To eat meat or not eat meat – that is the question

A lot has happened in the past few months, when it comes to food.

There’s been an accelerated commercial rush to produce and sell “plant-based” meat substitutes. As if all meat isn’t plant-based.

What do people think cows, pigs and chickens eat?

Every fast food chain is now promoting a plant-based menu. Even McDonald’s, in some areas, is testing an oxymoronic plant-based hamburger.

That, folks, is akin to buying Tylenol from your corner street drug pusher.

There was a protest in Kelowna this summer surrounding the community’s annual Rib Fest event. It shut down the street and involved the RCMP.

Surely there is a better way to draw attention to climate change and the cruelties of factory farming than taking it out on barbecue sauce and the Rotary Club. They both do good work.

But that story caught my attention.

Because it was ribs that set me on the path of vegetarianism many years ago, and the moment is crystal in my mind.

It was an August night, and the whole DeMeer family – save one – was finished dinner and pushing back their chairs.

The youngest was happily reposed on my lap, suckling away at the breast.

It was hot, and he was wearing only a diaper. (For point of reference said child is – at time of writing – playing guitar in the living room and wearing $100 jeans.)

I started tickling his sides, probably in an effort to get him to unlatch, and felt his ribs.

Looking at the table that’s all there was – a large plate of rib bones. From that moment for seven years after it was impossible to bring myself to eat anything else’s child.

Full disclosure. Then I was flirting with Buddhism and taking classes every Tuesday night in a room above the YMCA, in a nearby city.

Nothing says spirit like the lingering aroma of damp socks.

Buddhism encourages vegetarianism. However, it’s interesting to note Gautama Buddha died 1,500 years ago, following his 80th birthday dinner where he reportedly consumed bad pork.

You can Google it but fair warning – the results devolve into how many lives Buddha actually had and then it’s kind of impossible to tell what really killed him.

My spiritual journey was cut short. Apparently meditation is not something you are allowed to be competitive about.

But the vegetarian thing stuck for a long time, and was supported by the DeMeers’ oldest spawn, who had chosen that lifestyle a couple of years previously and maintains it to this day.

In the 1990s, it wasn’t so easy to eat meat-free. The grocery stores didn’t stock meatless chicken strips or veggie hot dogs.

It was down to home cooking and recipes borrowed from friends. Probably the most ridiculous was a ‘meatloaf’ comprised of Rice Krispies and poultry seasoning – a completely inhumane way to treat cereal.

The thing I learned best, from years of not eating meat, was that it needn’t be the centre of any meal.

That is, when most people plan a dinner they start with meat and work around it, creating side dishes and compliments.

A family meal is wonderful when it is a circle of yummy foods, with nothing in the middle.

Got something from those silly classes, after all.

One of my first jobs in the newspaper industry was reporting for the country’s largest agricultural weekly publication.

In that position, I spent lots of time inside barns and some in slaughter houses. (The rabbit one was the worst. Bunnies, when they are stressed, scream like toddlers and it’s very disconcerting.)

Last week, I sat with my son while he skinned and butchered a deer, and helped where I could.

Recently, I had ribs for dinner.

When it comes to food, it’s good to have some kind of relationship with what you put in your mouth. Just ask any gardener about how it feels to sit down to a sandwich made from one of their tomatoes or cucumbers.

Eating is an intimate exercise and – except when people are hungry – it should never be driven by politics.

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