I bought three shirts on Monday, January 2nd. My family—namely my parents, sisters Melody and Katelyn, Aunt and Uncle, and my grandparents on my mother’s side (those on my father’s side are dead)—also bought me various clothing items as Christmas presents this year. Some shirts, a heavier military style jacket in navy, some leather shoes that look like Chuck Taylor’s but aren’t, a ski cap; all of which maintain their original thread count, are as bright as the day they were sewn, and are, most importantly, new.
New clothes have a baptismal affect on me. Their newness is a fresh start, a clean slate and the ability to think of and define myself as someone I was not only moments before. To consider who I am, what I believe and what that means. Are these the clothes of the old me? This cut, this color, this pattern, and this combination is the fashion of the person I want to be. Forget the former things baby, and check out the new sneaks.
Inevitably, when the new year approaches the question of “resolutions” arises. I seldom think very long about my answer to this question and somehow I’m always surprised that it is asked.
“Do you have any new years resolutions?”
I respond, “Hmm, not that I’ve thought of but maybe I could…”
These hip-shot resolutions last about as long as I consider the question. In the past, I’ve tried adding to my schedule some humanitarian volunteer work, playing guitar every day, writing a song-a-week (with lyrics and even singing!), regularly attending morning prayer services, and (that is until lent of recent past) vegetarianism several times and not one of those resolutions ever did stick as a consistent or meaningful part of my life. They were lofty ideals that sounded good at the time but were never motivated by a realization of some existential truth or an emotional, life-changing event. They were pretentious. They were prayers of lead tied to balloons of hot air.
The new clothes are a similar façade. They’re only new for so long, eventually becoming one with the rest of the wardrobe. And the “new me” fades just as the dye in the clothes after a thousand washes. Then I search again for another renewal, a second and third and fiftieth baptism. My problem is these fabric baptisms are the same as my new year’s resolutions: the direction of the change is backwards.
I imagine myself doing all these lofty and righteous things and I like how that person looks on the outside, so I try to make my outside resemble that person. Take on his clothes. Resolve to do what he does. But I don’t consider the cost of believing what he believes. In years past, I tried on vegetarianism because I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to look better, sexier, and more attractive with the rational that eating more veggies would be healthier than the pork and bovine I had enjoyed. That translated into a few days of suffering through meals of salads, cans of green beans and peas, dipping baby carrots into peanut butter before finally binging on a double cheeseburger with bacon. I actually like eating those veggies! But the superficial motivation for restricting my diet was chasing after the wind. As the preacher says, that’s vanity, bro.
My most recent foray into vegetarian living, as is any drastic lifestyle change that is worth a damn, was this time motivated by something more significant than waistline. Modern meat production in this country is anti-Christian. It is unethical, dehumanizing and unsustainable from every means of measurement (social, economic, environmental, psychological, etc., etc., etc.) Without telling the sordid tale here, because other people have already told it better than I could (Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals”, the documentary Food, Inc. are two examples), I can no longer look at a hamburger, a strip of bacon, or a chicken breast without wondering if the cow my burger came from lived in a cage in which it couldn’t turn around, or how many antibiotics the pig had taken to combat the rampant disease that spreads from the close proximity the pigs are inventoried, or if the chicken was slaughtered after its legs gave out from the immense weight he was engineered to grow (which assumes the chicken spent much of its life standing to begin with!) I used to put this in my body? This is “food”? And I used to eat these creatures? I can’t avoid thinking about that anymore. I can’t block it out of my mind and ignore it. I cannot, as I paraphrase Foer’s paraphrase of Franz Kafka, “choose to forget.” It isn’t right. These are not the animals slaughtered in The Garden, and weren’t those animals begrudgingly killed to begin with?
We worry so much about the pollution our industry and our cars emit and how it is accelerating climate change in the world, but did you know that animals accounts for more CO2 production as our machines? According to Scientific American “It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.” All so I can eat a hamburger that costs $1. How is that sustainable? Meat is so easy and normal and commonplace and I imagine many feel it is a basic right but I have no idea where that meat came from, how that animal was treated, who killed it or how it was killed, who processed, packaged, and shipped it to us, and that lack of intentionality, that hip-shot thinking, is literally killing us. I can’t pretend that the problem doesn’t exist anymore. All the excuses I kept were childish and immature. I can’t say no any longer. I’ve changed. I am baptized.
I didn’t resolve to eat vegetarian. I didn’t imagine this different version of myself in these animal-loving clothes or as one who joined PETA, or took part in animal activism; my beliefs were shaken by the truth and a vegetarian is who I am now. It isn’t a phase. It isn’t something I am trying on for size. It isn’t something I’m doing to appear sexier. It’s just the facts. A stream popping up in the desert. A path in the wilderness. Behold, all things are become new.
Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.
—Franz Kafka, while admiring fish in an aquarium