I'm A Vegetarian...In Love With A Butcher!

By Lorette C. Thiessen

For years I had put off the personal choice I needed to make for my health and my planet's welfare. My vegetarian friends would prod me with statistics, pictures of animal torture, and copies of vegetarian magazines left in my bathroom magazine rack.

But I liked Kentucky Friend Chicken, and having cut down on red meat, I felt entitled to Kentucky's finest.

Then I moved west to try out Vancouver life. A house was advertised for six hundred dollars in the paper. It was in the industrial district, and when I signed the lease I failed to notice the slaughterhouse a block north.

The first morning there, a horrifying stench of rotting flesh sent me hurling in the bathroom. After two weeks of chickens screeching all day and all night, the reality of their torment hit me and I vowed never to eat flesh again.

I researched through health publications, concerned I was losing nourishment out of kindness to God's other creatures. That was how I learned that I was actually doing my body a favor. Cancer and stroke, the number one killers of this continent, could both be nearly eradicated by a vegetable diet. I came to view all of what I had been taught about meat as a big lie. I learned about the depletion of rain forests and the hunger of third-world children who didn't have enough to eat because American cattle industries bought up their land. As long as I had believed that humans needed animal flesh, I believed these evils were justified.

With my new belief system, relations with my family and carnivorous friends were sometimes testy. Why did I care more about animals than humans? they wanted to know. But grassroots activism alleviated the guilt of my years of blindness, and it seemed to me a planetary emergency to save my loved ones from a cancerous future. I handed out flyers at McDonald's. I hung photos of dead cows on my family's fridge. I wrote articles about slaughter for zines, and when the mainstream press wouldn't pick them up, I photocopied them and left them in doctors' offices and mall food courts.

Then, I fell in love with a butcher.

The evening I met Pedro was magical. We met at a Latin dance club and shared a drink and many dances. He tried to show me merengue and salsa, traditional Spanish dances, and my failure to perform the steps left us breathless and laughing. We went for coffee after and talked late into the night. I was intoxicated by his eyes, so full of kindness and understanding. It had been years since I had felt this kind of connection to a date. I'd been single since a sad breakup several years before, and Pedro was an exciting, passionate, and smart suitor whose strength and sense of humor melted years of sadness away. Around three a.m. I said, "Pedro, I hate to end the laughter here, but I have to get up for work in less than four hours." Pedro drove me home. "I have to get up early for work, too, but I've had a wonderful time meeting you. Can I see you again?"

I wrote out my home number, and my work number as well. "I work at the gallery at the Eaton Centre," I told him. "What about you?"

"I am a professional butcher," he said. "manager of the deboning department."

My jaw dropped. I was horrified. This incredible person that I already felt so much for ...dare we say love at first sight?...was a butcher.

"What's wrong?" he asked, puzzled.

"I am a vegetarian," I said quietly. "I have been for five years."

There was a long silence. Then both of us just started laughing. I laughed at the irony until tears started down my cheeks.

I'd still like to see you again," he said.

I did not hear form Pedro for over a week. My disappointment was strong, but it was outweighed by relief. After all, did I expect this man to change jobs if he wanted to date me? Better to let him move on. Then when he called me the following weekend, I decided that a second date hardly constituted a lifelong commitment, and it would be nice to get out. I suggested we meet later on, for dancing. God knows a dinner date was best avoided.

Pedro's persistence and charm won a third date. Now it is half a year later and we've decided with some certainty that we want to spend our lives together. Yet I am still a vegetarian, and my boyfriend is still a butcher.

We share similar spiritual, familial, and creative vision. We have a loving connection and solid communication. Without these things, we would not be together. It is still difficult for me to reconcile my personal disgust with the slaughter industry to the fact that the man of my dreams is content to make his living this way. It is out of mutual respect that we manage.

I cook for him- scrambled tofu for breakfast with no bacon on the BLT. He won't order steak in front of me, or put meat in the fridge. I feel guilty that I cannot share in his work trials, because he won't talk about his tasks. He knows I cannot bear to hear of hooks and sides of cow.

I share with him my beliefs and gourmet cooking, and the latter is enough to melt any man. But I won't be fanatical anymore, delivering sermons every time a relative serves us turkey. He ponders the health aspects carefully, but is not convinced that our medics would continue to recommend what I call poisonous if it truly was. My stories of the North-American cattle industry causing starvation in Latin countries hits home because Pedro is from South America. But there, his family's livelihood has always been their butcher shop. These were the skills he brought to Canada. It is difficult enough to find work, but for an Hispanic immigrant to find a well paying job is even harder than for a born Canadian. His work pays more than twice what I earn at the bookstore, and he reminds me that books kill trees, too. I have to be understanding of these factors.

I believe whole-heartedly that I will always be with Pedro. He feels I am the woman he's been searching for all his life. When we are together, we are happiest. We laugh like I have laughed with no one else. We are so affectionate that friends comment on my rosy disposition. Both of us are too happy to give up love - and we believe that love can conquer even such a gulf in opinion.

Because he is around me most of the time, it means Pedro is eating less meat. This alleviates a lot of my worry over his health. I feel I have improved his diet...and in exchange, the best exercise I can get is dancing merengue and salsa with my one true love.