Long-time readers will agree I rarely venture into the self-revelatory navel-gazing critics bemoan in the blogosphere. But when I got together with folks over the recent holiday, there was a certain amount of tap dancing about food options; hence, this post. If you don't care, please move on. Nothing to see here. kthnxbai.
Since January, I've been an ovo-lacto vegetarian, which basically means not eating anything that requires the death of an animal. There are three ways to explain my decision, depending on how you choose to view causation.
The proximate cause was an episode of the Discovery Channel show, Dirty Jobs, called "Custom Meat Processor" that I watched — briefly — in December. Yes, I have known intellectually for a long time where meat comes from. But, for me, it was quite a different experience to hear a TV host shoot a cow in the head and then chop it up. You don't want to click on that link if you're squeamish. Trust me.
The concurrent cause (what lawyers like to call the "but for" test) centers on health impacts. Humans are unquestionably apex predators, and almost certainly evolved as opportunistic carnivores. There is evidence to suggest that we hunted game and ate lots of meat as far back as 500K BCE, but, arguably, that was for nutrient density and protein, needs we can now meet in other ways. While my cholesterol numbers are actually fine, why push my luck. Not to mention zoonotic diseases (cough...BSE...cough). And then, of course, there are the second-order health impacts: hog waste lagoons, factory chicken farms, and the overall environmental degradation from the intense natural resource requirements of producing meat.
However, the ultimate cause, as one might expect, is philosophical, with roots going back to my undergraduate days. While my default mode is pragmatic phenomenology (in which I received dharma transmission in the lineage of C. I. Lewis from Prof. Fernando Molina), I began a long journey to the East in a class with Agehenanda Bharati. So while I was in Molina's seminar — with one other student; impossible to hide — reading The Critique of Pure Reason, I was also studying koans and sloshing around in the cosmic overwhelm of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
And there is a point, believe it or not, where they come together. Buddhism, as Paddy Chayefsky noted in Altered States, is not a religion, but rather "a state-specific technology operating in service of an a priori belief system." That's something a phenomenologist can get behind, and I was deeply attracted to Zen long before I had one of those peak moments sitting at the dry garden of the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto in 1996.
But although I could recite the four vows, I obviously could not commit to "liberating all sentient beings" as long as I was...well...eating them. (Imagine it in LOLCat: "Mouse said, 'wait I haz Buddha nature,' but I eated him.")
So I've been vegetarian since January, and haven't missed anything. Oh, there are minor annoyances, like the afternoon onshore breeze that brings kitchen smells up the street from Flo's Clam Shack, but the most difficult thing has actually been having to repeatedly explain, one-off, why I'm no longer scarfing down cheeseburgers and scrapple. Hence, this post. Thanks for listening.
Editorial note: As may be obvious, I struggled over this, and have probably said either too much or not enough. Both the Principia and Alfred Korzybski warn about the impossibility of capturing reality with language. But I guess that's my job as a writer. Mu.