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When people are trying to get to know me, one of the first things they ask about is my vegetarianism. Why am I a vegetarian? Do I eat eggs? How about cheese? How about fish? How about lamb? Does it bother me if other people eat meat around me? Am I a vegan? Am I a scary vegan nazi with evil super powers?

I wish.

There was a girl involved, but she wasn’t the start of it. I like to think that when I change because of a woman, it’s not because I have no integrity or sense of self but rather that being attracted to someone catalyzes me into action when I’d normally just consider my choices for a while longer. Look, I’m allowed to think what I want.

It started with being an outsider. I did not get along with other kids but I found I got along well with animals. Not all animals, but many of them. I’ve liked dogs for as long as I can remember. I liked monkeys when I read about Curious George. I liked pigs when I read Charlotte’s Web. I liked dolphins when I read Island of the Blue Dolphins. I liked lions and horses and mice named Reepicheep when I read the Chronicles of Narnia. Did I mention I was an outsider as a kid? I never liked bugs, though. Not even Charlotte. I’m fine with killing any and all bugs and you can call me a xenophobe but I don’t care. I’m not going to eat them but only because it’s gross.


I don’t want to eat anything on this cover

I was also smart enough to understand pretty early on that bacon came from Wilburs and steaks came from Bessies and so on. As soon as I learned that, I immediately became uncomfortable with eating them. But my parents were steak and eggs on the one side and kalbi and bolgogi on the other. As a child, I was always told to clean off my plate (the worst thing you can teach a kid, I think) and I had little choice in the matter. I got fat while eating the animals whose sounds made me laugh on the Farmer Says See ‘n Say toy.

See 'n Say

I learned so much from you.

Yada, yada, yada, and then came high school. I was a full-out nerd at that point so I didn’t rebel against much; I was just certain that I knew better than my parents and teachers, in general. But during my senior year of high-school when I was in AP English, we were given the assignment to construct and present a persuasive speech. For some reason, several of my classmates chose to espouse vegetarianism. I got to hear facts and figures and grisly excerpts from books like The Jungle. That might have been enough to convince me right there. The fact that I was completely crushing on a vegetarian girl just ensured that I’d make the lifestyle change. I lost touch with her, but vegetarianism and I are still close. So, this all started for me in 1992.

My mother did not understand. She would keep trying to sneak fish and meat stock and lard into things and wailed that I was going to die from lack of proper eating. I suppose it’s just as well, as I got a one-year head start over many of my peers in learning to shop for groceries for myself.

Healthy Choice French Bread Cheese Pizza

Mostly, I bought these.

So, I went off to college as a self-declared vegetarian, certain that my bold and liberal outlook on foods would help me fit right in at a university renowned for socially awkward nerds. Nope. Those nerds liked their beef jerkies and pepperoni pizzas. Without really knowing what I was doing, I set myself up to be even more of an outcast just because of what I wouldn’t put in my mouth. We’ve all been there now, right?

The worst part about being vegetarian around a bunch of almost-adult know-it-alls was that they’d all try to convince me I was stupid for the choice. That cavemen ate meat. Or Jesus did. That there were nutritional deficiencies from lack of meat. That it cost more to be vegetarian. That my teeth were designed to be an omnivore’s teeth. That last bit’s funny because it’s a “scientific” viewpoint, but when I ask who designed my teeth that way, I’d often get confused responses involving Darwin, evolution, fish, and monkeys. Now, I believe in the evolutionary theory, but those poor kids just couldn’t construct very good arguments. Hint: declaring, “It’s evolution!” is not an argument, it’s just a battle cry.

Charles Darwin

Not a vegetarian, but still cool

My time eating alone helped me to define more clearly my position. Some people did the “no face on my food” thing. Some people did go vegan for the allegedly mystical powers. Some people tried to eat like herbivorous animals. Some people tried to feed their ayurvedic needs, and others tried to feed their blood-types. My reasoning developed into a very personal and internal set of ideas:

1) I don’t want to kill animals unless I have to.
2) If I don’t want to kill animals, then I also don’t want anyone else to kill animals on my behalf.
3) If an animal produces something that it doesn’t need to survive, I’d be okay with gathering it to eat.

So, if an animal attacks me and I have to kill it to survive, I’ll do it. If I’m stuck somewhere with edible animals and no other means of sustenance, I might try to kill them. But if I can buy products that don’t have animal in them, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Soybean Dreams

But I’d kill and eat these soybeans WITHOUT PROVOCATION!

I know that factory farming does horrible things to cows and chickens, so I mostly avoid dairy and only buy cage-free-hen-laid, local-farm-gathered eggs. But conceptually, I have no problems with taking milk from a cow and eggs from birds.

As for fish? I seriously doubt that unless I was in danger of starvation, I’d be able to catch, kill, and prepare a fish to eat. I’d be okay with fish eggs, in theory, but ewwww.

But those three guidelines for what I eat are all about me. I definitely don’t condone torturing animals and I would like it if everyone were vegetarian, but I’m not following a gospel here. A significant part of my dietary choice is that it’s my choice. If I’m so resolute to make this my choice despite plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t, who am I to tell other people they should do the same just because I think it’s a good idea? No, you can eat whatever you want, but I’m going to shop for animal-friendly products and vote for animal-cruelty-ending legislation, and I even donate occasionally to groups fighting animal cruelty in the food industry. Not PETA, though. Those people are way too extreme for my peace-of-mind. I will say, if you’re going to eat something that smells very strongly meaty, you should probably do it away from me unless you enjoy vomit as a condiment.

PETA

I am not this extreme.

Am I as healthy as someone who eats all the things that their ancestors ate? Maybe not, but the nice thing about having reached this evolutionary stage is that I’m able to overrule what nature tells me to eat, by choice. Most animals just eat what they eat. They don’t sit around philosophizing about whether it’s right or not. But I totally do. I can realize that my stomach and my intestines and my immune system and my teeth have all developed into what they are so that I can eat just about anything. Like goats. I mean, I can eat like a goat, not eat goats. Although I could do that, too.

But it’s 2010 and I’m a human and I can decide what I want to do and be. And I’ve decided that I’m more than my teeth. I’m a vegetarian who eats eggs and some dairy.

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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3 Responses to More Than My Teeth

  1. Dulce says:

    Just. Wonderful.

    Thanks.

  2. Jessica says:

    I went veggie in 2006 when I moved to CO. I was never a serious meat eater so it was an easy transition. Everytime I think I miss it, I think of the chicken factories and the torture there.

    Don’t rule out super powers. My friend, Bruce claims my veggie ways are why I have “freakish upper body strength.” I think he is just weak. He screams like Gus and Shawn do on Psych.

  3. Brooke says:

    I also have philosophical difficulties with the idea of eating animals, but don’t seem to be strong enough to make the vegetarian move. Particularly since I suck at cooking anyways and cooking vegetarian limits my already very limited repertoire of things I can make. I am compromising right now by trying to eat less meat and trying to ensure the meat I eat is of the free-range, hormone-free, etc sort. I admire your fortitude.

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