For Spring, an Attempt to Forgo Meat

Living as a vegetarian or vegan can be difficult without compromising nutrition — and that urge to feed on flesh. Rod Dreher, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News, explains his experience blogging and eating in his new meat-free life.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

On this first day of spring, one animal rights group is urging people to use the occasion of a fresh start, a brand new season, to give up eating meat. The group is called FARM, and the occasion is called The Great American Meatout. I'm calling it "GAMO." So let's leave aside for a moment the politics of eating meat, and the economics of meat eating, and let's just get practical. If you want to give up meat, what's the best way to do it without compromising nutrition, and that need to feed on flesh? Someone going through this right now is Rod Dreher, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News. So Rod, now, your reasons for giving up meat are religious. Can you explain?

Mr. ROD DREHER (Columnist, Dallas Morning News): Yeah. I'm a convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and we Eastern Orthodox Christians are going through our Lent now. It started a lot later than Western Lent, and the Orthodox Lent is a lot more austere than the Catholic Lent in that we give up all meat and all dairy for the full duration. So right now, I'm eating essentially a vegan diet.

STEWART: How long have you been at this?

Mr. DREHER: About two weeks, and we'll continue through April 27th.

STEWART: What's been toughest so far, down in Texas?

Mr. DREHER: Probably living in Texas. Giving up ribs and eating my daily dose of Chipotle has been the toughest thing, but I think it's hard mostly because we've all gotten used to the expectation that our meals just have to have meat or we're missing out. In fact, the first few days I sort of felt cheated, or maybe even a little bit hungry, because I wasn't able to eat meat, but I found that this is mostly psychological, that as long as you have protein in some form, whether it's beans or tofu, and you get used to it, it's really - you don't feel like you're missing much at all.

STEWART: You lead me to my next question. I wonder if you noticed a change in your attitude towards meat now that you've been meat-free for almost half a month.

Mr. DREHER: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. You know, I read a lot of Michael Pollin, and I am not only Christian, but I am a conservative, and a "crunchy" conservative. I wrote the book on "Crunchy Cons," and I find that don't need meat as much. I told my wife that when Lent is over, I don't want to go back to eating as much meat.

I am an enthusiastic carnivore, but I find that I really - having gone without meat for only two weeks, and having the next month ahead of me, I don't really need it as much as I thought I did. And I want to eat better, and eat better meat, meat that's not been factory farmed, once we get out of Lent. And because I know I can do with a lot less meat, I can afford the more expensive, pasture-raised meat.

STEWART: Now, had you ever contemplated giving up meat before this for other reasons than religion?

Mr. DREHER: No, not really. When I read this great book by Matthew Scully, who is a former Bush speechwriter. He wrote a book called "Dominion" about animal welfare, and he is a vegetarian. He really challenged my conservative ideas and ideology about meat eating by talking about the way we treat animals, and as a conservative that really got to me, and spoke to me. But as an enthusiastic carnivore, I quickly forgot about his message, and his moral message, once confronted with a Chipotle burrito.

STEWART: One of the big issues here for you - the reason you're doing this is because of your faith. What religious lessons are you learning from giving up meat?

Mr. DREHER: Well, I'll tell you, the reason that we have Lent, such an austere Lent, is to remind us that, you know, we aren't slaves to our appetite, that we should subordinate our material needs and our physical appetites to higher spiritual principles. And Lent is a time to refocus on that, and to realize that we are more than just what we eat, and I'm also thinking a whole lot about the way we relate to the material world in general as Christians, that it's not just there for our use, for our - to use and abuse as we sit fit, but that it has to be ordered rightly, and our relationship to the material world has to be ordered rightly. Lent and giving up meat, and giving up diary too, is a time to refocus on what's really important.

STEWART: The nuts and bolts. How did you handle those initial meat cravings?

Mr. DREHER: Hot sauce, lots of hot sauce. I've gone through so much sambal sauce, and I tell you, one thing that I think discourages people from trying vegetarian eating is we think that the food is going to be bland. But if you expose yourself to food cultures, people who know how to do great things without meat - Middle Eastern food culture, Asian and Indian, you can eat really well without having meat in the diet. And have lots of hot sauce, too, to cover the tofu.

STEWART: Rod Dreher is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. He's blogging about his new meat-free life, and you can find a link to that on our website at npr.org/bryantpark. Good luck, Rod.

Mr. DREHER: Thanks a lot.

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