On Paper Towels and Bacon and Veganism

We gave up paper towels several years ago - almost completely. I think we may have purchased one or two rolls since 2008. We hadn't had any around for several months, but just this past week my mother, who cannot believe I do not use paper towels, brought - and "accidentally" left behind - a brand new roll. The only time I ever wish I had some is when I fry bacon, because they are so good at absorbing the extra fat.

Which is why it is kind of ironic that I have this whole big new roll of paper towels, just in time for me to give up bacon.

I've had a renewed awareness of the relationship between food and health, an awareness that was infinitely multiplied on Thursday night when I sat down to watch Forks Over Knives (available for free streaming on Hulu). Drawing on all kinds of research about the relationship between high animal product diets and cancer and heart disease, it makes a pretty compelling case for a plant-based diet. As soon as it was over I posted on Facebook: "Ben is going to be so thrilled to learn that I've pretty much decided we have to become vegans."

The next day I went to the library and checked out Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which had been recommended to me by my friend Emily. The book addresses the ethical and environmental reasons for abstaining from meat - especially factory-farmed meat. I've been actively avoiding the book. I knew that it turned Emily into a vegan, and that it could probably do the same for me. I did, after all, used to be a vegetarian. I used to believe it was morally questionable to consume meat - and I didn't ever really stop believing it was morally questionable. I stopped thinking about it. Which is to say I stopped caring.

[I do sort of feel that I should insert a caveat here. I did used to believe it was morally questionable to consume meat, but I believed that at least in part because I fancied myself the type of girl who should be a vegetarian. I was young and idealistic and emotional - the first wave of my vegetarianism commenced when I accidentally killed a goldfish during an AP biology experiment.]

Foer writes, “While it is always possible to wake a person who's sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” Having revisited the health benefits and environmental ramifications and ethical considerations (oh, my gosh, those factory farms are horrible), it is really hard to keep pretending to be asleep.

So for three days now I have eaten very little animal products. I had leftover chicken broth that ended up in my supposed-to-be-vegan soup. (It doesn't do the chicken any good if I throw the rest out.) I've put half-and-half in my coffee and totally lost my resolve in the face of chocolate ice cream last night. But I'm leaning hard toward renewing my vegetarian vows, and this time avoiding most dairy and eggs as well.


I'm finding myself resisting the urge to label myself a vegetarian or vegan or even to adopt a hard line set of food rules. It's that all-or-nothing - you either are a vegetarian or you aren't - isn't actually all that helpful, really. I do have every intention of dramatically changing my regular diet. But I think what I want and need is a fast. I want to fast from meat and cheese and milk and half-and-half.

(Okay, I REALLY don't want to fast from half-and-half, as there is pretty much nothing I would rather consume in the entire everloving world than a cup of dark roast coffee with a generous dash of cream.)

See, vegetarianism is not something that is meant to be broken. If I say I'm a vegetarian and sneak off to eat a hamburger (which is, I admit, something I used to do as a vegetarian), I have made a liar of myself.

But a fast is something that is kept, and broken.

I'm going to keep the fast as faithfully as I can. But I'm going to break the fast when I am eating dinner at someone's house and they bring out a roast. I am going to break the fast when the tomatoes are ripe and it's time for one perfectly constructed BLT. I am going to break the fast when I get to eat the eggs my friend Anna's chickens lay.

I'm going to break the fast when it is time for the feast. As Jen Hatmaker writes in 7, "the feast is supposed to sustain the fast."

So, I'm saving the roll of paper towels. I may be almost completely vegan, but I'll need something to absorb the grease from my humanely-raised bacon next summer.

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