At David Creech’s suggestion, many of us ELCA World Hunger staff have gone vegetarian for Lent. (He explains why in previous posts, like yesterday’s.) Admittedly, I’m on the “vegetarian lite” plan – only abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. But even so, and even only a week into it, the experience has been educational for me.

I’ve never attempted to be vegetarian, but nor am I especially carnivorous. In fact, I find nothing appetizing about a steak or a roast; big slabs of meat kind of gross me out. At the same time, I really like most vegetables. I eat vegetarian meals regularly, though not exclusively, simply out of preference. So I didn’t think skipping meat two days a week would be particularly difficult – or even different – and I liked the reasons for doing it. I agreed to participate without hesitation.

And this is where the role of meat in my life and culture began asserting itself. I myself had no hesitation about an experiment in vegetarianism. Not so my family. I am the primary meal-maker in the house, and there was swift resistance to the idea of several weeks of a vegetarian menu. Not keen on preparing different food for myself and them, we agreed on the two-day-a-week plan. Lesson one: there is social pressure for me to eat meat, even in my own home. Or maybe especially there, since unlike a restaurant, we don’t each get exactly what we want every meal. My choices are tied to the choices of others.

I’m also learning that meat can be difficult to avoid. Compared to much of the world, meat here is cheap and plentiful, and therefore ubiquitous. It is on offer everywhere I go, and often, it’s no more expensive than non-meat choices. Last Wednesday, I consciously looked for vegetarian choices on a menu and discovered that there weren’t many. Lesson two: meaty meals can be easier to obtain than vegetarian ones. There’s a cultural expectation and incentive to eat meat every day.

Then there’s the challenge of remembering what day it is. It was sheer luck that I didn’t eat meat yesterday. At lunchtime, I opened the refrigerator and saw some leftover soup. I considered it, but decided that a leftover beet burger sounded better, so I had that instead. It wasn’t until I started thinking about dinner that I realized it was Wednesday and I almost ate Southwestern Chicken soup for lunch. Lesson three: when you live surrounded by a wide variety of plentiful food, it’s easy to be careless about what you eat.

All of this awareness in only a week! It’ll be interesting to see what else we learn – both individually and as a group – by the time Easter rolls around.

-Nancy Michaelis