I don't eat much meat. When I indulge, I try to do it properly. Organic, free-range, grass-fed, antibiotic-free cows have provided memorable steaks and burgers. Ditto for pigs, particularly when I went through a phase of striving to cook The Perfect Pork Chop. Poached salmon has always been on my go-to list for dinner parties, and a juicy, perfectly roasted chicken usually replaces a turkey on Thanksgiving, or whenever I'm in a fowl mood.
I was vegetarian for two or three years back in the early 90s, and even went vegan for a while. I don't recall why; maybe because it was trendy. I remember I finally gave up because it seemed inconvenient for others, and wasn't something about which I was particularly passionate. I spent several months in Costa Rica and Guatemala, part of the time with host families; avoiding meat was almost as impossible as avoiding dysentery. Once I got home, I kind of forgot about the whole thing (sort of the way I "forgot" about my plans for a gluten-free diet a few months ago).
Lately I've been talking to friends who are vegetarian and vegan, grilling them (hah!) about how they chose their path. The variety of explanations has been surprising, but there is an undeniable common thread: the killing of the animals. At first, I thought claims of cruelty in slaughterhouses must be greatly exaggerated, and to a degree, I believe they are. But I've been doing my homework, and even the gold standard of livestock slaughtering, Dr. Temple Grandin's "humane facilities design," is more than I can take without my stomach turning and my heart breaking. A friend told me her husband wouldn't eat anything that he himself wouldn't kill, and I haven't been able to get that idea out of my head. The simplicity, pragmatism and honesty of that philosophy appeal to me because I see a road map for real compassion in deciding what I, personally, am willing to eat. Could I slaughter a cow? Nope. Kill a pig? No way. Catch a fish and gut it? Perhaps, if I were starving. Chop the head off a chicken? Probably, if I really, really had a taste for chicken. The bottom line is that it's up to me; there is no right or wrong, one-fits-all answer.
Chicken and eggs it is for now — organic and cage-free, of course. Next up: dairy. This could take some time, because it is difficult for me to put into words my love of cheese.