*I haven't found the right place to publish this piece, so I figured I might as well post it on ye olde blogge.
When I was 17 years old, I stopped eating meat. It wasn’t because I’d seen PETA2 stickers with illustrations of cute pigs platered on the stalls of the girl’s bathroom. It wasn’t because I’d read an offputting book like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals hadn’t been published yet). It wasn’t even because I wanted to lose weight and chose to restrict my diet in an excusable way. No, it was because my best friend called me the evening to let me that she had decided to go vegetarian and tthat I should too. But instead of laughing it off and saying “Nahhh, I’m going to stick with meat! Sorry!” I decided I was up for a challenge, and agreed to it. My best friend’s vegetarianism lasted about two months – seven years later I was still saying no to edibles that had once been alive.
My first few weeks of vegetarianism were strange and unfamiliar. Never before had I restricted my diet, and I was forced to negotiate which items were “safe” to eat and which weren’t. Was it okay to eat the leftover Chinese food if I picked the chicken out of it? It was almost like having a food allergy to meat and I decided what risks were worth taking for the sake of getting fed. After one month I craved meat so badly that I asked my mom to go into McDonald’s and buy me a Big Mac so I wouldn’t have to go inside and face my friends who worked there suspect that something fishy (beefy?) was up with my diet. Eating a Big Mac was one of the single worst restaurant experiences of my life. It was soft, like sinking your teeth into carbohydrate-flavoured silly putty tasted so awful that my vegetarianism was cemented for the very, very long time.
A few years prior to my dietary switch, I was the terrible kind of picky eater whose mom was willing to cook a pepper steak for breakfast before school just to get me to eat. Not bacon and eggs, straight up steak. Even with such carnivorous tastes, it was strangely easy for me to forgo meat. After the Big Mac Fiasco of 2006, I didn’t miss it at all. As an only child, my parents didn’t have other siblings to contend with at mealtimes, so vegetarian became the standard. My dad started to purchase smoked pork hocks from the butcher and hoard them in fridge, slicing off hunks at mealtimes to supplement the paltry, meat-free meals he was forced to eat.
Eventually I went away to University, and nothing really changed besides my social life and alcohol consumption levels. By the time I moved into my own apartment with roommates, I already been a vegetarian for three years. I was an adept cook and feeding myself wasn’t hard. I shared food with my roommates and cooked a lot of delicious vegetable curries and homemade pizza. As an Environmental Studies major, I learned about the carbon footprint of meat production and learned new ways of justifying my diet to myself and others. I was healthy and maybe even happy.
But then I graduated University and realized I was no longer close with the people I once shared every single meal with. I could feel a sea change swelling up within me, even though we humans are already more than 60% water. I decided I wanted to be open to every opportunity and embrace all aspects of life, even something as small as opening a menu and being able to order anything I damn well please. I went to brunch at Lady Marmalade with a good friend and decided to order the eggs benedict with brie, avocado and bacon. The rest is history, I guess.
Now I linger at the deli section of the grocery store without feeling guilt. I can peruse through the sections of my Betty Crocker cookbook that remained previously unexplored. In the past month I have discovered $3 banh mi, eaten pork dumplings, prosciutto and ordered sandwiches at Tim Hortons that weren’t egg salad (I always hated egg salad). I am overwhelmed by the variety of options of food there are available in this world. But with all this freedom it is harder than ever to make a choice about what to eat for dinner.
For dinner tonight, I bought a rotisserie chicken and ate it with my bare hands. I felt like Fred Flinstone, a cartoon barbarian in a ragged leopard-print toga gnawing away at the fleshy carcass. But despite this obvious display, I felt a deeper more primeval urge come to life as I gnawed on bones and gouged dark meat out of the juicy crevices of the roasted bird. For the first time in years, I felt what it was like to survive. Obviously buying a rotisserie chicken is vastly different than raising, slaughtering, plucking and preparing a chicken on my own but I respected that chicken deeply, even though I chose to devour it.
They (scientists?) say that every seven years all of your skin cells completely regenerate and technically you become a completely new person. That is me today, in regards to both my skin and my newfound diet.