Monday, March 8, 2010

The Vegetarian Experiment and "The Jungle"

For the month of March I have committed myself to vegetarianism. Not vegan, not pescatarian. Eight days in and I'm feeling alright. I don't feel any major physical changes and mentally, thus far anyway, has not been terribly difficult. I'm guessing that it would probably take several months, if not longer, for my body to start feeling the absence of the hormones, steroids and antibiotics that all of our meat has in it these days. I have had days where if I think about a burger too much a craving starts. The worst moment so far was when I went to Chipotle. The guy in front of me ordered a burrito with double chicken, as if to shove my meatlessness in my face. At this point, I cannot say what April 1 will bring.

The experiment began for several reasons. Emily, my wife, is a vegetarian. I wanted to see what would happen if she and I actually ate the same meals on a regular basis. Having her around also has helped with coming up with meal ideas and the like. Secondly, I watched the documentary "Food, Inc." The film is biased to be sure, but it opened my eyes to the lack of transparency in the food industry. As a journalist, I'm all for transparency and the striving of major companies, like Tyson and Monsanto, to hide their inner-workings disturbs and angers me. Thirdly, I believe a diet of little-to-no meat can be much healthier when done right.

At the same time I've started reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Right now I won't get into its cultural significance, Sinclair's magnificent ability to craft emotion or how depressing the first two chapters are when compared to just about anything else. As most of you should know, the book is about the meat packing industry and the poor conditions of the immigrant workers in the early 1900s. Below is a paragraph from Chapter 3, where a group of people are on a tour of packing plant and have just witnessed the slaughter of pigs:

"It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it , and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory."

That paragraph resonates because of density and reality. Humans and pigs do share similar biology. The lack of respect shown to the animals is something that vegans and vegetarians have been harping on for forever. Should not we be grateful to the animal for giving its life that we might live? The meat industry is cold-blooded indeed. The last sentence brings it all home, exposing the fact that this machinery is purposely "unseen and unheeded, buried." The meat industry knows what it does is nasty and they do their best to keep us from thinking about it.