• Mary K. Armstrong

To Be or Not To Be... A Vegetarian

Two hands, one with meat products and the other with vegetables and fruit.

That is the question.

During my winter stay in Mexico, my niece (also named Mary) who is a vegetarian joined me for a week. I have plenty of vegetarian friends, as have you, no doubt, but this was the first time I’d spent twenty-four hours a day with someone who considered eating meat an act of cruelty. Mary (my namesake) is unusually thoughtful about life in general. She glows with the clear skin and healthy energy that comes from mindful eating and a careful lifestyle. During our week together I had a chance to witness what vegetarianism means in practice.

Since we were in Mexico, our breakfast tortillas were paired with frijoles, the refried beans that are a staple of almost every Mexican meal. "Were the beans cooked in lard?", she needed to know. That would never have occurred to me.

One night we splurged on a fancy dinner in an upscale restaurant. Dinner turned out to be a traumatic experience when Mary took her first bite of a tortilla filled with ... CHICKEN! Both the cook and the waiter had carelessly overlooked her request for the vegetarian version of the meal. We’d both ordered the same thing, except that hers was the vegetarian version. Mine included chicken strips and I was perfectly happy, never thinking of the trauma those feeling, sentient birds had suffered before ending up on my plate. Meanwhile, my niece was bolting for the bathroom, horrified that she had unwittingly chomped down on a winged creature that had suffered in order to end up on her plate.

When my niece went back home, my discomfort around the killing of animals and birds for food continued to disturb my peace of mind. The other day I was shopping in Loblaws.

I wanted something for a special dinner. Passing the cheaper cuts, I moved onto steak. Rib eye. My favourite. I could already taste its tender flesh. Yes, that’s what we’d have. My anticipation of its meaty goodness didn’t last. From somewhere inside I was experiencing the uncomfortable awareness that slaughter for cows and pigs was even more brutal than for chickens. I’d seen video clips of the needless cruelty pigs suffered at the hands of the men whose job it was to move them to slaughter. Perhaps it was the humans’ shame that made them unnecessarily cruel. We know that pigs are highly intelligent. It must be hard to drive a consciousness with the intelligence of the family dog to its bloody end. Who knows why they are needlessly cruel?

Cows being led to slaughter seem to fare a little better. At best they are stunned and less aware of the terrifying end they are facing. I tried to reassure myself that it wasn’t so bad to eat beef. But then I remembered how their methane farts are destroying the atmosphere. We pay a terrible price for insisting on eating beef. How do I resolve this dilemma?

Will I become a vegetarian? Will you?

I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts.

Comment below, or email me at


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