I grew up mostly on a small farm. Up until I fled the nest we lived in a few different homes. All but one had enough land and outbuildings for my father to scratch his agricultural itch. It was never his occupation but something he enjoyed doing when not at work. This meant that we usually had at least one bull, three pigs, chickens and some horses from time to time. We ate a lot of beef, pork, eggs and horse. Just kidding. We rode the horse. I learned to never name the bulls or pigs because soon enough they would be cooling in a chest freezer in the garage wrapped up in white paper stamped with what section of the animal they were from. My point is, we ate A LOT of meat! Like most American families we usually had some combination of meat, veg and potato for dinner. I usually avoided the veg part. Once I moved out, even though I was cooking for a living, I ate like crap when it came to feeding myself. Meat lovers calzone from the local pizza hole, Hamburger Helper, corned beef hash from a can, Dinty Moore and the ever popular brick of ramen noodles. Now don’t get me wrong here. I fully understand that there is a more responsible way to eat when you’re a meat eater. There are plenty of things with dietary value. I was just young, lazy, broke and dumb.
Once I started to travel for a living it got worse. When you tour the US in a van you get very familiar with a number of roadside eateries. Denny’s, Taco Bell, Waffle House, Bickford’s, and if you had a good night at the merch booth you might treat yourself to a little Cracker Barrel. When I moved up to the tour bus it improved a bit. You are less on your own. Most times there is some form of catering at the venue. There is something called “after show food” though. This is take out that is ordered close to the show’s end so it’s sitting on your bus ready for you when you’re done working for the night. Two problems here. It is always late at night and 99 percent of the time it’s pizza. Usually the last pizza joint open is not the best quality and firing down a few slices right before bed is so wrong. This pattern went on for a few years.
At the age of 24 I was spending my second summer in a row on the Warped Tour. For those of you that don’t know, this is what they call punk rock summer camp. When you work on Warped Tour you spend the summer setting up shows in every parking lot, corn field and dust bowl across the US and Canada. Showers and hotels are few and far between as well as bathrooms not made of plastic that a truck dropped off that morning. There is good catering on the tour but you almost always had to stand in line for at least 30 minutes before getting served. Every day each bus would get a case of water and a 30 pack. The essentials for living. Add my horrible diet to nightly boozing and the disgusting smoking habit I had at the time and you have one unhealthy dude.
Warped Tour ended and I had a week or so to regroup before I headed to Europe for a month. I felt like garbage. The band I worked for at the time had some vegans in the bunch. I went out to eat with them occasionally and was quite surprised that the food was actually delicious! I made a deal with myself. For that month in Europe I would not drink, smoke or eat meat. Time for a cleanse of sorts. I owe a great deal to my tour mates from those days. Without their help it would have been very hard to navigate my way to vegetarianism. Especially in Europe. Lots of sweaty cheese and meat trays over there when you’re touring. Not big fans of refrigerators. Long story short, after a few months I eventually stopped smoking (this was my 20th or so attempt) cut down on the booze and never ate meat again.
It’s weird. I definitely don’t miss meat but we vegetarians love our “meat substitutes”. I’ve come across a lot of purists but most of us really go for veggie items modeled after some animal based item we grew familiar with while growing up. I don’t crave flesh but I do enjoy the comfort of a base protein. This is why we mold and season seitan, tempeh and tofu into amazing flavorful food. When I get questioned on this I attribute it to my upbringing. “Why don’t you just eat meat dude? If you’re gonna eat a burger it might as well be the real thing!” Well…no. I filled my meat quota years ago with that freezer in the garage and I like things similar but sans flesh because that’s what I was fed in my formative years. I think it’s ingrained in us unless you were raised vegetarian. I would love to say I’m perfectly happy with just vegetables in their pure form and grains and raw stuff and dirt and flowers and blah blah blah. I’ve got to respect that but it’s not the kind of vegetarian I am. It’s not the most healthy but it’s healthier. I didn’t go veg because of animal rights, global warming or any of the soapbox-y reasons out there although I do understand and embrace the importance of those bigger issues now that I’m older. I just wanted to feel less crappy and I do. Ten years later, I’ve gotten pretty good at this. You don’t have to spin your whole routine on it’s head. You can just eat vegetarian a couple times a week to feel less crappy. Then you get the side benefit of being able to righteously rant to your friends about how no blood was spilt for your meal and it’s better for the environment. Or maybe that’s a jerky quality only I have.
A while back I showed a friend of mine a picture of me from those Dinty Moore Waffle House beer drinkin smoking days. I was about 22 or so in the picture and he said I looked to be 42. Nowadays at 35 I probably look more like I should have back then. I know. It wasn’t just the quitting meat. You learn a lot about how to live better and smarter as you get older and I’ve applied these lessons but the vegetarianism sure as hell didn’t hurt. Thanks veggies!!
Oh yeah. My mother who got to prepare all those bulls and pigs we raised for dinner. She’s a vegetarian now too.