Planning to 'go vegetarian' delayed the process for ages

January 21, 1999|By Dennis Shaw

It was the ham that sneaked up on me. I don't know why.

[cont. from lifestyle]

If you asked me what my favorite meat is, I'd say grilled bluefish or fried chicken or steamed crabs or roast turkey or even kielbasa.

Depending on who you are, I might even say sushi made with raw tuna fish. But I wouldn't say ham. Maybe that's why it took me by surprise.

All of these animals have been pursuing me since last year, when, after years of thinking about it, I finally became a vegetarian. I didn't do it for health reasons or ethical reasons or out of concern for the suffering of animals. My motivation was strictly environmental.


Much as I tried to deny it, I finally had to realize that the wholesale raising and eating of meat takes a terrible toll on the natural world. I gave up beef, the worst offender, and I hoped that would be enough to ease my conscience for a while.

But I went about it all wrong. I planned it weeks in advance, which gave me lots of time to think about all the beef dishes I loved. Knowing I'd never eat them again, I had to have them all one last time, and I ended up eating more beef in those few weeks than I had eaten in years.

I vowed I wouldn't do the same thing when I gave up another kind of meat.

I figured I'd do it in stages, one meat at a time. But I kept procrastinating, for I couldn't decide what to stop eating next. I kept stalling and stalling, until I finally realized that I probably wouldn't give up any more meat until all my teeth fell out.

That's when some higher power took over. I can't begin to explain what it was. The skies didn't open, and there were no lightning flashes. But while walking along a sidewalk in New York one day last April, I suddenly knew I had become a vegetarian.

Just like that. No more meat, period. No advance notice. No chance to think about my favorite dishes and have them one last time. Somehow, it was decided for me.

Actually, I did do a little bargaining. I would be traveling to the Midwest in the summer, where I was looking forward to having Lake Superior whitefish. And I'd always dreamed about having fish and chips in England, if I ever traveled there.

Before, I would have put off becoming a vegetarian until after my summer trip and after a trip to England. But now I took a different tack: I would become a vegetarian on the spot, but with two dispensations. I could have the whitefish and the fish and chips when the time came.

I did have the whitefish, and it was wonderful. And if I ever go to England, I can have the fish and chips. I expect that will be wonderful, too. I hope I never get desperate enough that I travel to England just to have it.

Much to my surprise, giving up the rest really wasn't that hard to do. I even made it through Thanksgiving dinner at a table with a wonderful-smelling turkey. But I knew it was coming, so I had adopted the right mindset in advance.

My only real trial was the ham incident. I was eating out with friends, and when the waitress brought a thick slice of roast ham to the table, my teeth suddenly felt an incredible urge to sink themselves into it.

I forced myself to think about my pet pig, Petunia, but that didn't help. She likes ham, too.

I thought about the enormous environmental problems created by wastes from giant hog farms, but that didn't do the trick, either.

I stuck it out and pretended to enjoy my spaghetti with marinara sauce. I hope it'll be easier next time something like that happens. I'll just have to watch out for that ham.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

The Herald-Mail Articles