I have been vegetarian (more or less) for the last 8 years. I say "more or less" because I started eating fish again around the time I moved to LA. So I guess that makes me pescetarian although I go in and out of that too.
Some of you know the story of how I stopped eating meat: I was at NXNW in northwest Austin, when the waitress mentioned that tri-tip was the daily special. When I said I'd never heard of it, she explained that it's three different parts of the muscle. What?! Muscle??? That's disgusting. This sounds really stupid, and so maybe it IS really stupid, but I had never considered that meat = muscle, which seemed uncomfortably familiar to me. I ordered a salad. The next day, I was eating a bowl of pork pho and as I put a piece in my mouth and started chewing, I couldn't get the thought of muscle out of my head. That was the *second to last time I ate red or white meat until recently incorporating fish. (*The last, last time: Three years ago a Chinese client of mine took me to Little Asia in San Jose on a business dinner. He ordered in Cantonese, and me, weighing being a gracious guest with my own preferences, caved to his insistence on sharing the chicken. I delicately pushed the food around my plate and ate the lions share of the vegetables, but I tried it. Now you know.)
Anyway, right out the gate I proselytized like a champ. I sneered, scowled, gagged, and made otherwise ass-like comments to my friends and anyone else I felt comfortable enough to offend. I made an issue out of what I could and couldn't eat at restaurants. Umm, waiter? There's a sliver of chicken in my salad. Where? Right *here*. Can't you see it? (Yes, I was THAT girl. My friends loved going out with me.)
Being vegetarian made me different, special, and in my mind, cooler. I used all the familiar arguments, which basically amounted to implying that carnivores were less evolved. I led a spirited, righteous crusade and paraded my vegetarian purity badge in front of anyone who cared to notice. Along the way, I got into yoga where often my food choices were shared, encouraged, substantiated by scientific reasons, and even dwarfed by viewpoints more fervent than mine. I envied vegans for their discipline.
And then at some point, the shift started to happen. Not so much in what I craved but in how I viewed eating meat and more importantly, how I felt about others eating meat. Ironically, it began with reading about Gandhi, the world's most famous vegan. Maybe it was that he adhered to the strictest of vegan diets, but without piety. I thought about why I ate what I ate. I became more conscious about the *way* I ate, in general. True, I didn't eat meat, but what I did eat I shovelled down with reckless discernment. I started to think about the connection with food and the intention behind eating food. In my own body I realized that how you eat something is just as important as what you eat. It became less important for me to worry about what others chose while I focused more on my own decisions.
And now, many years later, I still have no desire to eat meat (including fish, right now) because a) the thought has the same ring to me as eating onions and b) I feel better without it. But that's it. Refreshingly free of Shoulds, Tsk tsks, and For shames.
It's true, they put a lot of nasty crap in meat these days, and the way they treat cows, chickens, and "consumable" animals is largely horrendous. The only way for practices to change in the food industry is to speak with your pocketbooks. If you're violently opposed to vegetarianism I invite you to try it and just see how you feel. Likewise, if you're a fervent vegetarian, I invite you to investigate your beliefs. Either way, I'm reminded of one of my favorite Gandhi-isms: Be the change you wish to see in the world.