My Pet Eats Meat - and I Do, Too

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As I walk up the stairwell to our third floor condo, the unmistakable aroma of my wife, Susan’s, cooking teases my senses.

Tonight, it’s turkey burgers made with flecks of onion, garlic, mushroom and spinach melded together with a precision known to bring my nose to its knees. So intoxicated am I by the aura of my impending dinner that greeting my family nearly becomes an afterthought.

Pavlov would have been proud.

Our Boston terrier, Lilly, sits by my side as I bite down into my sizzling mound of meat. My eyes roll back in my head so far, I can’t help but wonder whether they will ever snap forward in their sockets again.

Then, just as my palate surrenders to the explosion of flavor, Lilly flips her head backward and shoots me an excruciatingly cute and expectant look.

Lilly loves meat. And, as Rescue Legacy’s Director of Development, Joy Gaston, compellingly opined in last week’s blog, Lilly needs meat. All dogs and cats do.

But there are questions wrought by the irony of having the animal I love by my side at the exact moment that the animal I crave is in my mouth. Try as I may, I cannot shoo this irony away - which is how it found its way onto this page.

Between the ages of 14 and 17, I was a vegetarian. My conversion from carnivore to exclusive leaf-eater was inspired by - of all things - an interview of songwriter, Norman Greenbaum (Spirit In the Sky), by Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1970. Norman belonged to a commune that swore off meat for reasons of compassion toward animals. As a self-identified compassionate person, I decided to follow suit.

My parents did not support my defiant stance against the communal nightly menu and so I was left to fend for myself. Unfortunately, I never learned to adequately formulate a plant-based protein diet. I became anemic and sickly as a result and eventually begged off my meat-free mission. I rationalized my choice as one of self-preservation and that, well, certain animals were just made to be eaten.

Through the decades, however, my rationalizations have become more challenging to support. As the lines between pet and protein source become increasingly blurred and our environmental resources are taxed beyond their limits to sustain livestock for slaughter, I cannot help but wonder again if meatless is the way to go. Certainly, in this age of instant knowledge, the path toward a nutritious, meat-free diet is well-defined and accessible.

What strikes me most about the vegans I have met is their complete tolerance of my taste for - and reliance on - animal protein. Not one of my several vegetarian or vegan friends or relatives has proselytized or brow-beaten me. They pose no vociferous arguments and hurl no invectives. My culinary choices are accepted and I am welcomed at their dining tables. Perhaps because of this, I am more open to their ideas.

Several months ago, my partner in Rescue Legacy, Joy Gaston, and I sat across from one another and toasted our collaborative mission to keep pets and their families together forever. Joy hoisted a veggie-burger while I lifted the “real” thing. And I was again struck by irony: here we were, two caring people sitting on opposite sides of animal protein table, supporting a shared vision.

Since then, Meatless Mondays have become my weekly ritual.

For now, that is what I choose to do.