In a family that ate meat, being a vegetarian was never something I considered. Although I had been a picky eater from the start, and still am, the concept of foregoing meat entirely was not even on my radar as an option. People ate turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Easter, lobster all summer along and a healthy dose of chicken and filet mignon in between. Of course there were loads of vegetables to accompany those meats, but a meatless meal was a rarity. In fact, it didn’t exist at all.
Around the age of nine, I picked up my first “official” novel to read. I chose Charlotte’s Web. If you’ve never read it, you absolutely must! If you have read it, then you know the direction in which this is going. The story details the relationship between a bunch of animals on Zuckerman’s farm, and particularly the one between a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. So, as to not give anything away for those of you who should really get on that and read it tonight, it teaches kids about love, friendship, death and basically how pigs have feelings, too. When I finished the book, I vowed to never eat bacon again. And I didn’t for almost two decades. This was also the first time I realized the effect that a book could have on people. Wilbur was every animal, every piece of meat and you could not have convinced me otherwise.
Giving up meat wasn’t difficult. My pickiness as an eater has always stemmed from issues with texture and meat, along with bananas (and so many other things) in my humble opinion, doesn’t have the most appealing feeling in one’s mouth. It’s chewy, stringy and when you realize what you’re eating, I mean, when you really think about it, it’s somewhat barbaric. Or as any vegetarian or vegan will tell you, completely barbaric.
At nine, the only meat I ate was bacon, turkey and lobster. My family never ate lamb or veal — two things I’ve never tried and never will — so although they were and are carnivores, they are fairly basic in their carnivorous ways. I didn’t know that people ate lamb until I was old enough to actually pay attention to menus and saw it as an option occasionally. In my head, I could never quite separate the idea of a fluffy lamb being cut into pieces and being someone’s dinner choice; in my head that plate was full of wool. Do I need to mention that there were lambs in Charlotte’s Web too?
By the time high school rolled around, I no longer ate any meat — fish eventually was included on that list, although it’s a subject I know is up for debate on the meat-eating scale for many. The last thing I gave up, if we’re to define it in that way, was chicken broth. Goodbye, packaged sodium-saturated Lipton soup mix and Ramen — you will be missed.
Because my choice to not eat meat wasn’t steeped in an environmental stance or even one based on what might be deemed humane or not, I was never outspoken about it. Most people never even noticed that I didn’t eat meat and to this day my father swears I’ve been eating lobster religiously my whole life without skipping a beat. And I was and do, except for those 13 or so years in between.
What it came down to was a combination of texture, Charlotte’s Web and, in the cases of meat I had never had and would never have, cuteness of the animal. I realize this is silly and too simplistic especially to those who take their vegetarianism and vegan lifestyles (Hi, Jamie!) very seriously, so I apologize if I sound trite or condescending.
I remained a vegetarian for a long time, dated primarily vegetarians because of my personal hang-ups with the thought of kissing those who might have meat stuck in their teeth, and that was that.