Dallas, TX –
Six months ago I wrote a piece outlining three solid, evidence-based reasons why I should stop eating meat. One reason had to do with health, another with the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, and another with exploitation of illegal immigrant labor by some large meatpacking companies.
I like these reasons.
In fact, I was thinking about them just the other night while grilling some hamburgers.
Half a dozen times this summer, I've thought about those good reasons while buying chicken, pork or beef at the grocery store. I'd give up meat for a day or two, but soon enough a Sonny Bryan sandwich would melt my resolve. Pascal said the heart has reasons that reason itself does not know. Apparently, so does the stomach.
My purpose here is not to change anyone else's mind about eating meat; it was to change my own. My failure to do so puzzles me, and leads to these thoughts:
First, why is this change so hard? It seems fairly simple: Principle on one side, mere appetite on the other. And it's not as if I'm trying to climb Mount Everest or play shortstop for the Yankees by October. Millions of people lead happy lives as vegetarians or vegans.
Second, I wonder if I've overestimated the power of reason. Humans and meat-eating go back a long way together; thousands of years of history are on the side of ribs and sausage. Perhaps carnivorousness is a core reality for people, while concerns about animal welfare are a veneer added much later in our development. But human sacrifice and slavery had long histories, too. That doesn't mean they were right or deserved to last forever.
Third, meat is part of my personal comfort zone. I enjoy standing around the grill on warm evenings, sipping a cold beverage and tossing a morsel to the dog. Then there's that chili on cold winter days, the turkey at Thanksgiving and what about the State Fair? How will I make it through Texas-OU Day without a Fletcher's Corn Dog?
Finally, this carnivore's dilemma has given me a new appreciation for the difficulty of change. The news is filled with calls for sweeping change in energy use, transportation, sustainable development, immigration, education and more. I agree with many of these calls for change. But if it's hard to give up a hot dog, how much harder is it to change a whole society? As Samuel Johnson said, the chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they're too strong to break.
I say this with respect for all those crusaders and reformers who try to make us better people than we are: If you love coffee, or wine, or CSI Miami, or cursing a blue streak, try cutting it out for a month. Seeing how hard that is to do, you may understand us poor, wavering mortals a bit better.
Meanwhile, I need to find some good tofu recipes. Maybe barbecued tofu.
Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer and literary consultant.
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