I went on the trip for the first time in 2009 when I was a twenty-two year old senior in college at the University of Iowa, which is traditionally know for excellence in academics, its premier research hospital, binge drinking and being a fantastic party school. I was the "new guy" on the golf trip, so naturally I was hazed by being the target of jokes that were delivered with the effectiveness and poise that only a few of the seasoned fifty year old men could pull off. I had not done anything to provoke being the target of the jokes, I was simply the nephew of the group's largest instigator, Uncle Dan. I am not good at snappy comebacks and witticisms, which is okay because usually I take the passive hippie approach and chill out. However, I am competitive. I like to win even the dumbest contests of skill, so I had to rise to the challenge and give myself value in the perspective of these guys. I played to my strengths as a college student at the time by drinking as much beer as these veterans did while somehow maintaining a golf swing throughout the week. In the midst of hangovers from the previous night's bar hopping and clubbing we ordered Bloody Marys and took pulls of peppermint schnapps to stay warm on the golf course in the forty degree March Missouri weather, which usually consists of wind and rain drizzles. Fast-forward three years to March 2011. It was my third year on the golf trip and I was enjoying having earned the right to be accepted as a "regular."
On the last night of the 2011 trip I was feeling good because I had gone through the week relatively unscathed as compared to the two years past. I took a more casual approach to the drinking and surprise!...the golf game was great. 7pm on the final night of the trip and feeling windburned from a full day's worth of golf we were in the course's club house adjacent to our hotel for our last banquet style dinner for the week. Each night of the week the twenty five guys on the trip piled into the golf course clubhouse for a banquet style dinner, and the meals were burgers, brats and tacos. Cool. Simple. Man food. No one complained and everyone looked forward to the last night of the trip because it's traditionally the best meal: this year was baked potato, a vegetable medley and a 16oz prime rib, prepared rare. I loved the idea of prime rib. I had worked almost three years at an Outback Steakhouse and even before that I always appreciated my meat and potatoes so I was excited for the meal. Culturally, a man growing up in an agrarian state like Iowa will be more in tune with his protein. Men in my family have always hunted, and while I was not a hunter I have always fished, cleaned and eaten what I kept. As for the 16oz rare prime rib, I was excited when the servers brought out the trays.
The banquet room was absent of conversation, but the vibrations in the air turned the room into a sound chamber of flatware hitting glass plates as the men were stabbing broccoli, buttering potatoes and carving their prime rib. I looked at my meat and began to carve into it. The cow's flesh was prepared rare, having a deep purple hue in the center from refrigerating the meat on its trip from the slaughterhouse to the clubhouse. I took less than a dozen bites of the reddish, purple meat and I stopped. There was no way I could finish 16oz of prime rib on a good eating day, but what bothered me was looking up to see about 25 drunk guys belligerently tearing apart the cow. I envisioned what size of a cow it took to portion out that many prime ribs, the resources of stall space and grain it took to raise that cow and then I hoped the killing process was as humane as possible, only to doubt that it was. The economics of farming became tangible and real right then and there, as I watched the final product get consumed right in front of my eyes. It hit me that all the guys on golf trips across the whole country were doing something similar. Extrapolate that thought and we can start considering all of the grocery stores, restaurants and households with people doing the same thing for dinner that night. The ethical aspects of factory farming had bothered me in the past, but I had toured meat lockers in the past and I've been on enough hunts and fishing trips to know that fundamentally, animals have to die in order to obtain their flesh for nourishment. The problem was that I went to Wal-Mart regularly to get my meat so I felt disconnected from the agricultural process; it was easy to block out the negative aspects of putting meat on the table. My ideas came full circle in the banquet room on that golf trip: vague human wants of excessive meat eating, as opposed to the deep needs of nourishment, fuel the economics of factory farming, and the macro human demand is so great that the farming process has had to become unethical to support the Earth's population boom. Eureka.
Just as the Missouri golf trip's secondary function is golf and the primary function is (what can be belligerent) drinking, I came to the realization at the banquet table that modern humans' nourishment process has evolved into having a secondary function of nourishment and a primary function of over indulging, usually irresponsibly. I refer back to the highly excessive 16oz prime rib as an example. I was disgusted in myself for living my life supporting the mass production of meat for my lazy desires, but I was proud that I acknowledged the floating through my meals and not appreciating the process. That night sitting at that banquet table I decided that I would never waste meat again. I knew that animals had to die for my meat and that was a fact of life, but it was my responsibility be reasonable with my meat consumption. I cataloged my thoughts, and back in the reality of the banquet I finished my pile of veggies and my baked potato, ignoring my personal epiphany for the rest of the evening and we celebrated the last night of our 2011 golf trip with partying and drinks.
A week after the golf trip I was at home back in Iowa thinking more about our consumption behavior as a race and where we fell on the spectrum of need versus want. I determined that the scale was heavily tilted towards want and mostly for my own sanity I decided to become a vegetarian the first week of April 2011. I like meat. I stated that my exception would be if I killed the animal myself it would be fair game to eat its flesh as I would appreciate the kill and there would be very little laziness about it.
Being a vegetarian was difficult for the first few months. Holidays and social events were tough as they're typically geared towards the collective and not a lone vegetarian. Being with family and friends that did not understand my thought process generated tough conversations that I didn't ask for as I simply said, "No thanks..." to an offering of flesh, inadvertently offending people.
I have since become a pescetarian, or someone that has a diet of seafood but not the flesh of other animals. I realized that I will not be able to change the world and I am not perfect in my philosophy. You may or may not agree with my thinking about making fundamental changes in my diet in the name of ethics and you're entitled to that. After all, we live in America and it's a free country. Nonetheless, do yourself and society a favor and do some research about the process of how your cow, pig, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck and other common animals make it to your table. I will even encourage you to take a look at how your fish and crustaceans or shellfish make it to the grocery store. Once you've taken a look at your food, take a look at your house, the clothes in your closet and even the research and development on your shampoo. How did the rabbit fur get to your earmuffs or your winter boots? Look up how the animal is killed to preserve the pristine, cuddly pelt. How did that European Goose Down end up in your winter jacket or your comfy pillow? Take a look at the plucking process. Is your shampoo tested on animals? If it is, what kind of animals are involved and how do the scientists care for these lab animals? Do you care about the environment and are you unsure if humans have an impact on artificial global warming? I encourage you to research how mass production farming affects greenhouse gas emissions. What else? Do you care? Where do you fall on the spectrum of want and need, and are you prepared to live with the consequences? If you are, great! As a disclaimer, I am aware that if you do not care about animals the research is probably nonsense. The bottom line: devise your own opinion and support what you'd like in terms of animal consumption, but force yourself to be an informed member of society. It is 2011 and with the internet we no longer have an excuse for lack of information about any given animal production process. All too often I hear people respond to the question, "Where does your food come from?" with, "The store..." which for the sake of the bigger picture, that answer is false and ignorant.
Check out the trailer or watch the entire documentary for Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and soundtrack by Moby, which can be seen here. Even simply the trailer gets the message across, but be warned that the nature of the footage is graphic. You may not agree with their controversial, radical approach, but check out peta.org and namely their issues page in an effort to know what they are organizing for, which can be seen here.
Eating can be irresponsible, but the effects aren't as obvious as with other irresponsible behaviors like drinking alcohol and financially spending out of control. Irresponsible drinking can lead to an empty bank account and a hangover, which are cured with a paycheck and ibuprofen respectively. Over time the drinking can lead to alcoholism, loss of loved ones, loss of a job, legal problems or even death. This is nothing new and it is no surprise that society has made underage drinking and drunk driving illegal. Irresponsible spending can lead to an empty bank account and a financial hangover, which again can be cured with a paycheck and financial budgeting and frugality. If this spending goes unchecked it can lead to loans, mortgages and credit card debt that cannot be paid back, poor credit that can hinder getting a job. Even bigger picture the capitalist group-think has gotten the United States and global financial markets into a conundrum. As a nation our lines of credit have dried up and the U.S. unemployment rate is sustained at its highest levels since the great depression. The effects of belligerent behavior in drinking and personal finance have tangible, negative results that we see everyday. Other than an individual getting fat from destroying pizza and burgers, irresponsible eating has negative results that are not as obvious.
Plowing some McDonald's or Taco Bell and buying bulk ground beef from Costco requires little resources in the eyes of the consumer, a couple bucks ought to do it, and as a society we tend to wash our hands of the process that got the food to the vendor. Poor eating choices can lead to obesity, but the problem is bigger than a couple fat kids that ate too many gummy bears. Obesity as our most negative result of irresponsible eating is a self-centered way for us as humans to look at the result. The individual gets fat, sure, but what about the greater problems? The societal and ethical damage done is far greater than obesity. We treat our dogs and cats with love (usually) because they clearly have personalities and feelings. Take a look at your cow, pig, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck and other common animals and how factory farming treats them. Get your priorities in check and if you disagree with what we're doing as a society, make a change.
I will leave you with this: I will be going back to Missouri in March of 2012 for my fourth year of the golf trip. I will not bring up the fact that I have become a vegetarian since the last excursion, but it will certainly come up when people ask my why I'm not eating a hamburger or steak. I will not get in a debate about vegetarianism as a social movement when I know the discussion will be futile, and I have mad respect for the people that respect me on that. Yet, from my experience there are people that will try to push my ethical buttons to set the plant eater off. I also know how the joking bunch on the golf trip can get. I will just tell the oh-so-funny, fat old guys to Google "obesity" and connect the macro-economic dots of factory farming for themselves. That'll shut the big ones up at least. -ABA