It is still strange to me how cool people are with my being a vegetarian these days. I used to be the weirdo who didn’t get excited about the size of one’s porterhouse or being offered fresh lobster. The one hosts never quite knew what to do with at dinnertime. Now almost every restaurant I visit has vegetarian selections on the menu, or will happily accommodate my request for something meatless with a delicious creation the chef thought up just in case someone like me came by.
My reason for being a vegetarian is simple: I never liked the taste or texture of animals. I grew up the child of an old-school Italian man who was born during the Depression and didn’t give his kids the option of being picky about what was on their plates, so trust me when I say I have eaten it all.
Familiar farm friends; critters of the woods, large and small; all the birds and all their parts (chicken feet still make me shudder); seafood with fins, claws, shells, and tentacles; sausages of questionable origin and—of course—tripe, have all passed my tongue (how could I fail to mention I’ve tried that, too?). Most I forced down, some I tolerated well enough, or got so used to eating that I didn’t think much of it. When I did like a beastly bite, it was usually more because of how it was prepared than the meat, itself: pepperoni loaf loaded with warm cheese, roasted chicken drowning in buttery mashed potatoes.
When I moved out on my own as a young adult, I simply couldn’t afford meat, so I carved it almost completely out of my diet. I found I didn’t miss it at all. Eventually, I introduced chicken breast back in because I figured I should eat it for the protein. The bones grossed me out, but I dealt with it because it was much more socially acceptable to order chicken than a collection of side dishes. It was always a “thing” when I’d try to skip a meat course, and was easier to just eat the stupid stuff than have the same conversation over and over again.
By the time I hit my thirties, I was fed up with fowl and stopped eating it altogether. Almost immediately I felt better, my skin cleared, I dropped a few extra pounds. It was as if my body was thanking me for no longer taking in the food it never wanted in the first place. At the same time, I had two little kids starting to eat solid foods. Their pediatrician implored me to not force my vegetarian preferences upon them, but he didn’t have to: I wanted them to try everything and see what their taste buds and bodies were drawn to. No judgment, no pressure.
Over a decade later, and my kids are firmly pro-meat. My son loves his steak, lamb chops, and scampi. My daughter orders meatballs to top her pasta Bolognese, in between taking every opportunity to get a chicken tender into her facehole.
I can no longer tolerate dairy, so my diet has become even more restrictive, almost vegan at times. I make the best of it and my kids partake, too. They’ve discovered that they prefer my plant-based “butter” to regular butter, happily steal bites of my dairy-free desserts, and regularly request pasta nights without batting an eyelash when I work meat substitutes into the sauce.
They understand why I started being a vegetarian — a personal preference — and how it has become more of a health matter for me. But I let them make their own decision as to whether to follow my lead. As long as their meat-filled diet doesn’t cause them any negative health ramifications, they can keep it up.
That being said, they know that changing their lifestyle to more closely match mine isn’t that big a deal. They’ve tasted their options and liked them. They see I am happy and healthy with a restricted diet. They also know there are other reasons people choose vegetarianism that don’t have to do with taste buds or health matters, and that they are less likely to face the criticism I did when I made the change. Should they decide to come over to the green side, I’ll welcome them with open arms and a large bowl of peanut butter-swirl cashew milk ice cream (two spoons, of course).