The Long Road to Vegetarianism | A Real Pain in the Pork Chop
By Carla Hogue
I’m fairly certain I was born to vegan parents but switched at birth. As a child in the “Hogue house of meat,” I had little choice. It was usually red, and it was served at every single meal.
When I left home, I didn’t eat as much meat, primarily because as a non-cook, I didn’t want to fix it. But then I began hearing murmurs of things happening in the dark corners of the meat and dairy industries that had nourished me for the first 20 years of my life. I was put off by the use of growth hormones and antibiotics, but the treatment of the animals hung heaviest on my heart.
Here it is, a few decades later, and I’m standing at the crossroads of meat and meatless, when I fall madly in love with a big ol’ meat loving eater who explains this perspective by pointing to a cuspid. “God gave us these,” he says, tapping a tooth, “for ripping and tearing flesh.”
Now what? Listen to the garden, that’s what. In search of something a little more substantial than the well-loved tomato, we started playing around with eggplant, potatoes and butternut squash, all of which debuted in surprisingly hearty vegetarian meals. The following is a recipe for eggplant lasagna so satisfying we’ve served it at dinner parties to rave reviews. That’s a real testament to the dish, since our circle of friends is definitely meat-centric. Ricky’s barometer — a successful wine pairing — also holds. Included with the recipe is our favorite wine pairing to date, along with some choices that should be equally inspired but more accessible.
Thanks to the garden, Ricky now celebrates meatless Mondays with gusto, but he remains true to his meat tooth, reminding me at regular intervals that he is not interested in a plant-only diet. So the next mile in the long road to vegetarianism was finding a more compassionate way to incorporate meat. It took three do-overs for a New Year’s resolution to stick, but in January 2013, we started buying humanely raised and humanely slaughtered meat from local farmers. It’s a year later, and we haven’t looked back.
The good news? This corner of Virginia is a checkerboard of choices. A stroll through your local farmer’s market will turn up as many kinds and cuts of meat as you would find at the grocery store. The bad news? You simply cannot take for granted that the farmer is pedaling humanely raised and slaughtered meat. You need to look the pig in the eye and see for yourself.
This message is reiterated on the refrigerated case at Smith Meadows in Berryville, the first farm we visited. The note reads: “So, you know your doctor and your dentist, and possibly your family’s attorney and veterinarian, but do you know your farmer and where your food comes from?” Before this, we didn’t know, but so far every farmer we’ve spoken with has extended a warm invitation to come see for ourselves. We now buy meat directly from the farms we’ve visited. While it takes a little more planning than a weekly trip to the grocery store, it has become a shopping routine for us.
Knowing that it’s more expensive to practice the humane principles of raising animals with respect, we realized the price point would force us to eat smaller portions, and to eat this meat less frequently (a nod to my ultimate goal of vegetarianism). But in the first two months, we exercised no restraint because the meat was so stinkin’ good.
It took the punch in the pocketbook to get us back on track after that initial feeding frenzy, and even my meat lover has downsized his portions. Not long ago, I thought the man had lost his ever-lovin’ mind when he declared, after eating half an Ayrshire Farms New York strip, that he was completely satisfied. He put the other half in the fridge. No one was more surprised than he was.
Our goal now is to serve meat as a side dish instead of an entrée, putting the emphasis on our vegetarian recipes coming from the garden. So, it can be done. There is a compromise out there. You can join the flexitarian movement, either en route to vegetarianism like me, or as the final destination, like Ricky who isn’t interested in totally giving up meat. We’ve included a few of our favorite vegetarian recipes equally well suited to both points of reference.
Favorite Area Farms and Getting to Know Your Farmers
• Forrest Prichard of Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville subscribes to Joel Salatin’s principles of sustainable and humane farming. During our visit, we saw cows, sheep, and turkeys grazing in wide-open spaces, and chickens with room to walk, peck, scratch and flap their wings. Forrest’s book, Gaining Ground is an entertaining introduction for anyone considering even a small change in food buying practices.
• Jeff Boogart of Breezy Meadow Farms in Lovettsville spent 60 unrushed minutes, showing us his chickens, their shelters, and how he rotates the pens. Then he introduced us to a wild turkey that convalesced in his barnyard and became a family mascot. The depth of Jeff’s concern for his animals was obvious when I mentioned that one of the water buffalo appeared to be limping. Before I had finished my amateur vet assessment, Jeff had jumped the fence and was interacting with the beast to determine whether or not an injury existed.
• Ayrshire Farms in Upperville is certified organic and humane. Among other things, they raise heritage beef. (See the November 2013 issue of Wine Spectator for an interesting article on heritage cattle, and you’ll be ecstatic we have an outlet so close.) In addition, they are a predator-friendly farm, meaning they do not use methods that would harm natural predators, chalking up a certain amount of loss in order to keep the ecosystem in check. They even accepted a rehabilitated bobcat onto the property. Like them on Facebook for notices of upcoming events open to the public.
About the Author:
Carla Hogue teaches elementary special education, supports animal rescues, and likes to put seeds in the dirt. Rick Vergot sells building supplies, is a sucker for rescue dogs, and likes to design and build NASA-inspired raised beds. Together they are learning about and practicing sustainable methods. This year, the squirrels whole-heartedly approved.