I've become a vegetarian twice in my life. First in college, moved by environmental and economic (as in, meat production is inefficient) concerns. I made it without animal meat - fish are animals too - for a eyar before lapsing into a medium-rare entraña at my brother's birthday party at an Argentinean steakhouse.
The second time I quit meat, it happened gradually through my mid-to-late 20s. While I still harbored environmental and economic concerns, I started becoming deeply concerned about the plight of farm animals.
You see, I don't have a problem with death. I know my Joseph Campbell, I've watched The Lion King, I've read articles in Buddhist magazines reminding vegetarians that we're not absolved from the nourishment = death equation.
And I understand that farming destroys the habitat of some plants and animals. I know that pesticides kill bugs and weeds we deem undesirable. I'm aware that some animals get unfortunately caught in industrial harvesting machines.
As Alex Atala said in his Chef's Table episode, "behind every dish, there is death. And people choose to close their eyes to it."
Death to me is not the problem. I accept that everything alive must eventually die. The problem is that our closed eyes, our remove from death has allowed a cruel system to grow and cause pain and suffering to sentient beings. Death is inevitable, but abuse, isn't.
And trust me, I understand that food is an integral part of culture - I'm Brazilian, for crying out loud. In my family, we were given our first cuts of steak to suck on before we teethed.
My fondest childhood memories involve playing with my cousins in my grandparents' pool while my grandfather grilled meat for hours in his purpose-built churrasqueira. I can't - and don't particularly want to -separate the pool from the taste of picanha or chicken hearts or chouriço.
To boot, I like the taste of all those things.
Also, I know I'm missing out on the cultural experience when I travel to places like Iceland and don't try the puffin, or when I skip our on the freshly-slaughtered goat in Mongolia, or when I don't eat sushi in Japan.
Better writers have tackled this issue. There are also documentaries, and even an excellent edX course that shed light on the ways that our industrial food system is not good to the animals that nourish us.
Is vegetarianism the answer? Probably not, especially if you're not vegan and still consuming milk and eggs like I am.
But if vegetarianism isn't the answer, then what is?
For starters, I think that we need to reacquaint ourselves with the circle of life. We need to remember that something had to die for us to live. And we need to give that life the proper respect and reverence it deserves.
I'm hopeful that if we do, we can create a better food system.
I just don't know how to go about that.