Confessions of a vegetarian

I ride my bike. I compost. I buy local. I support alternative energy. In college, I started a green club on campus. Even my favorite color is green.

And until two months ago, I was vegetarian. For six years.

What happened? I'm still trying to figure that out. But it started with an accident.

I was on my way to my brother's house near Seattle for Thanksgiving. I know, for carbon-footprint reasons, I should have flown instead of driving, but the trip was last minute and I didn't want to spend my entire paycheck on a plane ticket. I figured eating that month was more important. If I'd only known what was on the menu . . .

Before I left, I decided to stop at the Ashland Food Cooperative to grab a few supplies for the drive: wine for my Thanksgiving hosts, coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

Yes, the crux of this story comes down to a breakfast sandwich. It was wrapped in foil and labeled "vegetarian, egg and cheese." I was about an hour north of Ashland on Interstate 5 when I realized I was ravenous. I unwrapped the sandwich. I took a bite. And then I almost crashed. What was that salty crunch? Was that soy bacon?

It was not soy bacon. Despite what you may have heard from your vegetarian friends, soy bacon does not taste like real bacon. That is a myth propagated by veggie evangelists. I know, because I used to be one.

This was real bacon. Wedged between the egg and cheese — so that there was no picking it out — were three strips of meat. Meat! I was half horrified and half . . . hooked.

Being starving and, thus, unreasonable, I reasoned that the bacon wouldn't kill me, but not eating — right now, this very minute — might.

So I ate it.

And . . . I kind of liked it.

At Thanksgiving, I didn't eat any of the turkey, not even some a relative deep-fried. But when I returned to Ashland a few days later, I found myself going to the co-op before work and buying a breakfast sandwich — with bacon, and labeled as such. I was consciously repeating my meat-eating mistake. But it was so good I didn't care.

Afterwards, I felt dirty. The first dalliance had been almost divinely unavoidable, but this . . .

I felt like I needed to go to confession, and I'm not even Catholic. Was this the universe's way of telling me I should have splurged on that plane ticket and lived on rice and foraged vegetables for a month?

I didn't blame the co-op, but I still wanted to know what had happened to that first sandwich's label.

"Everyone makes mistakes," said Justin Wismar, deli assistant manager. No need to apologize, I said, eyeing the bacon.

Still, I was haunted by statistics: Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined, according to a 2006 United Nations report.

I confided in my fellow tree-huggers. Most have been vegetarian, vegan or raw food eaters at some point, and several are still. I told them the story of the accidental breakfast sandwich, and then I told them about recent transgressions.

"Maybe you needed the protein," one said. "You should try salmon."

"Eat sardines," another suggested.

"Let's make bacon for dinner," my housemate said.

Since then, I've eaten fish and chicken a handful of times — and some more bacon. After the fourth bacon sandwich, I realized taking a break from the "candy of meats," as another friend called it, might be a good idea.

But as for the fish and poultry, I'm still undecided. Having easily accessible sources of protein has made my life easier, and, perhaps, healthier.

Needless to say, I'm still looking to find a sustainable balance. I've gone meatless for a few weeks now. But if someone cooks me a special, meat-filled meal, or if I'm stranded on a meat-only island, I'll eat it.

And I'll enjoy it.

Contact Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or with your ideas for this column.

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