Hi. Meet me, Lauren Genninger-Goldfarb. I'm an avid foodie, traveler, and animal lover. I also happen to be a vegetarian. (That's me at the Royal Palace of Madrid in March, 2016.)
I was raised without meat. From day one, my parents fed me based on the vegetarian diets they already adhered to. When I was old enough to make the decision for myself they gave me the choice; do you want to eat meat or not? Already used to my lifestyle, I chose to stay a vegetarian.
As I grew older, my vegetarianism became more of a personal and ethical choice. I saw meat as it was: the dead body of an animal. It took me until very recently to discover that many Americans don't see it the same way.
In March of 2016, I took a trip to Spain with my high school Spanish class. We spent a week visiting Madrid, Toledo (pictured above), and Barcelona. It didn't take me long to fall in love with this country. The culture, the people, the language, the food; everything was full of life. People there knew how to live.
Really, I can't stress this enough. THE FOOD. We spent a great deal of our free time roaming through mercados (Spanish markets) like el Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid where I ate delicacies like burrata cheese on toast drizzled with balsamic vinegar and tomato jam (pictured above) and croquetas de papa (potato croquettes, pictured below).
On one of our last days in Spain we took a trip to el Mercado de La Boqueria, a market in Barcelona. It was beautiful and full of energy and life, much like the rest of the city. Our tour guide immediately took us over to a stand where jamón ibérico (iberico ham, pictured below) was sold.
He bought a few little slices for us to try and passed them around. I, of course, did not partake. I watched as my classmates' eyes rolled back in their heads in pleasure as they tasted it and (without tasting the ham) I realized that this was no ordinary meat.
A classmate asked how much a leg of the ham would cost. Our guide laughed. "Demasiado para nosotros," he said. Translation: t
oo much for us. My classmates were confused. Why would a ham cost too much? Our guide explained that the pigs from which true jamón ibérico comes from are raised in the beautiful Spanish countryside, not normal farms. They are fed a strict diet of bellotas (acorns) as tradition requires. He explained that to our eyes, these pigs lived the high life.
They are, in a way, the crown jewel of Spain. They deserve respect and proper treatment, he said.
We then continued on to tour the section of the mercado devoted to el carne, the meat. As we passed by the different cases of various animals and their respective body parts, my classmates began to back away in disgust. The meat put on display in these cases didn't look like meat the way it does in the United States. It wasn't chopped up and wrapped in plastic. There were goat heads, cow stomach lining, whole un-butchered chickens, pig feet, and brains.
I, however (the vegetarian), was not disgusted. From a very young age, I had developed an awareness that meat was simply a dead animal. Did I have any interest in eating it? No. But was I disgusted by seeing the meat in it's unprocessed and true form? No. And neither were the Spanish people surrounding us. This interested me.
Many of my classmates, coming from a country where processed food rules, were so distanced from the reality of what they were putting in their bodies that the sight of the meat in its natural form made them sick. They, for possibly the first time, understood that those burgers and hot dogs they eat were once living, breathing animals.
This separation from reality was no fault of my classmates. It was, I realized, the fault of our society. We live in a country where the mass food/meat industry has grown to be too large. Animals are raised and slaughtered without a second thought in massive quantities.
There is no respect paid in the way that the Spanish pay respect to their iberico pigs. In the States there is no developed understanding that allows most civilians to connect the deli meat they pick up at the supermarket to the pigs from which it came.
Here I propose a challenge: I am not asking everyone to convert to vegetarianism, only to think. Next time you order a burger or buy meat at the grocery store, take a second and think about what it is you're putting in your body. Think about how that burger was once a cow.
Eating meat is a natural part of human life. We, societally, have simply become too distanced from what meat really is. If you can eat meat but cannot handle seeing a photo of a goat head, maybe you should reevaluate your relationship to the food you're consuming.