Last November, I celebrated my 30th turkey-free Thanksgiving. In 1989 I was about to celebrate my 30th birthday and was at least 75 lbs. overweight. I decided to kick off my thirties by getting healthier. I extreme dieted and started walking and exercising faithfully. Soon I was down to my desired weight. On a very poorly thought-out whim I decided I would try vegetarianism, figuring that all vegetarians must be thin. (Of course, in the decades since I’ve come to realize that one can consume only Twinkies and Oreos and still be a vegetarian.) I was single and cooking for myself in those days and I’d always found the handling of raw meat to be fairly sickening, and rarely did so. I’d always preferred to let poor McDonald’s employees handle the cooking of dead animals for me. I started wondering to myself: “What would life look like if I just stopped eating meat?”
In those early days I wasn’t very committed to a vegetarian lifestyle and if I was a guest at someone’s home, or at a nice restaurant, I would go ahead and eat meat, but I never bought it at the grocery store again. To get ideas of what to cook, I subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine and it was there that I encountered the book that would change my life: Diet for a New America by John Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune. Robbins rejected his family’s business and wealth and instead wrote a scathing expose on American factory farming and our unconscionable system of cruelty and suffering inflicted on animals on their way from birth, to a short life of misery, to a terrifying and torturous death in the slaughterhouse. Robbins (and I) chose not to sit atop that heap of suffering. By the time I’d finished the book, I was a deeply-committed vegetarian who never again (knowingly) ate a bite of meat.
Thirty years later, I have maintained a healthy body weight, but am no longer concerned about–nor motivated by–that. I’ve come to realize that good health and a positive body image come in all shapes and sizes. Instead I became committed to the philosophy that my food choices should not contribute to the problem of animal suffering in our world. People are always astonished by my vegetarianism, asking: Don’t you miss meat? Don’t you need more protein? Don’t you crave bacon? No, no, and NO. I stopped eating meat and never looked back and never missed it either. I’ve lived a full and healthy life and have never once regretted my choice. 18 months ago, when my defective mitral valve was discovered, doctors ran a battery of tests on my coronary health. After my first angiogram the cardiologist came in and said “Well, it certainly isn’t coronary artery disease; you have astonishingly clear arteries for a man your age…for any age.” I said “Well, I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years.” “Ah, that explains it” he responded.
So today I celebrate thirty years worth of animals that were spared a gruesome death by my food choices. Forgive my proselytizing, I don’t write this in judgment of anyone else’s diet; we all make the food choices that make sense to us. Rather, I write this to celebrate the anniversary of one of the best choices I ever made for my life and my health.