Sunday, April 1, 2012

lessatarian: the case of the closet carnivore

After a string of posts on forgoing shampoo, paper towel, and industrial food, one reader humorously lamented, “What will you take from me next?”  I laughed, but it got me to thinking. Am I just ranting off a bunch of directives and deprivations?  Will people begin to dread the news that I’ve posted something new?  I see them clicking over here while desperately clutching their children, wondering what pleasure I’ll condemn this time.  Chocolate? Sex?  Wine?  Why not Sunshine? 

So, today I have a little confession.  I am a vegetarian.  Except, I am not. 

Over the years, my relationship to meat has taken a convoluted course.  As a child, I held a piece of fatty steak up at the dinner table and announced, “I could never be a vegetarian.  I love meat!”  Like a pack of thirsty dogs, my siblings and I fought over “blood bread” (the white bread we used to soak up platter juices after dinner).  By high school, however, I had a developing ulcer, and nothing could make me double over in a hyper-acidic fit of stomach cramps like a juicy burger or a slab of steak.

Thus, no more red meat. 

Then in college I read a benign article about chicken production that included a small picture of headless chickens hanging morosely from rows and rows of metal hooks like somebody's finished dry cleaning.  Something about that factory setting struck me as so wrong, it turned my stomach. 

No more chicken. 

Then I got pregnant with Gareth.  I actually drooled at the mayonnaise oozing out from between the “two all-beef patties” I saw in television commercials.   

Viva las hamberguesas!

Then I got pregnant with Olivia and craved waffles.  Big fat ones loaded with butter and syrup.  Oh, but that’s beside the point—unless you’re wondering why I gained nearly 70 pounds while I was pregnant with her…

Then the responsibilities of parenthood prompted me to look more closely at the food I bought.  After a little research, I gave up meat again for two reasons:  the horrendous treatment of animals in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), and the very negative environmental impact of the same.  Given my already uneasy friendship with meat, my decision came easily.

To a purist, however, I’m a pathetic vegetarian. I eat fish, dairy and eggs. That probably makes me a pescalechovatarian or some other such unpronounceable thing. Or maybe it just makes me a hypocrite.  No. This is what makes me a hypocrite: I also eat a little bit of meat.

Shhhh…no one really knows.

In recent years, I started buying our meat from nearby Polyface Farm.  This is the farm featured in the movie Food, Inc. and the book Omnivore’s Dilemma. We are lucky to live in their distribution area.  I began to wonder: since I approved of the means of production at Polyface, why not eat the product?  It took a few years, but eventually, I started “tasting” it. No gnashing of canines or gnawing of incisors, just indulging in a spot of this or that with one pinky up, so to speak.  Sometimes one bite is enough.  Sometimes one bite is too much.  I just sort of go with it.

Perhaps I’m not a vegetarian or a pescalechovatarian after all;  perhaps I’m a lessatarian.  

I like this idea of eating less meat. It’s a more realistic goal for a lot of people who would never consider giving it up altogether. Getting the ever faithful carnivores to just cut back a bit could go a long way towards reducing green house gases and freeing up water supplies. 

I cook meat for my own ravenous carnivores about twice a week.  We usually stretch one of those meals into leftovers for an additional meat-eating night.  The other nights we have pasta, beans, fish and vegetarian dishes such as soup.

No matter how minimalistic, I don’t really advertise my carnivorous indulgences (aside from this post, made available in the internet to my hoards of readers).  I don’t tell people because I feel very strongly about what meat I eat. Nothing from a CAFO.  Nothing from a grocery store. Nothing from a restaurant. Only from my one trusted source, when I feel like it, in small quantities. 

By calling myself a vegetarian, I keep things simple.  Otherwise, I would find myself at dinner parties quibbling with my host about where they purchased their meat, how it was treated and prepared etc.  Would I look the supplier up on the internet before digging in?   Maybe make a few fact-checking phone calls?  Call me the dinner guest from hell!   Regardless of the source, I mostly prefer not to eat meat anyway.  Thus, I remain closet carnivore, publically pathetic vegetarian, overall lessatarian.  

Which again got me thinking.  Maybe lessatarian applies to more than just meat.  In my own life, I can be too much of a purist, getting caught up in various rules about how to be a better person, a better citizen, then getting frustrated when my family can’t comply—can you imagine expecting to go to the grocery store in a car instead of on a bike?  The nerve of those kids! 

My ability to exist in a sort of vegetarian gray area is an important exercise in flexibility and moderation for me. It's true that if we want to simplify we have to give things up, and along those lines, "lessatarian" suggests that less is more, but it also reminds me to take my own ideas as suggestions, or goals, or aspirations, even, but not as hard and fast rules.  Without that insight, I could turn “small house, big picture,” into “no house, big picture,” or “small house, big deprivation.” Why not throw everything out with “no house, big deprivation!” 

Then, I'd really have readers saying less is more--as in less of me!


  1. There's a buddhist tantric practice I've heard of where all these vegetarian monks are asked to indulge in a feast with meat! Letting go of all attachment, even practices (possibly especially practices).

    I love the phrase "lessatarian," by the way!

    Apparently, I'm a slipavegetariansecretmeatarian. :)

    1. ha ha! - i think you see where i'm going with this. there will a part II later this week. i think you'll recognize the story! :)

    2. look forward to it! i'm still laughing about it!

  2. "Lessatarian" is a great way to think about it. Like you, we are lucky enough to live close to farmers who share our philosophy, so getting meat/chicken/eggs/milk/cheese from respectable sources is pretty easy (although certainly not cheap!). If we lived in Wal-Mart country, like my dad does, we'd have way fewer options.

    1. yes, walmart country changes everything, doesn't it? nothing like picking up some new underwear, a package of batteries and a pork tenderloin all in one place. we are lucky too.

  3. Hey! I think I just got quoted in your blog! That is so cool because I really like your blog. You are such an intelligent, yet easy to read, blogger. I am on the internet looking for ways to help my 8 year old deal with her emetophobia. I saw a blog a while back by a mother who also experienced this, and I was looking for that blog, but saw that you added some posts. So here I am. And I am breathing a sigh of relief that this is a "giving" blog. I have found a butcher who I think practices his butchery(?) in a way I can live with, to some extent. The animals brought to his store were raised on very happy, rolling-hills-kinds-of places. From the discussion I had with the butcher, I think all of his meat would qualify as eatable in "spot" portions with the pinky up for you. And me. So I am thinking about making the switch to meat from only his shop, unless I find meat that specifically says that the animals were humanely raised. Ok, now I know I have to do more research and figure out if the stupid label even means anything. But I will be giving up the chicken nuggets. Not that I ate many of those, but the kids, they love the nuggets. And it is so easy. It WAS so easy. Wait, what just happened? I think my easy-nugget meal just got taken away! But seriously, I was almost at that point before I read this blog. I have seen some disturbing things on the internet lately. I already gave up red meat years ago, due to fear of e-coli O157:H7. That was once I had kids. And I have never looked back at that decision as a bad one after finding out more about how bad eating cattle is for the environment and us. 3 out of 4 of my kids have never eaten a hamburger. My adventurous one begged, and we let him. He was not that impressed. I could go on and on, but I must go find that emetophobia blog...

    1. yes, franny, I am quoting you! :) but then i went and messed with your nugget meal - sorry! it's great you have a butcher you can talk to--that's always encouraging. as you know, we also deal with emetophobia around here. although i didn't know it--had to google that to see what it means. let me know if you find the blog. i'd be interested in reading it too.

  4. I'm know late to comment on this, but I wanted to let you know I'm STILL using your "Lessatarian" term. I love it! I don't eat meat either... except fish once or twice a year, maybe. And when my Grandma served spaghetti with sauce that might have included meat (it did), I ate it anyway. It's not like I'm allergic to meat, or anything. :)

    The other great thing about embracing Lessatarianism is that it can apply to so many things, as you mentioned: less sugar, less non-organic food, less clothes made by questionable companies. It's impossible to be a purist, I think, but LESS is doable. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. glad you liked it. i have to admit, i like it too. it's good for me because i can be too hard core - too much of a purist. i need to give myself permission to find grey area or middle ground or whatever. also, i'm glad to hear someone else has eaten meat served to them by an unsuspecting host. it's such a connundrum!