I’m going to warn you right now that unless you are an open-minded vegetarian, you probably won’t want to read what follows.
I will also tell you straight up that I was a vegetarian for 24 years and a vegan for part of that time. I had two children during my long vegetarian stint. Both pregnancies were easy and normal, and both children were born generous in size. (The first was 8 ½ pounds at birth, and the second 9 pounds.) I also breastfed both babies on my meatless diet, both for over a year, and both babies flourished.
And even though I started eating meat again about 5 years ago, I rarely eat it. If I do have meat, it is usually something I raised myself or something raised locally. That means when I go out to eat, I order vegetarian. And that means we often go without meats I haven’t been able to buy locally raised yet, like bacon.
I tell you all of that to give you some context, and to make it clear to you that I’m in no way a hardcore carnivore who thinks a vegetarian diet is anti-American. I fully support those who choose to be vegetarians when they are informed.
Those are my caveats and disclaimers. I hope I have set the stage so that those of you who are open-minded vegetarians will stay with me and keep reading, because what I’m going to say is important beyond your meatlessness.
Why might you not stay with me? Because I am about to say something you won’t like to read, or think about, or possibly even admit to.
Just eat the chicken stock already…
Friend, I know why you’re a vegetarian. During my two decades plus of not eating meat, as I kept learning more and more about vegetarianism, I added one reason after another to my list of reasons I’d made that dietary decision. From animal welfare to health issues to environmental concerns, I knew all of the reasons why I shouldn’t eat meat (and rarely eat it today). I can relate to your decision. I know why you made it and stick to it, I really do.
But, my vegetarian friend, I have to call you out on some hypocrisy.
I wish I had a dollar for every time a vegetarian companion refused to eat soup because it was made with chicken stock. Heck, sometimes I was that vegetarian companion! But now I know better because I’ve been figuring some things out, thinking some things through, and learning a lot about how we raise and eat food in this country.
And now the better informed me has to tell you that the right thing to do is to eat that stock. Seriously. Stop worrying about whether that soup was made with chicken stock or not, okay? It’s hypocritical.
Hypocritical?! Yes, if you eat cheese.
And here’s where I get really annoying: If you’re avoiding the soups with chicken stock but drinking milk and eating cheese, you’re not a vegetarian. You are causing the death of animals by consuming dairy. (I’ll explain that later.) But you are not causing the death of animals by consuming chicken stock. You’re actually doing a good thing.
Chicken stock is a byproduct of what other people are choosing to eat. No chicken was killed just to make that chicken stock that’s flavoring the minestrone. That would be ridiculously wasteful. Instead, making chicken stock is how we make even better use of the chicken, meaning it’s also ridiculously wasteful to toss a chicken carcass rather than make a flavorful stock from it.
So, dear vegetarian, what is the big deal about your soup being made with chicken stock? The chicken didn’t die for your sake. It’s an economical and judicious kitchen solution. If the chicken suffered, it was for the sake of some carnivorous character. You’re actually adding value to the chicken’s sacrifice by consuming the stock made after someone else ate the meat. What’s so bad about that?
Are you worried about food waste, starving people in third-world countries, and food deserts in urban areas? Then you should be eating the chicken-based stock and stop complaining, because perfectly good vegetables can be put to some other, more important use than stock making.
Now about the animals you are causing to die…
I continue to be shocked and amazed at the number of self-righteous vegetarians I meet who drink milk and eat cheese. I also continue to be shocked and amazed at how few people know how we get milk from cows. If you’re going to be a self-righteous vegetarian, at least be an educated one, okay? And by that, I don’t mean know how to do calculus.
Let’s talk about milk first, shall we?
Apparently most people think cows give milk the way chickens lay eggs, with no prodding or effort on our part as the stewards of these animals.
Not so, dear friend. A cow only makes milk for one reason: to feed a calf. Where does a calf come from? A pregnancy. Oh, but wait. If the cow has a calf (which she has to do to make milk), then the calf gets the milk so then what? Well, that is why calves are taken away from their mamas soon after birth, so we can have the milk for our cereal in the morning.
But this milk supply, it doesn’t last forever. So that dairy cow, she has to be impregnated (artificially) so that she’ll have another calf and keep giving milk. This happens again and again and again. This is dairy, folks. For you to have milk, the cows have to have babies.
Now a girl calf (a heifer), she’s going to be all right. Sure, she got yanked from the comfort of her big, warm mama at a very young age, but she’ll get to grow up and have a life doing what her mama does: getting impregnated, giving birth, having her baby taken away, getting milked until she’s dry, and starting that process all over again.
The future ain’t so bright for the boy calves (the bulls). They have no purpose at a dairy unless they are going to be raised for breeding. (They’re not.) So where do bull calves end up? Veal.
I’ve been to the local sale barn and seen the bull calves too weak to stand. They are pulled off their mamas before they even get any colostrum. Just days old, they lie piled up in the pen in the small livestock barn, some with runny eyes and noses, to be sold for $10 a piece to someone who will raise them for veal. (Do you know how they raise veal? If you’re a vegetarian drinking milk, you should.)
If you’re drinking milk, you’re causing the death of those bull calves. Not directly, no, but you are.
And now for cheese…
OK, we’ve got that squared away, that your wanting milk means a cow has to have a calf which means a bull calf dies. Now, do you know the ingredient in hard cheese that makes it hard? It’s called rennet. Do you know what it is made of? The lining of calf’s stomach. Oh, so there’s another purpose for that unneeded calf, and another reason for it to die. There is vegetarian rennet, but most of the cheese you’re going to find at your local grocery store isn’t made with that because it’s more economical to use the lining of the calf you don’t need anyway.
So if you’re both drinking milk and eating cheese, you’re causing the death of animals in more ways than one. Now how do you feel about chicken stock? Is it really that evil?
I’m not asking you to eat meat. I’m asking you to think
I am not going to tell you to start eating meat, no way no how. I hardly eat meat, so why would I ask you to give up your vegetarianism? I would never do that. I respect your choice, just as I hope you respect mine. Nor would I ask you to give up dairy.
What I am asking you to do is to stop and think. Why? Because our food system is so horribly messed up and ignorance is running rampant among us, which is only keeping our food system messed up and the “food” corporations powerful. Our societal ignorance leads to thinking avoiding chicken stock while eating cheese is “vegetarian” when it’s not, and that’s only small one example of how uninformed we are.
You see, ultimately, I’m not even talking about chicken stock, cute little dairy calves, and whether or not you’re going to eat that pork chop. Ultimately, I’m talking about every food choice you make, every day.
My goal isn’t to create a nation of vegans. My goal is to create a nation of educated and aware eaters, whether they eat meat or not. My goal is to end the disconnect between us and our food–how it is raised, how it gets to us, how it’s cooked, how it’s eaten. Because it’s only by becoming aware that we can work together to fix what’s broken: our food supply, our society, our way of eating and even our way of living.
I’m starting with chicken stock. How about you?