A New Year's Resolution–Sort Of

January 6th, 2010

This is a tale of two books, neither of which I’ve read, but which together inspired me to change my life.  For at least a year.

But first, just so you know, I didn’t wake up all hungover and bloated on New Year’s Day and start making lists of how “this year is going to be different.” I’m too old to believe that January 1 is anything special. I’ve seen too many come and go and can’t help noticing that the woman who wakes up on on the first day of the new year is the same one who went to sleep the night before. She’s just a day older.

And yet there’s this:: I’ve decided to be a vegetarian in 2010.

I realize that’s not a big deal. A good portion of you reading this blog are probably vegetarians or are at least trying to eat less meat. The point isn’t that I’m doing this thing: the point is how I was inspired.

Part 1: I heard a snippet of an interview on NPR back in mid-December. I only got to hear a few seconds which is the story of my radio-listening in general since I’m always going on short pick-up drives and tend to punch the controls every few seconds until I arrive at my destination, but I managed to catch someone saying, “The best thing any single individual can do for the environment is to become a vegetarian.”

How’s that for clean and simple? It certainly spoke to me: I’m worried about the environment and I’ve known for years that the amount of energy needed to make any kind of meat, from beef to chicken, is much higher than that needed to make a comparable number of calories of grain and vegetables. So there’s that. And I hate reading about how cows are treated, crammed into small pens, forcefed grain and corn when they should be eating grass until their stomachs bloat and they have to be dosed with heavy amounts of antibiotics. And then there are the growth hormones. And the fact their gas is a huge polluter. It’s all bad, really. There is free-range grass-fed beef–at around twenty bucks a pound. I try to buy it and just can’t bear to pay that much. Chickens aren’t treated so great either.

I like animals. I like clean air. I’m worried about the future. I get that if we all were suddenly to stop eating meat, the world would be a much better place (except maybe for those in the meat industry, but maybe they could try growing some crops).

I did some sleuthing (i.e. typed some words into Google) and discovered that the NPR interview was with Mark Bittman, my favorite NY Times food writer, who’s written a book called Food Matters about the environmental impact of our food choices on the planet. I can relate to Bittman. He’s not all laid-back and groovy and “meat will make you sick, man.” It’s not that he finds meat unappealing and I don’t either. In fact, I love steak. The point is: it’s simply better for our world for us not to eat meat. So we shouldn’t.

Part 2: I was on a vacation with my family over the holidays and we’d brought along some movie screeners to watch. One of them was Julie and Julia (or is it vice versa? I’d look it up but by the time I wrote it down, I’d have forgotten it again). My movie review in a nutshell: loved Julia, hated Julie. But that’s not the point. The point is that in the movie–which is BASED ON A BOOK (see? literary)–Julie decides she’ll set a year-long goal: for exactly one year, she’ll work her way through Julia Child’s iconic French cookbook.

Maybe it was the fact that 2009 was just ending that made the idea of a year-long goal so appealing to me. I can remember only one other time that I had a goal that was meant to last for one specific year: I decided to try being gluten-free like my son who has Celiac Disease for an entire year. It was a combination sympathy/curiosity impulse. I mostly kept it, although the rules were far more relaxed for me than they were for him. I could, for instance, eat soy sauce in restaurants which he can’t, since there’s a small amount of wheat in soy cause (crazy, right?) But I didn’t eat bread or get pastries at Starbucks, and if you don’t think that was a big deal, then you don’t know me very well.

So there I am: Mark Bittman’s words are ringing in my ears and I want a year-long goal. You already know what I decided.

But it’s not exactly a New Year’s resolution: it’s just a change in my life that happened to start on January 1 and will end on December 31.

Or maybe not. The truth is, this isn’t like Julie Powell cooking her way through a book of recipes. This is a decision that feels morally and emotionally right to me. If the year goes well–and, frankly, if I don’t gain like twenty pounds doing this (which is my secret fear)–I think I’d like to do this for . . . well . . . forever.

A couple of my kids have joined me, with the agreement that they can lapse now and then which is more than fine. It’s better to move in the right direction slowly than to jump over there and jump back because it’s too hard.

So far, it’s been a piece of cake. Several pieces, actually. I made this gluten-free milk chocolate cake that’s kind of amazing.

Hmm.  About those twenty pounds . . .