I became a vegetarian at the age of ten “for ecological reasons,” I told people. I was pretentious/ inspired by a teacher who’d informed me that “one field of corn can feed one pig that feeds a family for one night, but one field of corn on its own can feed five families for a week.” Or something like that. So I ate a lot of Amy’s soups and blocks of cheddar until high school, when I nixed the cheese and became a vegan.
I was never really preachy about my vegetarianism/veganism, since it all started for my so-called “ecological reasons” and not because I thought meat was murder. But I was always very strict about what I ate and secretly understood every time a hippie described vegetarianism as “part of leading a cruelty free life.” That sounded awesome and gave me pride in my life-choices.
Then I went to college, and being vegan instantly went out the door. Of course it did… I COULD EAT ICE CREAM FOR BREAKFAST EVERY DAY. (Dining halls, right?) By my senior year, I even gave into peer pressure and started incorporating meat into my diet. When drunk at a party and handed a plate of hot wings, the only “cruelty-free life” I cared about leading was one free from the cruelty of depriving myself of something that smelled so delicious. I’d really forgotten why I was a vegetarian by that point, anyway. I didn’t immediately transform into a carnivore, but as a “recently recovering vegetarian” I slowly returned to eating meat regularly.
Then, last summer, I was in Europe. I spent my first month in Florence and there discovered its famous Central Market, which was always full of vendors selling everything from cow stomach to limoncello. One day, while perusing this exotic market, I was struck with a sudden desire: to buy, cut, and cook an entire dead fish.
It was an odd whim, yes. I was still getting used to a cruelty-full lifestyle. But looking at all the fresh fish in the market, thinking–as they stared at me with their dead eyes–that they’d probably been caught fresh that morning, I was ready to confront head-on the reality of my eating habits, “cruelty” and all. Plus I’d been feeling pretty ballsy lately, alone with my boyfriend in a town where I didn’t speak the language. Buying cheese by the kilogram, weaving between crazed bicyclists, and having a bidet in my bathroom had all equipped me with the cojones to purchase whole dead fish, when delicious-looking pre-cut filets were also readily available.
Or maybe the fumes of the fish market were making me crazy.