I didn’t cook this past Sunday. I had been out of town with friends all weekend, and got back just in time for dinner that night, so the boys grilled instead. I was standing across from Ryan Ring as he was mashing together large hamburger patties, and I realized I have absolutely no memory of ever eating one. I have a few memories of meat, but never a burger. I recall sitting in the Burger King parking lot with my mom one afternoon, I must have been about six years old at the time. I’m not sure why it was just the two of us, but having fast food with her was definitely a treat back then. I had chicken tenders and I still can remember loving the spiciness and the crispness of that outer breading. They were different than McDonald’s chicken nuggets, much better. I remember loving the flavor and never wanting that taste to end. With that said, I can’t remember if I have ever eaten them since that day, and one of my only other memories of meat is eating steak at the kitchen table in our house on Barrenger Drive. I don’t even necessarily remember the steak as much as I remember the worcestershire sauce. Because probably, and very impolitely in our own home, I licked the sauce off my plate with one tiny little finger. I loved it! Even years after I stopped eating meat I would still put some of that sauce on the edge of my plate.
People ask me why I don’t eat meat, and my response is always the same..”I just don’t like the taste of it.” but that’s really only part of the truth. The more honest answer would be, “it grosses me out”. When I was very young I started to figure out that the piece of chicken on my plate wasn’t just some food created in the kitchen and put there for me to enjoy, but it actually used to be a real, living, breathing, chicken. I couldn’t separate the two. I had a hard time grasping the concept and truly couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to eat animals. But people still did, every day, so I questioned it.
Later that year we went away as a family and stayed on Carnation Farms in Bellevue, Wa. I was obsessed with the whole experience, and to this day it’s still up there as one of my all-time favorite vacations. I wanted to live there permanently. I used to tell my parents I wanted to grow up and live on a farm, simply because it was so breathtakingly beautiful there. However, as I got older the reality of it all set in. Yes, that was a farm with animals and a lot of land, but it wasn’t anything close to what living on an actual working farm would be like. Very picturesque; the property was owned by Nestlé USA and used for business meetings and family get-aways more than anything else. We had a cook in the house who I thought was the coolest person ever. My dad took my sisters out fishing one afternoon, and I stayed behind to help the cook prepare everything for that night. I loved assisting in the kitchen. Preparing dishes, setting the table, and making sure everything looked perfect for the night was right up my alley. I was seven and I wanted to be Martha Stewart. When dinner was finally served the fish was on the platter in the center of the table and still had its head attached. I had never seen anything like it. The poor little fish was staring right at me and I think my eyes just about popped out of my head. I’m all about the presentation of food, but this was something I couldn’t handle. I kept thinking about how the fish was alive earlier that day. It had a brain, and probably a family, and all the sudden it was lying on our table ready to be cut into.
From that day on it was an easy choice for me, I just stopped eating it. Luckily, my parents were supportive and allowed me to be picky. They probably thought it was a phase I would grow out of, not something that would only continue to get worse as the years went on, but either way, they still stood by my decision. My dad was one of those kids who used to have to sit at the table every night until he cleared his plate, or more common than not, until he sat long enough that his parents would have had enough and just excuse him anyway. To this day he is still one of the pickiest, if not THE pickiest, eaters I know, so clearly that method of punishing kids with food doesn’t work for everyone. I get my stubbornness from my dad, so it’s not easy to change my mind once it’s been made.
As I grew older I continued to cut more and more out of my diet. I was a picky eater, and I was somewhat embarrassed by it. Growing-up in Danville in the early nineties I didn’t feel like kids ever excluded full food groups. Kids have always been picky, but not like the kids of today who all seem to have some sort of allergy or another; eating special diets designed of locally grown, organic, gluten-free, and diary-free foods. I wanted to be like everyone else, but I never liked the foods of my generation. I didn’t like Mac & Cheese or pizza, hot dogs or snow-cones, jello, baloney or Shirley Temples, etc. I had a very limited list of foods I would eat. I pretty much lived off of plain pasta and sour dough bread until I graduated from college. And although I didn’t want to change, I wasn’t proud of it either.
People, at least in my opinion, have major stereotypes of vegetarians, and I don’t think I fit into any of them. It bothers me when people refer to vegetarians as hippies, like really bothers me. I have also heard people saying they won’t go to vegetarian restaurants because they always smell like dirty feet, seriously.. I’m not sure where they are going, but I haven’t been to any of those restaurants yet, and don’t plan on it. I also get asked all the time if it will bother me if someone eats meat sitting across the table from me, which I just have to laugh about. Not eating meat is my choice, I don’t make that choice for anyone else. I serve meat pretty much every Sunday, because I want people to be happy and satisfied after a meal. If you eat meat and enjoy it, I’m not going to turn you away from it. I’m like an Italian grandmother, I like feeding people. I actually enjoy grocery shopping for other people, because it’s fun for me to buy things I wouldn’t usually buy for myself. Once, I was on a date with a guy at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse. He ordered a very expensive bottle of wine, and before we even drank any of it discovered I wasn’t going to order a steak, asked for the check and took me somewhere else that served vegetarian cuisine. I don’t think he believed me when I said I wanted to stay, and that I actually loved steakhouses, but I do. I like the ambiance of nice restaurants, and the level of service there, plus they always have great salads and side dishes. A steakhouse or a seafood restaurant are always my top choices for any special occasion, and guys luck out because not ordering an entree makes for a pretty cheap date..
But all kidding aside, the one stereotype that really gets to me is when people assume vegetarians should be rail thin, and question when you’re not. This is the reason I never wanted to tell people how picky I was in the first place. I was a chubby kid. I’ve struggled with weight and body image my entire life. I didn’t eat meat, but that never meant I was on a raw food diet, they’re completely different things. I cut so many foods out, but kept my sweet tooth, that I honestly didn’t know how to be healthy. It took me until my mid-twenties to really open my eyes up to the world of food. I had gained weight when I went away to college as a dance major, and then lost weight when I went to culinary school a few years later, funny how that happens, most people would think opposite.
Today, I no longer consider myself much of a picky eater, only because of how far I’ve come since childhood. And although I’m eating RedVines as I write this (oops) I still would consider myself a fairly healthy person, it’s just taken years to get to this place. There continue to be many restrictions when planning the menu for my family, but I guess that just makes it all the more fun!