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On Yom Kippur in 2009 I woke up having had a nightmare about animals being killed. I don't remember my exact dream, but it was undoubtedly informed by articles I had read about the horrors of slaughter houses, of animals dying tortured deaths.* For the last few years I have found that when I started such an article, I was not able to continue reading. I didn't want to deal with the reality of the situation. As a result, I had begun to enjoy hamburger more than a steak because it reminded me less of the animal it came from. As my thoughts became clearer that morning I realized that I no longer wanted animals to suffer because of my actions.

Now Yom Kippur is not a particularly important day to me, but it's a time of year, like the end of December, when I take stock of my life and try to see how I can be a better person. I set goals for myself and I knew that morning that I needed to make a commitment that would help animals. I decided to stop eating meat.

I then thought that perhaps I could still eat seafood. But I remembered the time I have spent in Maine where I have bought large quantities of crabs and lobsters. Almost every week of the summer I would boil up a couple of dozen crabs and extract the meat in an assembly line process with family and friends. It was a tradition started by my mother and continued by me that I had always loved and looked forward to through the long winter. Even if I were not eating seafood, I couldn't participate in the process of killing them so others could eat them. Precisely because I had actively participated in the killing of crustaceans and fish and even clams and mussels, I felt worse about eating seafood than eating meat. I determined to give up both meat and seafood. However, I feared that once I developed a vegetarian lifestyle, I would be hankering for a Peter Luger steak or hamburger or a crab salad and I didn't want to go back on my decision. I committed to being a vegetarian for a year.

When I announced my intention of being a vegetarian to my husband, he laughed at the thought of how few animals I would be saving considering how little meat I ate in the first place. He also argued that there are more animals on earth because they are raised to be eaten. If everyone were a vegetarian, there would be many fewer cattle or sheep. He gave the example that there were many more horses around when horses were eaten. That just didn't sit right with me. Cultivated animals often have a horrible life. There would be more animals, but more would suffer. One of my cousins suggested that I could eat wild animals rather than those cultivated for slaughter. Wild animals and fish have been hunted to extinction for food. I have never been able to eat deer or rabbits, animals that I have an emotional attachment to because of seeing them in the wild (okay, seeing Bambi may have also played a part). I believe that the life of a wild animal is somehow better than the life of an animal raised for slaughter and consequently I feel worse about its being killed. I think it is worse for a wild animal to be killed for its fur than a mink that has been raised to be slaughtered. The dioramas at the Natural History Museum have always bothered me because of the slaughter of animals - even though the actual displays may be helpful in educating people about animals. There is something horrible about the excess of the killing. I picture Teddy Roosevelt on safari standing proudly with a foot on a magnificent carcass surrounded by piles of dead animals.

The biggest impact of being a vegetarian was on the home front: making dinner for my husband and me. For a while I would cook my husband a piece of fish, a potato, a vegetable, and a salad and I would eat all but the fish. But over time I became less willing to handle fish and meat. I have made the turkey at Thanksgiving twice, but I definitely haven't enjoyed it - even the smell of it cooking nauseates me as it reminds me of dead animals. I have come to understand the benefit of a kosher kitchen as I don't want to use a knife on my food that my husband has used to cut meat. (Thank God for the purifying quality of dishwashers!) I now buy my husband chicken meals from Boston Market which he loves, separate them into small portions, and freeze them in small containers. Then he always has a chicken dinner available from the freezer.

My husband likes to have soup at almost every meal. I had always made vegetable soup, but with a chicken broth base. Now I substitute vegetable broth and we both enjoy the soups. I make up big batches and freeze them. The soup part was easy. But meals of soup and vegetables get a bit boring. I wanted a satisfying and interesting meal and not just a couple of vegetables. I bought a few vegetarian cookbooks and looked at recipes online. Eventually I found that I was cooking more than before I became a vegetarian.

The advantage of cooking a vegetarian casserole or pasta rather than a few vegetables for dinner is that it is that when I make a recipe, I can serve it to my husband. I feel good that he is eating less meat and fish than he used to because he is sharing vegetarian meals with me. Unfortunately no one else in my family has become vegetarian although my daughter stopped eating meat for two days after reading Skinny Bitch, a book that describes what members of PETA witnessed when they took jobs at slaughter houses.

One of the things that I have missed at home is BLT sandwiches. They were always a favorite of mine. I have bought soy bacon strips and cooked them up and made fake BLT sandwiches. The first one I ate, I really enjoyed. The second felt like I was eating shoe leather. I have been intrigued by offerings at vegetarian restaurants that mimic meat. For example, a barbecued satan sandwich tastes something like beef. But I wonder about this and don't feel completely comfortable with eating food that imitates meat or seafood. I fear that it's a reflection that I really want to be eating barbequed beef when that is not the case at all.

Vegetarianism has changed my behavior when I order at restaurants. Now I always have a conversation with the waiter about what I can eat on the assumption that he will tell his chef and the restaurant will know that customers are looking for good vegetarian options. But it's a necessity to talk with the waiter not just to educate him but for my benefit as well. At a family party at Ruth Chris Steakhouse, I was delighted to see a Three-Cheese Pasta on the menu. When I spoke with the waiter, she informed me that it was made with chicken broth, and I was back to a baked potato and a salad that night. (Those delicious fries at steak houses often have animal fat in the oil for flavor.) I also like to make sure that vegetable dishes are vegetarian. For example, several of the vegetable options at Boston Market are made with chicken fat. Luckily, I am not allergic to meat, I just don't want to eat it. It's a commitment, like being kosher.

At restaurants, my husband and friends show concern for my having an adequate meal, which always surprises me. When we look at menus, others at the table will immediately start telling me the options that I have. Perhaps they are feeling guilty that we are at a restaurant with few meals that I can eat, but I keep hoping it's an indication that they are more interested in the idea of vegetarianism. I enjoy it when people around me order vegetarian meals.

Once I gave up eating meat and seafood, I didn't even dream about eating "the forbidden" element the way that I dreamed of smoking for years after I gave that up. My hardest moment for being a vegetarian happened in Maine when I went with a large family group to a lobster shack for lunch. They just didn't have any good vegetarian options. I ended up eating cole slaw and potato chips while I watched others eating crab and lobster salad rolls. It wasn't that I yearned for the seafood, it was more that I felt separate from the others. I was no longer enjoying a routine that had been part of my life for years. One of the best meals I have had was at a German Oktoberfest party. At first I couldn't see anything to eat as the centerpiece of the table was a roast suckling pig and even the potato salad was larded with bacon. I cut myself a thick slice of dark bread and put rich, grainy mustard on it followed by sauerkraut. With my stein of beer, it was a perfect meal!

After a year of being a vegetarian, I knew that this was a life style change that I would stay with. I felt great and had no problem physically and had lost five pounds. I wanted to take my commitment further, so this year, as part of my New Year's resolution, I decided to stop buying leather goods. I have never worn fur and I hate the sight of people wearing fur coats. My friends who wear fur often say, but you wear leather. I know I haven't been completely consistent, but I have become more conscious about different ways of injuring animals since becoming a vegetarian. I will continue to use the shoes and handbags I have, but I will not buy anything else made of leather. I haven't yet confronted the difficulty of doing this, but I heard Natalie Portman talking about her life as a vegan. She said that she buys shoes at Target or from Stella McCartney. It's one extreme or the other for animal-free products!

Friends have pointed out that perhaps I shouldn't wear silk or even cotton. Or maybe I should give up dairy products. As my doctor told me to make calcium part of every meal, I am unsure that I would get enough calcium without cheese and yogurt. But it's all something to think about for next year!

*I recently enjoyed watching the film Temple Grandin, a biopic of an autistic woman who has helped to change the architecture of slaughterhouses to make them more humane. No, it didn't make me want to go back to eating meat.



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