Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm Not Like Everybody Else

“I don’t want to live my life like everybody else…’cause I’m not like everybody else.”

--The Kinks

I lasted a little more than three weeks as a lapsed vegetarian. Like a punch-drunk fighter, I often stumbled through my non-vegetarian meals lost and unenthused. I felt guilty about being a traitor. I felt weird eating chicken and fish even if it was range-free and free from hormones, antibiotics, and other fillers, and then blessed by organic farmers and a foodie guru who only comes out at night. I didn’t really enjoy those meals. I just ate to get them over with.

After nearly 30 years as a vegetarian, I savored my first chicken meal: rotisserie chicken and red potatoes. Last week Verna made a teriyaki chicken that she’d marinated overnight. She was so excited. And it did taste very good, which made me feel even guiltier.

“I bet this doesn’t compare to Quorn,” a premium line of all-natural, meat-free frozen foods, made from mycoprotein, which is a fungus found originally in England, Verna said at dinner.

“That’s for sure,” I admitted. “This is definitely better.”

I anguished so much about abandoning my vegetarianism that I sought counsel from the two women who sell us pesticide-free apples at the Farmer’s Market, Anna Lappe, author and daughter of the women who wrote Diet for a Small Planet, and Dr. Elmo, a local vegetarian who recorded the Christmas classic Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

All four of them told me to act mindfully. One of the apple babes used to be a vegetarian, but her body craved meat. So she switched. Anna said, “In terms of diet, I always say the number one thing is to LISTEN TO YOUR OWN BODY. No one should feel like a “traitor” for eating what he or she feels is right. And what is right will most likely change over one’s lifetime…I’ve been eating the occasional sustainable fish or organic chicken as my body desires it for years now and feel good listening to what my body needs…Finally, take everything I’ve said here with a grain of salt! I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, just sharing my own personal approach to health.”

Dr. Elmo, who is in his late 70s, said, “I am not a strict vegetarian, however I rarely eat meat and never by my own hand. My wife is also a vegetarian, but insists that I should eat some meat when I'm training hard and running high mileage to make up for the depletion from exercise. She feels that it could help my immune system…I believe meat, dairy and eggs to be nutritious foods, however you can be equally healthy without them.”

I switched for the same reasons given by Dr. Elmo’s wife: Verna feared my long-term health was at risk if I didn’t include more animal products, such as chicken or fish. My friend Dan said Verna’s concerns were reason enough to change my culinary habits.

He was right. But I couldn’t maintain my allegiance to her for very long. Last night we had chicken alfredo that Verna prepared in her new crock pot in the morning. It was pretty good, mixed with broccoli and very healthy, but I felt so discombobulated about going through the motions, eating as if I were strung out on a massive dose of thorazine. I slowly stuffed the forkfuls of pasta and chicken in mouth, chewed them without any passion, and swallowed with the knowledge that I was that much closer to being done.

And that is no way to eat. As the sayings go, In America, we eat to live; in France, they live to eat. I want to live to eat and enjoy it all. So I said, rather meekly because I so want to please Verna, “Would you be upset if I went back to being a vegetarian?”

“How soon are you planning to change back?” she asked.

I practically avoided her eyes. “After this meal.”

Verna has been so thrilled these last three weeks or so, planning new and unchartered meals for the entire family, not having to worry about defrosting Quorn or launching a search for marinated tofu or lemon-flavored tempeh, that I didn’t want to burst her bubbles of excitement.

“Are you OK with that?” I asked.

“As long as the nights I am preparing meals like this one”, which are labor intensive, “you are fine with being on your own.”

After more than 18 years of catering to my culinary needs and subverting hers at times, Verna’s statement was more than acceptable.

“Of course,” I said.

And I meant it. I’m not like everybody else, which is a badge I wear with pride on my apron when I am baking Quorn, eating tofu cutlets, or scrounging in the backyard for nuts, berries, and twigs.

1 comment:

  1. well, you don't have to go to far to find a nut. welcome back, friedman. love ya.