Airing a beef


SOMEBODY HELP ME, PLEASE. I’m considering making a big change in my lifestyle, and I’m fairly certain that I’m doing it for dumb reasons.
I’m going to become a vegetarian. An herbivore. A cow.

I recently listened to a Podcast from a lecture series at Princeton University on the ethics of food. The best lecturer in the series by far was Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” a disturbing exposé of the fast food industry’s business practices and food production methods.

I won’t bother you with the disgusting details of Schlosser’s talk.

It should suffice to say that I, a committed carnivore and frequent patron of Taco Bell, am now thinking seriously about giving meat the old heave-ho and ceasing to wait in long lines for highly-processed beef, chicken, and pork.

There are a lot of really good reasons to stop eating meat. Americans suffer terrible health problems because of our addiction to meat (along with caffeine and sugars).

The meat industry also has terrible effects on the environment, by which I don’t mean a jungle is dying somewhere but that our own land and air right here in the U.S. are being ravaged and polluted in the interest of mass-producing meat. Then there is also the issue of cruelty to animals, which is a less pragmatic issue than the first two but one worthy of consideration.

If you feel comfortable eating chickens that have been de-beaked and injected with hormones so that their deformed bodies produce more meat, then go right ahead.

I wish I could be there with you.

Actually, I probably will be.

All my big-picture concerns seem to vanish once I get hungry. No doubt about it, fast food is delicious and convenient, and I’m willing to let my new, easily acquired convictions go in the interests of satisfying my hunger.

Health problems? Hey, I feel fine, and most of the people in line with me at T-Bell don’t seem to be dying.

Environment? The sky looks good and blue to me.

Cruelty to animals? Sorry animals; you’re fun to pet, but better to chew.

I’m always interested to talk to vegetarians about what motivates them.

Some people do it for health reasons, others have well-reasoned political and ethical arguments, and still a third group just because they like causing a fuss every time they eat out with friends.

In any case, I admire their commitment, especially after having tasted tofu. There are few things more difficult than placing one’s actions in the custody of one’s convictions.

But maybe I’m just overthinking the whole issue. Maybe I should accept my place at the top of the food chain and be grateful.

So what should I do? I’m inviting all you vegetarians to organize and convince me to come to the right side. Save me from this oppressive, meaty darkness. And all you meat eaters aren’t off the hook either. Send a representative to bring me to your side. From things Ben Baxter has written he strikes me as a man who eats a lot of meat.

Save me, Ben. You’re my only hope.

I’ll be waiting for you all at Taco Bell.

Timothy Ellison is a senior at Fresno State majoring in classical studies and getting a minor in English. He collects garden ornaments, but not for his garden.


SEVERAL SEMESTERS AGO, I spent some time studying English and music in London. It’s the sort of experience most people will immediately refer to as “life-changing” without giving any particular thought about the magnitude of that sort of change or whose lives it might touch.

Living in one of the world’s most expensive cities, for instance, had the effect of making me extraordinarily thrifty in terms of the food I was buying.

Taco Bell, one of the finest fast food venues in the nation, was conspicuously absent from the parts of Europe I visited, so I gradually fell into the pattern of eating only once a day, and only the cheapest the UK had to offer.

There were a lot of sandwiches, and I had enough microwaveable Indian food to satisfy New Delhi for a week. I think I also probably ate more frozen pizzas than ever should have been produced in the first place.

I haven’t had one since.

In any case, I returned to the United State after nearly four months, completely burned out on Raisin Bran and tuna salad.

I met my family at the San Francisco airport, and we drove back toward Fresno, stopping in Los Banos along the way for lunch.

Four months is a long time, so I made them stop at Taco Bell, where I ordered a Grilled Stuffed Burrito, an item with which I have since fallen out of favor. My brother, on the other hand, ordered a bean burrito without cheese.

While I’d been learning about new cultures and their beer, my brother had done some soul-searching as well. I returned to discover he was in the process of converting to veganism.

A refresher for the unacquainted — being vegan is like being a vegetarian, except more extreme. While vegetarians typically don’t eat any animal flesh, vegans cannot eat anything remotely satisfying, except for peaches.

All animal products, including dairy, honey, gelatin, some food colorings, a variety of breads and certain brands of soap are off-limits for consumption.

Such radical changes don’t happen overnight. I remember spending the first few months teasing and criticizing my brother any time I caught him eating the wrong things.

In particular, I remember he had a difficult time giving up ice cream and would find him occasionally, late at night, sneaking a bowl of chocolate chip to his room upstairs.

The wee small hours of the morning — as the song goes — is when we miss these things the most.

“You can’t eat chocolate — or cream,” I told him once.

“Shut up, it’s hard.”

I scoffed, I remember, not believing this phase in my brother’s life could last any longer than a few months. Now, nearly three years later, my brother is still vegan, sans Rocky Road.

I didn’t realize it then, but my brother was right — being vegan is hard. In the beginning stages, and even still to this day, he would get questions from friends and family antagonizing his decision to make his exit from the world of consuming animal products.

“So when are you going to start eating real food again?” — a question that came up at virtually any family function for his first year as a vegan.

This is precisely the problem — we live in a country that places a higher value on animal products than virtually any other culture at any other time in the history of the human race.

We are a meat culture, with Western nations, North America and Europe consuming more meat per capita than any other place on this planet.

It seems to me that the perception here is that a meal that doesn’t place as its central focus is a meal that is inadequate.

Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables fall to the wayside, and those, like my brother, who have chosen to make these items their primary source of nutrition, face ridiculous affronts to their lifestyle:

“If you were trapped in a meat locker with nothing to eat for a week, would you eat meat? What if you were paid to?”

We don’t ask typically ask these sorts of questions of people who practice different religions or those with different sexual orientations or even of those who watch different television shows than we do on Thursday night.

Decisions about diet, particularly those made for ethical reasons, deserve just as much respect as these other lifestyle choices.

And, as with these other ethical decisions, if you don’t like it, you can eat it.

Mathew Gomes is a senior at Fresno State majoring in English and music composition.

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