Confessions of a Former Vegetarian 

How I stopped worrying (sort of) and learned to eat meat again

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click to enlarge In the writer's "Ax to Table" series, he participated in the slaughter of this rabbit. - PHOTO BY THOMAS CRONE
  • In the writer's "Ax to Table" series, he participated in the slaughter of this rabbit.

In March 1988, I took a bet from a fellow senior at Webster University, a writer for the campus newspaper about four years older than me and newly separated from an early marriage. Crushing hard, I would've done most anything she asked –- which, in this case, meant agreeing when she proposed we both go vegetarian.

My acquiescence came with the caveat that I'd need to see something to convince me. That afternoon, my family's German shepherd tore into a rabbit it had caught in our backyard; as omens go, it was enough to put me on a twenty-year-plus vegetarian streak.

If a crush, a dog and a rabbit conspired to make me a vegetarian, a neighbor, a house party's grill and a backyard full of Tibetan monks won me back to a meat-eating life last summer. Tibetan monks can and do eat meat; while some are vegetarian, others are as happy to eat a hot dog as a pad of tofu. During their visit to St. Louis, our neighbor, a grill wiz named Tabari Coleman, prepped so many pork steaks that a bag went into the fridge filled with five of them. By the first day looking at the steaks, I realized that the pigs in that baggie had been raised, harvested, butchered, packed, shipped and cooked. They weren't coming back. And with the monks still kicking around town, I enjoyed five straight pork steak lunches.

Pork steaks, by the by, are damned delicious.

My fall wasn't quite so precipitous; I'd been thinking about returning to meat for quite some time. In late 2014, I'd pitched a project to my editor at Feast (who is now, perhaps not so coincidentally, my editor at the RFT). I'd thought that perhaps I could eat meat again, but, mindful of the act of killing, I only wanted to eat meat that I'd personally had a hand in slaughtering. It felt like a way of acknowledging how serious these choices are.

My first act in the "Ax to Table" series, as we dubbed it, was an ill-fated rifle experience, in which I scattered buckshot all over a shooting range, under the watchful eye of musician and civic agitator Jesse Irwin. While I later managed to kill some chickens, I winced on the rabbit challenge, suffered an emo-filled breakdown on the pig harvest and caught some fish, though they were riddled with worms. By summer, I'd only killed that pair of chickens, those wormy catfish and some crawfish.

The idea of being a do-it-yourself carnivore was a good conceit for a series. And for life. But I wasn't able to execute the ideas in the field (blame nerves, lack of skill, lack of a killer instinct). And since I was dependent on the kindness of acquaintances with pig farms, or rabbit hutches, my options were limited, with offers coming in only to fold as swiftly and certainly as cheap tents. Part of the problem, surely, was that I didn't have the stomach to do the slaughtering – but an even bigger problem may have been that, like most city dwellers, I just didn't have the resources to do it consistently, either.

But once I'd tasted some meat – in the form of chicken offals, of all things – I knew that I'd created a problem. I wanted meat in my diet. Wanted it a little more all the time. And there was no way to explain that to friends and family, many of whom were also vegetarian. There's a stigma to changing, especially when you've read all about modern farming.

I am, after all, well-acquainted with the omnivore's dilemma. The intensity of water usage for raising animals instead of crops. The conditions of factory farms. The hidden costs of transporting meats, even if raised free-range and organic.

And then there was the whole killing thing. I didn't have the right stuff to do it; was it wrong to still indulge in the fruits of someone else's slaughter?

We all come to the decisions of life differently. Talking about the commonalities and variants of these choices are what make us real.

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