Practical Issues > Health - Index > Vegan Index

What's Wrong with Vegetarianism?
By Christopher J. Stephens
Sep 27, 2005

Last year's push by fast food companies to offer more healthy alternatives seemed a bit desperate. Likewise to those who filed class action lawsuits against food chains when they awoke in their thirties and found themselves four hundred pounds. Where is the accountability? Where is the self-respect and the drive towards making yourself better? Better yet, what's wrong with vegetarianism?

It was 1980. I was sixteen and in need of a cause. I eliminated meat and went to all cheese, salads, fruits, pasta, and saltine crackers. I didn't become physically heavy. I just turned into a pretentious teenager. My mother's uncles, butchers a generation removed from Italy, settled in Newark, New Jersey in the fifties. They moved away when the city burned down in 1967, but meat remained in their blood and was supposed to be in mine.

Family dinners centered on the beef carving. My father's electric knife slices were thin, the juices were rich, and the succulent red of the meat lingered forever. This dinner meant you had arrived. An uncle, visiting from Jersey, sat in awestruck wonder at a dinner we had one evening at a famous local Steak House. Teary-eyed, voice cracking, he looked at my mother after taking a bite from his Porterhouse Steak and proclaimed "Bellissimo!"

In the fall of 1971, when I was seven, my father took us six kids out to the back of the house one Saturday and we killed approximately two hundred chickens that had been housed in our garage. It was a neighborhood event. Two dozen kids ended up there that day, each given specific assignments. There were grabbers, pluckers, blood drainers. My father and brother were the only ax wielders. With the head removed and thrown into the nearby lake, the chicken's body ran aimlessly before collapsing. That winter, some of the chicken heads floated to the top of the lake and ice formed around them

These images linger and have solidified my choice of vegetarianism. I admit that extremist vegetarians can be an insufferable group. I will not take brochures for any cause, nor will I stand in the way of them being distributed. I enjoy talking with PETA or other concerned animal rights groups but I'm too lazy to join and pay dues. It's nothing personal. I feel queasy only from the self-righteous who claim they have the truth.

I will not convert you. I will not throw red paint on your mink coat. Give me leather shoes, and I'll quietly wear them until I can buy something less cruel. I won't stop you from eating genetically grown vegetables. Walk proudly with that peacock around your neck and somebody, somewhere, somehow will tell you it looks good. It's amazing how much a lifetime of humiliation can be washed away from one well-placed compliment. Allow me my Garden Burgers in a barbecue joint or an achingly politically correct, collectively-owned restaurant. If you're curious, there's always room at my table for one more person.

Christopher J. Stephens is an adjunct college English instructor for Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Western New England College, and Corinthian Colleges, Inc.