Full Disclosure


I’ve been hiding a dirty little secret for the past few months. Now I’m coming clean: I stopped eating meat. It’s been an internal struggle for the better part of the last year, weighing my feelings about the ethical treatment of animals and environmental responsibility against my cultural upbringing.

I grew up with animals. A lot of animals. At the height of it, our family cohabitated with nine different species – our dog Cutie, several hamsters (they had babies), two gerbils, two rabbits, one guinea pig, two birds, two turtles, many fish and a tarantula name Charlotte that lived in a tank in our kitchen. My eldest sister Natalie always cared for animals and I learned from her how special all of God’s creatures are. My first memory of feeling compassion for animals (well, in this case insects) was around 7 years old. It was a summer day and we were playing outside our house. The boys down the block were pulling the wings off of cicadas. I remember hearing my sister yelling!  She came running down the street teary-eyed with the injured bugs. Myself, Natalie and my other sister Marie mobilized. We made a cricket hospital in the bushes in our backyard. Each cicada had a special  “bed” within the branches and my sisters and I would tend to each one of our patients. This memory stuck with me, along with the feeling of love and sympathy I had for the helpless cicadas. It was the beginning of my relationship with nature and animals. These days, I am spiritually bonded to my herd of cats.

I always noticed the conflict, but it didn’t really bother me. One particular conversation a few years ago brought it to light for me. I was hanging out with my friend Pete, and he was going to kill a spider in the house after we came back from getting sandwiches at Pickles & Pies. He jokingly called me a hypocrite. “You won’t let me kill this spider, but you just ate a turkey melt?” I’d think about his words often and they started to bothered me more and more. I used to see cows in the upstate and think “Mmm. How about a good steak?” But after that conversation, all of this was running through the back of my mind.

Another significant event was a visit from my friend Serhan this summer. He was explaining to me how he’s been eating a plant-based diet and how much healthier he was feeling. He lost weight and hand lots of energy. That sent me down a Netflix rabbit hole of documentaries about diet and the food industry.* Without getting into details, scientists are discovering that western levels of meat intake is not at all healthy, and that the environmental costs of meat production are very significant. I even saw a video of a pig playing the game Pong. He was moving the joystick with his snout. Simultaneously cute and horrifying, given the context.

On the flip side of my inner debate: I’m an Italian-American and food has always been a part of my life. It made very holiday richer, every funeral calmer, every communion happier.  Specific foods hold a special significance in our culture and those meals are married with our family history and memories. My mother taught me how to cook. I was expected to help in the kitchen from a very young age. I would deep fry the fish on Christmas Eve and baste the turkey on Thanksgiving. I enjoyed helping my mother and learning from her.

What I’m getting at is, if I become a vegetarian I feel like I’ll be losing part of my identity. Will I ever eat my mother’s meatballs again? Or get sausage and peppers at the Fresh Pond Fair? I can’t experiment with meat recipes and become a better cook. And I just love the taste of roast beef with onion gravy.  So you see, I’m torn. For now, I’m not eating meat and I’m attempting to reduce my dairy, but I’m not sure where this is all going. Does anyone else feel this way? Thanks for listening!

* For those interested, some of the documentaries I’ve watched on Netflix Food, Inc., In Defense of Food, Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, etc.

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