About halfway through my freshman fall, I became a vegetarian. I sat down one day with a group of friends at Homeplate (one of the dining areas on campus that, thanks to a series of complex and unnavigable renovations has recently been transformed into some sort of hidden Narnia behind Food Court), my plate heavy with roast beef and mashed potatoes, like those of so many other people around me. I began to cut into the first piece, a deep, red liquid spilling out over the white ceramic.
"What is that?" I asked my friend sitting next to me.
"...blood?" he said.
In that moment, I realized that I was eating an animal. Not Animals, captial-A, abstraction, but a specific animal, an individual, a living creature - just like me. I quietly finished my mashed potatoes.
And that's what I've been doing ever since - quietly finishing my mashed potatoes. I was never an outspoken vegetarian; when people asked me about my choice, I skirted the question; I wasn't sure why, I just knew how I felt. But recently, I've decided to become more outspoken about not eating meat. I realized that every time I got a meal with someone, I was witnessing them making a choice about food - we were participating in a ritualistic cultural act together; we were each other's audiences, both of our meals and our conversations.
"Can we go to FoCo for dinner tonight?" my friend asked.
"Why?" I countered. "Do they have anything good?"
"They have tuna!"
Much in the manner of someone who throws red paint on people wearing fur, I responded "Do you know how many dolphins died to make that tuna possible?"
Needless to say, we went to FoCo, and she got the tuna.
Yet I remained undeterred - I wanted people to be informed about their food choices; I wanted them to know what I knew about factory farms, about animal cruelty, about sustainable agriculture. A fresh can of paint in my hand, I persisted.
"Hey, how are you? I haven't seen you in ages!" I had run into an acquaintance in FoCo.
"I'm good, I'm good... just about to order a chicken sandwich..." he said inconsequentially.
I thought for a moment. "Can I tell you something about your chicken?"
"Er... I guess?"
"Seriously, tell me if you don't want to know. I don't have to tell you." And I meant it - I didn't want to ruin his dinner without his permission.
"No, go ahead."
I grinned. "Your chicken is 11% feces-infected water!" I stated proudly.
And I told him about USDA regulations, and how in fact it's encouraged to contaminate chickens like that during slaughter, and on and on until I could tell I had gotten my point across. I apologized for spoiling his chicken sandwich and wished him a good dinner.
A few minutes later, I was sitting down with my friends; I heard someone call my name.
"Alexis!" I turned. "I got a veggie burger!"
Chicken Sandwich Boy had gotten a veggie burger. I had convinced someone, even for just one meal, to choose not to eat meat. The feeling still sticks with me - I felt that if I could make one change like that, I could make a thousand changes like that. If I made a thousand changes, that might add up to one big change, like a factory farm going out of business. Even if it only mattered to Chicken Sandwich Boy and me, I made a difference.
And it struck me that that difference couldn't have happened anywhere - at Dartmouth, people are willing to listen. Even if the vast majority of my friends currently and will continue to eat meat, they're still interested in other perspectives, other approaches to what seems like an almost intuitive thing. In talking to my friends about vegetarianism, I've come to realize a new dimension to my friendships at Dartmouth: classrooms are a wonderful forum for sharing ideas, but so are dining halls, dorm rooms, and the Green. I can't say with certainty that this pervasive intellectual curiosity - the need-to-know-why - is particular to Dartmouth; the only certainty that I have is that at Dartmouth, that curiosity is met with encouragement, with eager ears, open arms, and a critical eye. Dear Old Dartmouthians not only genuinely care about each other; we are sincerely interested in each other's ideas, passions, and pipe dreams. Which is why I can eat a veggie sandwich while my best friend sits across the table eating a tuna steak, and we can still have an amazing conversation.