12 February 2010

The Backstory: How, When, and Why I Went Meatless

I was a vegetarian for effectively 10 years of my life, first shunning red meat at the end of middle school when I connected the dots between the doe-eyed cows I adored and my lunchtime hamburger. From there, it took another 5 before I fully cut out all meat products.

Nearly all of my friends in high school were vegetarian -- many even vegan. We hung around in the straightedge scene, known for its limitations: no drugs, no drink, no meat. The amount of times I went with sXe friends to Denny's after shows, ordering a round of greasy food -- "But hold the meat!", and "Hold the cheese and sour cream, too!" -- as the waitress scribbled down substitutions and shook her head -- is countless.

I got teased mercilessly for being the one in the bunch who still ate chicken, salmon, and Thanksgiving dinner. My highschool boyfriend vowed to not kiss me if I'd just eaten a bite of flesh (I lured him in anyway). I was told by my vegan pals that I couldn't eat the faux ice cream sundaes because they were reserving that stuff for themselves (fortunately, one of my friends stepped in and let me have a bowl. It -- all mealy and gritty and posing as chocolate -- wasn’t really worth it.). The straightedge kids proudly displayed their non-meat-eating ways as a banner that set them apart from “normal teenagers” -- but in a way, I was the rebel of that group; the one who didn’t conform to all the rules but still hung out and had a great time. I didn’t regret a moment of it.

When I went away to college, I lived in the dorms the first year and ate nearly everything save for the cow (I even snuck some "other white meat" aka pork onto my plate. No one knew the difference; they didn't know my background, didn’t know what I typically ate and didn’t eat. I gained the requisite Freshman 15 and -- frustrated with my layer of fat and 34” waist Levis that actually hugged me in the right spots -- came home that summer and swam daily. I cut out cheese for those 3 months too, and the lbs dropped right off.

At the end of that summer is when my now husband and I reconnected. We’d known each other since high school, he a familiar face in the local straightedge scene. We’d always been cool -- hanging in the same circle, chatting at shows. We’d even gone on a couple dates our senior year (we went to different schools). But I was hung up on another guy and prepping for college placement essays and all-around not interested. After one date (ironically, on Valentine’s Day), he told me to call him when I returned home from a weeklong trip to Mexico with my family. I didn’t.

It wasn't until a warm summer night in August, waiting between sets at a show/party at Fantagraphics comic book warehouse in South Seattle, that he skated by in his green hoodie and smiled at me. That was the night things changed. I called him that next week -- albeit 18 mos after the original ask. We spent nearly every free moment together that week, and I used what other limited time I had packing up my things to return to Oregon for school.

I moved back to Eugene, living with a friend I’d met in the dorms that year. We grocery-shopped together to save money and keep a familial, community feel to our apartment. We tried to eat dinners together on most nights, both of us coming from a strong family environment where you closed your busy day around a warm meal, sharing stories and laughter. My roommate didn’t eat meat at all -- not even the “white” kind. For a few weeks, I threw frozen chicken breasts into the Safeway shopping cart and would microwave or otherwise prepare a sidedish of chicken for myself, to accompany our meatless meals. But as budgets tightened and I grew tired of cooking frozen meat and didn’t really know that I could handle the raw stuff, the frozen meats started falling by the wayside.

On the other end of the phone back in Seattle, my now-serious boyfriend was also not eating meat. When he came to visit, or I north to see him, I made a conscious decision to not order meat products in front of him. I didn’t want to screw this up. I wanted no risk of this cute boy not kissing me at the end of the date because I’d eaten a slice of chicken or turkey wing.

By the end of first semester sophomore year, I was “vegetarian.” It was that year that I came home for break and, for the first time, shunned the turkey dinner at Christmas.

My stepsister was also vegetarian during this period, so I wasn’t alone. And my family has always been earnestly supportive of dietary restrictions. My mom, a former home-ec teacher and, by sheer nature, a nurturer, willingly prepared multiple meal options for those of us who didn’t eat certain items.

It was easy. Ridiculously so.

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