I'm not a pushy person. But when I tell you that I've been a vegetarian for fifteen years and that my husband Mike -- a lifelong carnivore before meeting me -- is now a vegetarian who salivates whenever we walk by a Wendy's, well...you might get the wrong idea.
I maintain that Mike's path to vegetarianism was, like my own, based on a moral opposition to the inhumane treatment of animals. As he often explains, "Why should I hurt something that never did anything to me, if I don't have to? Although I can't tell you how much I miss bacon." Okay, so maybe he's not the best advocate for vegetarianism. This became all too clear one night over dinner with our vegetarian friends Jacob and Rachel.
As we dined on a plate of crisp greens, Mike and Jacob reminisced about the last time they'd had meat. They spoke with the same wistfulness as two guys recalling their bachelor heydays.
"So, do you remember your last time?" asked Jacob.
"December '04," replied Mike. "You?"
"I don't know, it's been a while..." trailed Jacob.
"What are you talking about, did you forget Passover?" Rachel reminded him.
"Oh yeah! Meat Week. I guess that was the last time," Jacob offered, before taking another big bite of spinach.
Mike's eyes grew wide. "Meat Week? What's that?"
Jacob, who is Jewish, started telling us about how difficult it was being a vegetarian during Passover. Sensing our unfamiliarity with the holiday, he gave us a brief primer on Passover, including its restrictions on the consumption of breads, pastas, and beans. Jacob had decided that during the week of Passover, his religious commitments would override his vegetarian ones, and for one week only, he'd consume meat. At the time, the look of epiphany on Mike's face didn't register with me, but I soon learned that our delicate dietary regime was in danger.
It started out with Mike occasionally joking about converting to Judaism so that he could participate in Jacob's "Meat Week." But then, a rare opportunity emerged. In April (coincidentally when Passover is actually practiced), I'd be going out of town for a business trip. Mike would be eating alone. The Meat Week gods couldn't have planned it better. He began telling all his meat-loving friends about his plans to partake in Meat Week. They debated the merits of fast versus fancy food. Invitations to French restaurants and barbecue rib joints were received from people we hadn't seen in months.
I tried my best to dissuade Mike from his plan. Before the flesh-filled festivities were to begin, I tried cooking up the best, hardiest vegetarian dishes I could think of so that Mike would realize, "on his own," that he was quite happy with his current situation. One deep dish lasagna, two vegetable curries, and three soups made from scratch later, I was feeling pretty optimistic. "You're quite the cook," Mike said one night. I smiled. But then he continued, "I'm so glad I'm having Meat Week when you're gone, because there's no way I could make vegetables taste that good."
I'm not really sure what I felt about Meat Week. Conflicted, I suppose. On one hand, I was opposed to the concept for the same reasons I was a vegetarian to begin with. In my pre-Meat Week jitters, I worried that this was the summit of one gigantic slippery slope lined with grease drippings. I knew that life would be very inconvenient if my meal-time partner suddenly went his own way. On the other hand, I knew that Mike's commitment to vegetarianism was still in its infancy and had to be nurtured, not forced.
Most of my male friends took his side. "Let him have his meat!" they cried, as if Meat Week stood for something more in the great power dynamic between men and women. One noted the similarities Meat Week had with Mardi Gras or Carnival, when people often feast on meat before giving it up during the 40-day period of Lent. Meat Week was just Mike's version of these festivals, they reasoned, except that he would follow it by disavowing meat for 358 days rather than forty. Some of my girlfriends took issue with Mike's decision, albeit for non-nutritional reasons. "So now it's okay to cheat, as long as it's just for one week?" one said. "How can you be morally opposed to something one day and embrace it the next?"
In their attempts to explain Meat Week, everyone seemed to take an extreme position -- Mike's supporters cast Meat Week as a spiritual endeavor that one embarks on with a fork, while my allies clamored to indict Mike and his meaty mistress. It seemed that everyone approached Meat Week with a surprising degree of absolutism. And that's when it struck me. I had stubbornly tried to fit Mike's behavior into a neat moral and logical paradigm. This was the same approach that all the naysayers had always taken with me, when they wanted to poke holes in my dietary decisions. For years, people had peppered me with questions ranging from the interesting to the inane. "How come you still eat eggs and milk?" "Are your shoes leather?" "What about plants, don't you care about their feelings?" I rejected these "all or nothing" arguments when they were directed at me, so was I not compelled to reject them when directed at others?
While I didn't agree with Meat Week, perhaps I could appreciate what it represented, and in a twisted sort of way, even be inspired by it. I began to wonder whether it made sense for me to remain a committed vegetarian all year round. Maybe my rigid adherence to the vegetarian diet was actually holding me back. And so I decided to change up my own practices, if only for a week. "Mike," I declared, "I have news. I've decided that during Meat Week, I'm going to be a vegan."