I stopped eating meat about three years ago. It more was difficult than I expected, and for a few months, I felt as if I was on a roller-coaster ride. Meat eating is an integral part of German culture, and at festivals like Oktoberfest meat consumption is staggering.
Oktoberfest started catering to vegetarian and vegan patrons in 2013, which was the year I became a vegetarian. The selection of foods was not that great, but at least I had something to eat. This meant I could drink gallons of beer on a full stomach, which is a wonderful thing, because if I drink on an empty stomach, all the beer rushes to my head and I become very loud and foul-mouthed troublemaker.
I ate meat all my life. It was either shop-bought or freshly killed. We hunted in the Bavarian forest, so fresh venison, wild boar, and pheasant were always available. The women in my family did not hunt or fish with us as it was too much of a queasy affair for them. We often teased them about how they found killing animals ghastly but had no problem cooking and eating meat.
I remember my decision to stop eating meat quite clearly. I was sitting in front of the family fireplace and listening to my brothers discussing the upcoming Sunday hunt. As they talked, I suddenly felt bad about killing animals and decided to immediately stop eating meat. We Germans love nature and probably have more wildlife sanctuaries than other countries, but we have no qualms about eating Katenspeck (smoked ham), Weisswurst, and Sauerbraten (pickled roast).
However, we respect the animals that we kill. When we hunt deer, we have a tradition of placing a fir twig in the dead animal’s mouth. This is known as the last bite or Der letzte biss in German. I don’t know if other countries have such respect for animals. When my family knew that I was going to become a vegetarian, they were horrified and didn’t speak to me for months. Then I had unexpected support from my sister Rika. As it turned out, she was slowly in the process of becoming a vegan. When she ate with friends, she ate only chicken or fish. My family gradually accepted that I did not want to eat meat, and the first member to accept me was my brother Hilmar. Only Uncle Walt and Aunt Betty remained against me.
Meat eating is bad for the planet and to a lesser extent, so is being vegetarian or vegan. Whatever we eat, we use limited natural resources to feed a growing human population. We have some very tough decisions to make about how we live on planet earth. Nature can easily bounce back, but we may not.
It’s great fun going to Oktoberfest. With foods like soy burgers, spicy tofu medallions, and veggie goulash with delicious onion and small noodles (spaetzle), I’m spoilt for choice. I am glad I stopped eating meat three years ago. Life is so much better.
Photo courtesy Nikater: The Hintersee Lake near Ramsau in Bavaria, Germany. CC BY-SA 3.0.