Documenting the journey from vegetarian to ethical eating
Marissa Landrigan grew up in New England eating meat, steak being her favorite. After watching a documentary on factory farming in college, she became a hard-core vegetarian.
Her memoir, “The Vegetarian's Guide to Eating Meat,” documents her transition into vegetarianism and ethical eating. At first, she thought simply foregoing meat and eating faux meat frozen food products was enough, but she ends up doing a deeper dive into exploring food systems: talking to farmers at farmer's markets, volunteering on a farm, elk hunting in Montana, and watching a steer get humanely slaughtered.
“I thought I would cry or throw up,” says Landrigan, who teaches creative, professional and digital writing at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “But it seemed OK since the process was respectful and everyone involved with the slaughter had a sense of the sacrifice they were participating in.”
Landrigan realized that eliminating meat from her diet wasn't as important as finding ethically sourced meats and produce, and she started eating meat again after seven years. When she found herself re-incorporating meat into her diet, she took to the web to find others like her. She found nothing, so decided to write her book.
“I want everyone to think about all of the ethical issues that are part of their diet,” Landrigan says. “When I was a vegetarian, I ignored all of that.”
She adds that the food choices we make are not black and white: meat being bad and vegetables being good. It's more of a gray area. Most of our food involves suffering, whether from the actual animal or the workers on farms or in factories. She says if we acknowledge that suffering is involved, we will have a better grip on how to minimize that impact.
Her biggest tip on ethical eating is to shop local because it gives you a chance to see and meet farmers as well as support the local economy and community.
Her favorite recipe to make is chicken potpie, but she still keeps produce a main staple in her meals.
“I learned a lot about becoming a better eater when becoming a vegetarian,” Landrigan says. “To be a really successful vegetarian, you have to rethink your thinking that meat is the center of the plate — the produce is.”
In Western Pennsylvania, she feels lucky to be around grocery stores that give her easy access to hormone-free, grass-fed beef, as well as having plenty of farmer's markets to visit and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions. And, she says the local restaurant scene is something special.
“It's nice to go out to restaurants and see the sourcing on the menu,” Landrigan says.
She's set to move to Forest Hills this summer with her husband and is already looking forward to planting her own garden. Though she says she's a “horrible plant killer,” she's up for the challenge of growing her own produce.
Landrigan's book can be purchased through online retailers and locally at the White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield. She'll be holding a book launch party from 7 to 9 p.m. May 12 at White Whale.
Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.