Maria Holland

On Eating (And Not Eating) Meat in China

In Uncategorized on March 8, 2010 at 1:10 am

After several weeks of saying we were going to, Kristina finally took me to her favorite vegan restaurant by West Gate.  I was excited, and and it wasn’t until we were almost there that I realized: it was Sunday.

We’re about a third of the way through Lent now, the penitential season leading up to Easter.  Each Lent, Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat for 8 days (Ash Wednesday and every Friday) and through other prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s Passion.  This year as my main sacrifice, I chose to give up meat for the whole forty-day season.  The 40 days of Lent, however, don’t include Sundays (which are like mini-celebrations of Easter), and according to the liturgical calendar Sundays actually start the evening before . . . So this was why I was initially annoyed when I realized we were going to a vegan restaurant on Sunday, my “day off” from temporary-vegetarianism.

Within about three seconds, though, I was totally fine with it.  The truth is, it hasn’t been very hard at all to not eat meat.  Seeing as I was planning this to be a significant Lenten sacrifice, I’m kind of disappointed in how easy it is so far.  Each time I sit down to a delicious [non-meat] meal, I think of a quote from a book called “The Little Guide For Lent” that was shared in a blog recently:

[Lent] hardly deserves the name of a time of penance: how many poor would think it a time of indulgence, and of plenty, if they were supplied with all the things which we are still allowed?

But, to be honest, in every other aspect I’m really delighted to find out that it’s this easy to not eat meat. 

I love to eat, and meat is definitely a part of that.  Of all the reasons offered by vegetarians and vegans, I definitely sympathize the least with those who just don’t like it.  I also have no moral problem with living things dying for me to eat – and, after my time at the farm (when we slaughtered and eviscerated 58 chickens for our summer consumption), I can even answer those who say that most meat-eaters wouldn’t eat meat if they had to personally kill their own food.  Health reasons register somewhat, but meat prepared well is healthier than non-meat prepared poorly, so it wouldn’t be enough to cause a lifestyle change.  There are some reasons, though, that do register with me – the inhuman living conditions of feedlot animals, to some extent, and even more so the environmental repercussions of feedlots.  At the Udall conference last summer, I was brought into contact with dozens of students passionate about the environment, and the large numbers of vegetarians and vegans motivated by this last reason was one of the deepest impressions I left with. 

Meat-eating is the new car-driving, the thing environmentalists love to hate.  But, but, but . . . I like meat!  The idea of never eating meat again makes me unhappy to say the least, but there are a lot of compromises emerging that I find intriguing, like giving up meat one day a week or only eating meat one meal a day.  I like the idea of making meat a more special food through moderation, and it’s an idea that resonates with my faith as well as my other concerns.

I do worry, though, that vegetarianism is especially easy in China and wouldn’t be quite as easy back home.  Even with cheese, bread, and pasta as we know it all very difficult to find, meatless options abound.  They have so many vegetables and prepare them so well that I can’t imagine kids not liking the green stuff.  Also, meals aren’t structured here like they are in America – with an entree of meat and several sides.  Instead, we order 5 or 6 dishes, which usually don’t consist of more than 50% meat.  Whether I’m with other vegetarians or not, it’s very simple to order a few vegetable dishes (which most of our favorites are) and then pick and choose from the meat dishes.  In America, I always feel very keenly that I’m not eating meat, whereas in China I feel instead like I’m just eating other things.

At the same time, though, it’s not like China is a vegetarian’s paradise.  There are lots of people who manage just fine back in America, and complaining about the difficulty is really just an attempt to make excuses.  I just need to learn how to cook eggplant well and it would be fine!

Lunch was good, although a little bit expensive.  I think expensive vegetarian restaurants are one of the mysteries of life, but that’s probably also because I don’t understand the appeal of meatless “meats” – when I want to eat meat, dressed-up tofu will not do it for me. 

Ironically – after all that writing about not eating meat – we feasted on flesh for dinner.  I went out with Diederik, Jelle, Jimmy, and Jimmy’s girlfriend, and for once didn’t really participate in the ordering of food.  Thus, we ended up with kungpao chicken, lamb and onion, and beef stirfry.  While I could have survived without eating meet, it was a nice Sunday indulgence. 

Afterwards we went to the new apartment of Sietze and Koen for a small housewarming.  They have two turtles, a small plant (gift from me), Dutch flag on the wall, and disco lights in the hall – sweet.  I realized that I dodged the World Series (the Yankees won, really??) and the Super Bowl pretty well, but I’m betting I’ll catch parts of the World Cup this year for the first time ever.

Back at home, I was talking to a friend on QQ (Chinese instant messenger).  He commented on my avatar, which is still the default QQ penguin.  He asked me where they live and I told him ‘Antarctica’.  I was so proud of myself for being able to respond 南极洲 without resorting to a dictionary!  This is one of the simple pleasures of studying Chinese: learning a word that you think may be useless, and then finding yourself perfectly equipped when the appropriate occasion arises.  Vocabulary WIN!

I’ve been wearing my new jeans the last two days.  There’s a little swagger in my hips, due less to their styling than to my feeling of triumph for having successfully bought jeans in China.  The only people who have commented on them are the other foreigners who knew I was looking to buy jeans; I guess a new pair of pants really isn’t that noteworthy unless you understand the difficulties that were overcome to get them.  They’re my first pair of – dare I say it? – skinny jeans, and I think they’re alright.  I had a minor crisis this morning trying to figure out which socks are acceptable to wear with them, but I really appreciate that they don’t drag in the rain.  Also, when I wear Converse I feel like my feet should be filmed for the opening of Footloose, which makes me smile.

  1. cut loose- everybody footloose!! kick off your Sunday shoes!

  2. Her Converse ARE her Sunday shoes!

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