I ORDERED THE NO. 3 platter at The Old Spaghetti Factory last Friday and the waitress responded with a wry smile, â€œThe meat loverâ€™s platter, sure.â€ What did she say? A meat lover? Me? It felt dirty, especially since my girlfriend was sitting right next to me.
â€œSorry babe, thereâ€™s another love in my life and everybody knows it, even this waitress. I wish you didnâ€™t have to find out this way.â€
It also felt wrong since for the past couple months, I have been an amateur vegetarian. But, like any passionate lover, meat has come crawling back into my life and it wants to stay.
I wasnâ€™t always such a bad vegetarian. I recall one hungry night back in September when I drove to several fast-food restaurants looking for a decent non-meat meal. There wasnâ€™t one to be had. A bowl of rice with vegetables at Panda Express cost almost $5. The salads at Wendyâ€™s were pricey and most of them had meat.
The only cheap item that could qualify as a meal at Taco Bell was the bean burrito, and although these 90-cent treats would later become my boon companions, I wasnâ€™t ready at the time for mouthfuls of flavorless beans.
I got some nachos and cinnamon twists from T-Bell. â€œThis will be OK,â€ I told myself. â€œAt least Iâ€™ll save some money.â€ And I certainly saved money. My wallet grew fat with small bills and I found myself wishing I had given up fast food sooner.
If I could take back all the money Iâ€™ve spent on burgers and tacos over the past four years, I would do it in a cholesterol-laden heartbeat.
But besides having limited options at my favorite fast-food stops, I was also troubled by the warning voice of my nutritionist, a.k.a. my mom.
â€œHow will you get protein? You better be taking vitamins.â€
Vitamins? Great. I wanted to be a vegetarian partly for health reasons and now I found it could be unhealthy in its own way.
So I went to Food-4-Less and got some generic multi-vitamins, a dozen eggs, and peanut butter. I fought the good fight against protein deprivation one peanut butter sandwich and hard-boiled egg at a time, and by God I won it.
The only price: an addiction to peanut butter (because itâ€™s just so darn easy).
I felt healthier, too. I spend most of my days reading, writing, and teaching, so I donâ€™t have much time or energy to exercise. Being a vegetarian gave me control over my weight without having to spend extra time at the gym.
Things were going so well; how did meat come back into the picture?
There was really just a problem with the way I started this whole experiment out.
To start, I came into it with cheap motivations. I had problems with the fast-food industry and the ethics of meat production, but those were just vague, impersonal ideas, and I think the only thing thatâ€™s really kept me going has been the commitment to my own health.
I also had a very casual attitude about the whole thing. G.K. Chesterton said, â€œAnything worth doing is worth doing badly.â€ This was my mantra. I knew giving up meat would be tough so I wasnâ€™t too hard on myself when the occasional burger craving overpowered me.
And from there it was a slippery slope. Some pepperoni on a pizza became a cheeseburger, and that soon became a meat loverâ€™s platter with spaghetti in meat sauce, meatballs, and Italian sausage.
So has it all been a waste? No, certainly not.
Iâ€™ve learned a lot about my own health, the environment, money management, and cooking, and though I may not be a vegetarian in the full sense of the word just yet, the effort has helped me become a more responsible adult.
I hope to wean myself off meat completely by the end of the year.
But not on Thanksgiving.
Iâ€™ve gotta have my turkey.