That may not seem like big news, per se, but I was vegetarian for a long time, and some habits die hard, or are difficult to explain to other people. I made the switch around fifteen years ago, after listening to a radio interview with Howard Lyman, a former rancher who had become an advocate against the egregious practices performed by the meat industry, and who eventually chose the ultimate middle-finger salute to the industry by becoming a vociferous vegetarian. I found that compelling, as well as poetically hilarious, and decided to follow suit.
I gave up meat for probably seven or eight years, until I started spending lots of time with a woman (it always seems to come down to that, doesn’t it?) who was mostly vegetarian, but would occasionally eat teriyaki chicken or something, which always smelled amazing and renewed cravings that I’d forgotten or buried. That choice worked for me. Eating meat every once in a while could be okay, and was probably good for my body, too. I started to incorporate meat back into my diet again, slowly. I would sometimes order a burrito with chicken on it, or get curried chicken at a Thai restaurant, maybe one or two meals a week. Maybe once or twice a year, I’d have a burger. And not a veggie burger, either, but a BURGER burger. I didn’t have to tell myself I couldn’t have any of that stuff—nothing makes you want something more than when you tell yourself you can’t have it—I just didn’t want it, and it took a while to develop a taste for it again.S
One of the interesting things about making the switch to a vegetarian diet and then back to an omnivorous one is that there are still habits that I find myself clinging to that are hard to explain, or simply don’t make any sense. I have a hard time watching someone pull a turkey leg off and eat it, for example. It kind of grosses me out to watch the tendons pull and everything. For a long time, I wouldn’t cook meat in my kitchen, I would only order it when I was eating in a restaurant. I have a couple of formerly vegetarian friends who are the same way, so I don’t feel like a freak, at least not in that respect. Ha ha.
My family members were kind of mystified by all of these changes. It took years for them to understand my decision to become vegetarian, and once they finally got it, I gave them The Old Switcheroo and started eating meat again. Many of my friends and family members are excellent cooks (a few are even at the professional level), and I would always try whatever they made, which led to some confusion on their part. “Hey,” I heard more than once, “I thought you were a vegetarian, but you just ate pulled pork.” “That’s right,” I would smile mischievously and say, “because you spent a whole day laboring over it and barbecuing it to perfection, and I’m sure it’s the most amazing pulled pork I’ll have in my whole life. I’m not gonna miss out on that.”
These days, I pretty much eat everything—albeit in moderation—though I do try to get organic, free-range, naturally fed meat instead of chickens who’ve been crammed into tiny cages and force-fed ground chicken beaks and eyes and stuff. It’s easy to make choices like that living in Portland, since the quality of restaurants here is famously high, and demand creates a good supply. I’m sure if I lived in pretty much any part of the rest of the country, it would be much more difficult—not to mention expensive—to eat this way. I should mention that this kind of thing is what the rest of the country finds quaint (if they’re being kind; ‘precious’, if they’re not) about Portland. There’s a famous scene in the TV show “Portlandia” that takes concern for the welfare of animals (while still ultimately choosing to eat them, it should be noted) to new and funny heights.
I told you all that to tell you that I set a new standard this week, by cooking beef AND chicken in my kitchen. It felt very strange and funny to be shopping in the meat section again. As I was preparing dinner (stir-fried beef, green peppers, and green onions over Japanese noodles) I wrote on Twitter, “For the first time in years, I just stir-fried actual beef, in my actual home, to be actually eaten by the actual me.” For the record, it was delicious. What I had forgotten, however, is the extraordinary length of time that the smell of beef lingers in the places where it’s been cooked. I went out the next day to run some errands, and when I got home, the bovine smell was still pretty overwhelming, and it stuck around until yesterday, which was three days after I cooked that meal. I don’t imagine I’ll be doing that very often.
So there you have it. I pretty much eat everything, and now I even cook it at home sometimes, too. But I do still have some quirks to deal with. Actually, I have rather a lot of quirks, but you’ll have to wait until some not-so-distant point in the future in order to read about them.