Social media is a really, really funny thing.
Everyone is connected in some weird way. Someone somehow knows that one friend that you once tagged in a picture of a kale salad. I “met” Trevor (AKA @trevso_electric), the social media phenom, how everyone meets people these days. On Instagram.
Posting healthy food porn day in and day out will surely lead you to pictures of avocados which will lead you to funny sayings about #blessed guacamole which at some point led me to Trevor. Trevor loves animals and chooses not to eat them. But you’d probably never know.
Being passionate about health (or really anything for that matter) without shoving it in one’s face is an art that few of us will ever master. I, for one, do not lead by quiet example. While I definitely don’t judge anyone for shoving their facehole with bacon bits, I preachpreachpreach about eating a plant-based diet like nobody’s business. I’m sure plenty of people who stumble upon this blog want to feed me a can of shut-the-hell-up. And I totally get that.
So when I learned that Trevor (who is quite literally one of the funniest people I’ve ever not met) was not only a fellow Jew, but also a vegetarian with quite an intriguing perspective, I felt like we were soul sisters. I mean brothers. Soul siblings?!
I wanted Trevor to talk about his experience with vegetarianism on this space but I didn’t want to give him any direction. I wanted him to write…organically. Pun intended.
Mission accomplished. Take it away, Trevor!
I had to interview my Dad for this article, and he swears that this is how it all went down. It’s the night of my 4th birthday, and I selected the hottest celebration venue in town— McDonald’s. The guest list? A veritable who’s-who of Long Island society: myself, my Dad (John), and my Mom (Karen). I’m feeling on top of the world in a booster seat as my Dad comes to the table, Happy Meal in hand. I dig my little paws in to the french fries, and soon it’s time to apply generous amounts of ketchup to the hamburger. As I take off the bun, I point to the burger and ask my Dad, “What’s this?” According to my Dad, he conceals a flash of inner panic with his best poker face and an honest but cagey answer: “That’s called ‘beef.’”
Let’s rewind to understand my Dad’s concern. Ten days before this McDonald’s birthday dinner, my Hebrew pre-kindergarten class procured an egg. I still remember the egg— an elegant white bastion of dignified silence amidst the chaos of our nursery school classroom. I was a shy kid, and I recall making frequent trips to gaze into the incubator that looked like a futuristic toaster oven with a warm light bulb. Eggs were a part of my diet and I never thought about them much until I noticed the one in our classroom start to quiver and make slight movements. I asked my teacher, “What will this turn into?” and after class that day, I apparently told my parents, “I’m not eating any more eggs, or any more chicken or with anything with eggs in it.” And thus a pretty big part of a young person’s diet was gone with a declaration.
Back to McDonald’s. Okay, the hamburger comes from “beef.” I squeezed on another packet of ketchup. At this point in our interview, my Dad tells me, “I’m watching you apply your ketchup and I’m sweating bullets because just the weekend before, Mom and I took you to a petting zoo where you seriously spent most of the day bottle-feeding a baby calf like it was your own child.”
I paused, leaned back in my booster seat, and asked, “Where does beef come from?”
My Dad—who knew the game was up— told me, “from cows.”
“Sorry. I can’t eat it,” I said, pushing the burger across the table. “If an animal has to die for me to eat, then I’m not going to eat.”
Before you say, “aww” or feel your heart melt at this Abraham Lincoln-esque display of sheer willpower, I should clarify that this was probably my first and last moment of living so valiantly. For all I know, there were DJ’s handing out exotic pills at my 5th birthday party. But what I’m most grateful for on this night, is my Dad’s reaction. Rather than trying to change my mind or imply that this was a passing phase (yes, I realize how much this sounds like a coming-out story), Dad told me the “good news” about how there are “whole societies and cultures” where people don’t eat meat, but I that I would uphold my end of the bargain by agreeing to eat anything else necessary for protein.
I should clarify here that I didn’t grow up in a rich or particularly privileged household (as many people falsely assume that vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice reserved for the wealthy). At the time of this birthday dinner, my Dad was working as a hospital janitor and putting himself through community college classes at night.
The decision to stop eating meat was, and still remains a simple one: animals are my friends. I don’t want my friends raised in cramped cages and killed so I can eat them. I’m an only child; and as any only child will tell you, getting your parents undivided attention and scrutiny in the absence of siblings is wonderful at times but can also be profoundly lonely. Animals filled my longing for companionship. On the day my parents first brought me home from the hospital, I was greeted and protected by our English bulldog, Wheezer. Wheezer was by all accounts an unfriendly and gluttonous land-shark who growled at most people but she followed me around like a shadowing guardian angel that even saved my life once when she noticed me choking in my crib. My first interactions with animals taught me that they are sentient creatures who cannot speak for themselves but will give unconditional loyalty and love in exchange for the most basic kindness and care.
Being a vegetarian is a very small part of my identity. I rarely speak about it, and I rarely think about it. I go about my weird life and I eat foods that are not made from slaughtered animals. But from the moment I chose to stop eating meat, the world around me cared about it way more than I did. It’s partly human nature. When you stop participating in something that most people do (eating meat, drinking alcohol, watching crappy television shows), people have questions: Why are you being different? And— more pressingly, are you passing judgment on me for enjoying something you don’t consume? Absolutely not. I understand why you enjoy meat, and I have no designs to change anything about your life or habits.
Stereotypes often paint vegetarians as health-obsessed, anemic, judgmental, humorless, elitist, non-masculine or somehow weaker people. Maybe one or two of those descriptors fits me, but not really. Growing up vegetarian in a working class neighborhood was challenging but it helped build character to stand by a decision I made, even in the face of adults and peers trying to persuade me to change. My parents still eat meat, but in the process of helping me stay vegetarian, my Mom mastered the art of cooking delicious meatless meals with impressive fat-to-protein ratios. My classmates also fed me a steady diet of hilarious hypothetical questions, such as: “Trevor— if you were trapped on an island made of ham— and the only way to get home to your family was to eat 10 hotdogs, would you do it?”
I’m notorious for making fun of inspirational quotes online, but my vegetarianism can be seen through the lens of two classic truisms: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and “Think globally, act locally.” I don’t want animals to suffer or be killed, and therefore I stay out of the supply and demand chain that leads to more animals being slaughtered. I have no illusions about being some kind of Oskar Schindler to livestock, but if the Vegetarian Calculator is correct, one lifetime without eating meat will spare the lives of 11 cows, 27 pigs, and 2,400 chickens. I feel good about those numbers. If a few more people chose to stop or curtail their meat consumption, more animals would be spared a cruel fate and the health of the planet would improve, as meat farming hurts the environment immensely. But you won’t hear me telling anyone how to eat or even talking about my vegetarianism outside of this article because proselytizing turns people off, and I would rather lead by quiet example.
Two years ago, I started eating eggs again, and now they are a staple of my diet along with avocados, beans, and of course, hummus. One fallacy that holds other men back from going vegetarian is a fear of being “less” of a man. While some believe that consuming large amounts of soy can inhibit testosterone, and I now go for other forms of textured vegetable protein, tofu was my only source of protein for most of my life. Has nearly three decades without meat in my body held me back as a man? I might write jokes from the perspective of a white girl, but I am 6’3”, have a very deep voice, plenty of energy, a jungle of chest hair, and to quote ‘Curb Your Enthusiasms’ Leon: I brings the ruckus to the ladies. More importantly, I have the peace of mind of sticking to an early-discovered truth and I feel good about what goes into my body. If you’re considering going vegetarian, pace yourself instead of abruptly cutting out the foods you’re used to, and know that it gets easier every year as meat alternatives get more delicious and people become more appreciative of diversity in its many forms.
Am I better than you? Yes. But not because I’m a vegetarian.
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Want more Trevor? Don’t we all.
[Tweet “Let’s Talk About Being a Vegetarian Who Doesn’t Talk About Being a Vegetarian @TheHummusapien @Trevso_Electric”]