Then one day not long after I had moved to New York City, I went to the store with my last $13 until payday and loaded up the basket with Lipton noodle soup and Saltines. I was feeling homesick and out of sorts because New York was kicking my ass emotionally and mentally. Without it even registering, I took the soup home, made it and watched Law & Order. It was only after I finished the first packet of soup and went for another that it hit me: I had just consumed a meat product.
The initial reaction was guilt. It was as though I had betrayed myself. Next came the fear that I’d be severely ill from it so I ran to my computer to Google possible effects of chicken broth on the body after about 13 years without it. The results were mixed, and it was hard not to think that those who did suffer serious reactions did so because it was all in their head. As a hypochondriac in training, I laid myself down on the couch and waited for the worst. It never came.
Over the next few years, I started eating chicken again occasionally and would even order a burger from time to time without incident to my stomach or body — I guess it had remembered how things had used to be.
The last thing that made its way back into my life was bacon, which was just a couple years ago and was actually the one thing with which I truly struggled. It was the bacon that had started all this and it was bacon I craved one morning when my downstairs neighbors were cooking it. Again, there was guilt, but a guilt that was far more severe than that of when I had the chicken broth. This guilt came from the kid inside me who swore she’d never eat bacon again because of Wilbur the pig in children’s book. I had a BLT the following day. I loved the taste, but my heart and my mouth were not too keen on the texture factor, or rather the Wilbur factor, as I called it.
I think saying I “gave up” meat, then “gave up” being a vegetarian is probably the wrong wording. In both instances, I don’t feel I gave up anything, I just changed my mind. While I can tell you why it all started, I can’t tell you why it exactly all ended. Neither case warranted a big production or announcement, it’s just what happened. It was also cheaper, in those days when I had nothing, to go for the packaged soup or frozen fish sticks instead of Morningstar veggie burgers.
So here I am back to eating meat, albeit pretty rarely and only two or three kinds, but it’s happening. I don’t know if this is a story about being a vegetarian then turning my back on it, or more of a story about the first book I ever loved that affected me to my core that it changed the way my nine-year-old self saw the world. I like to think it’s the latter.
The books we read, especially as kids, shape us and have such an undeniable power to open our eyes and teach us a lesson about worlds we’ll never know (I’m still waiting to move to my farm), that to not consume as much of the written word as we possibly can is tragic. Charlotte’s Web was my introduction to that power, and if E.B. White were still alive I’d tackle him to the ground with hugs of appreciation.
Anyone else have an epiphany after reading it? Or perhaps another book that hit the spot and had a major impact on your life? And if you’re looking to jumpstart your vegetarianism, might I suggest Charlotte’s Web? Yes, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair will help in that area, too, but that book doesn’t have a pig named Wilbur in it.
Photo: Garth Williams/Harper&Brothers