt satisfied after eating it, for a long time. I began thinking about when I’d make it next. Maybe very soon.

Problem with Pork

Or maybe not. A couple of days later, I saw a review titled “Why We Eat Octopus But Not Cat” in the Wall Street Journal of a book called “Personalities on a Plate” by Barbara J. King. It’s a book about animals’ sentience and how we have trained ourselves to pay attention to the well-being of some animals, but not others. In fact, the article showed a picture of some cute piglets and said that pigs are so intelligent that they are able to use a mirror, recognize symbols and unlock doors. Because of that, the author wants to have nothing to do with eating them. For the most part, they have horrible living conditions until they are killed.

I had just discovered a new favorite food and now I know that the animal I enjoyed eating, that died for my dinner, was much like my dog – aware, inquisitive and intelligent. This is horrible news!

I would never, ever want to eat my dog. So why would I eat a similar being?

Why is it okay to eat this turkey?

And not this one?

Reformed Vegetarian

I became a vegetarian during freshman orientation week at college when I was at a barbeque at a professor’s serene acreage outside of Northfield, MN. The Academics, while astoundingly smart, were not experts on the grill. Their hamburgers were rare and bloody. As I went into the house to use the restroom, I noticed a jar of peanut butter and loaf of bread on the kitchen table. The vegetarians were eating peanut butter sandwiches and didn’t have to face the burger that nauseated me. It hit me – if I was a vegetarian, I would no longer have to eat meat that made me squeamish. I would have the ultimate excuse – No thank you, I was vegetarian! Perfect. I signed up for the cafeteria’s vegetarian meal plan and began enjoying their meatless dinners.

After college, I was a vegetarian for about six more years. I didn’t plan my meals carefully and usually didn’t eat enough protein or fat. I ate far too many carbs. Bagels and yogurt were my staples. My health wasn’t that great. I was tired, my iron was low and I had other annoying issues. My lazy vegetarianism was not good for me.

After reading a book about the importance of protein, I began eating meat. I liked it. I felt satiated and enjoyed having a wide selection of items to choose from on restaurant menus. I still was squeamish about eating meat that had bones and required a lot of navigation. But other than that, I liked, and still like, being a meat eater.

My Dog is Like a Pig

Twenty years later, as I try to become more aware of my life, I’ve been thinking about the topic of eating (or not eating) meat again.

I mentioned my concerns to my mom a couple of years ago and then tried to justify my meat-eating by saying it was “the circle of life” and that’s how animals survive, by eating other animals. But my wise (and meat-eating) mom said, “Yes, but they aren’t aware of the choices or ethical questions.” She was right. They aren’t and I am.

When I’ve talked to others about this dilemma, they tell me to just don’t think about it. Ignoring the evidence is a version of cognitive dissonance, where one chooses to disregard facts that might contradict one’s life view. The problem with cognitive dissonance, however, is that one needs to continuously look the other way from reality. After reading the recent book review, this is becoming harder for me to do.

Reducetarian

The author, Barbara King, doesn’t advocate veganism, but she does recommend becoming a reducetarian – don’t give up eating meat, but consider eating less of it. I haven’t read the book and I’m afraid that if I did, I wouldn’t be able to eat any meat at all. And remember, I like eating meat! However, I do know that one can buy meat from animals that have been treated humanely. That might be a compromise on the issue.

I don’t know the answer to this dilemma. Maybe the first step is to do what the author advocates and choose to eat less meat. There are other sources of protein I happen to really like: eggs and cottage cheese. But nothing makes my stomach feel as good as that pulled pork I make in the slow-cooker.

There are some things in life I wish weren’t true. I wish people didn’t die prematurely. I wish there weren’t wars. I also wish that in order for me to eat meat, an animal didn’t have to die.

Okay. Maybe I will have to buy the book “Personalities on a Plate” after all. If I read it, maybe I can come up with a solution that both feels good, intellectually, as well as physically. We shall see what I discover. If I figure something out, I will let you know. And if you have any advice on the topic, I’d love to hear it!