For some reason, many people are surprised when they find out I am not a vegetarian. Oh, I've tried it over the years and I've considered it seriously, but I've chosen a different path--a path that started on the first official organic farm in America when I was little. There were steers and sheep and surprise batches of piglets and chickens, turkeys, and geese and eggs and big steaming vats of chicken broth on the stoves of my mother's and grandmother's kitchens. Yes, the animals were cute. They were my friends and I loved to play with them. But, yes, they were so delicious after a long day of playing outside. For some reason I never questioned it or felt conflicted about it, and I learned firsthand about how integral a part of the farm the animals were.
When I started going to school, I will never forget how often--seriously, someone must have put out a guidebook on how to hurt me--kids would say, "I'm not coming to your house because all you eat is tofu and carrot sticks!" Tofu? I had never seen it in my life. Do you think my mother, a good Pennsylvania Dutchwoman, would allow tofu into her house? No way. Not even if it was shaped like a chicken. Which I don't think it was until I was grown up anyway.
I dated a vegetarian once. I am indebted to him for teaching me about pesto, but I could easily have done without the boxes of processed soy-protein stuff that he forced me to cook and eat. Something didn't feel right about that. Food shouldn't come in a box, I thought.
I didn't firmly resolve my opinion, though, until taking a permaculture class with Bill Mollison. He said, "Everything eats," and he was right. Through learning from him and studying permaculture, I realized that everything has a role (or three) in the environment and we are all part of an ongoing cycle of consumption. John Seymour, too, was one of my philosophical heroes; he would point out that farms need animals. Real farms, that is, not those filthy factories that abuse animals, feed them antibiotics to fatten them up, and fuel the global desire for cheap meat at any cost.
Ultimately, as a woman, I have often felt that I need meat for my body to feel healthy and happy. That means I have to be careful where I get my meat. I rarely eat it if it's not organic. I buy from local farmers. I order it in a restaurant only if the restaurant is organic or supports local farmers. I avoid all forms of mystery meats of unknown origin, although I do have a weakness for hard salami, so occasionally I pretend to be a person who doesn't care about where food comes from. Only occasionally. No one is perfect.
One day, all meat will be organic. And the vegetarians will happily coexist with the nonvegetarians. I'm trying not to laugh as I write that...it's just that if we don't start believing it's possible, it won't be possible. So I'm a believer. And if, by chance, I am believing the impossible, then all I ask is that you leave me alone while I enjoy my homemade chicken gravy...with some crispy skin bits...and a crust of bread to soak it all up...Sigh! That's the real reason I eat meat.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com