the circuitous path of a quasi-vegetarian

13 Oct

Jonathan Safran Foer has a piece at The New York Times Magazine about his decision to become vegetarian. It’s a really nice piece that starts off with an introduction to the family dining table, and then moves into the story of his flirtation with vegetarianism to his eventual total commitment to the lifestyle. I’m especially fond of the end of the passage. I almost excerpted it here, but decided that it wouldn’t be worth much out of context.

Anyway, the essay got me to thinking about my own food, er, paradigm (for lack of  a better word) which I record below.

At some point within the past two years, I became a practical vegetarian. That is, within my own kitchen, I never cook meat. When I eat out, I don’t order it very often.

My story has an embarrassing beginning. My pivotal point came in high school, when I looked down at the rosy oblong flap of ham resting in the center of my sandwich and noted that it was remarkably pink, sharing the same hue as Porky the Pig. All of the images suddenly rolled into one, and I felt extremely nauseous, perverse like I had eaten a cross-section of a pig, which — loosely speaking — I had.

I didn’t have this problem with other meats. They were too abstracted: there is nothing particularly “cow” about beef, nor “chicken” about chicken. I’m certain that if hamburger patties were patterned like Holstein coats, or if drumsticks carried a couple of stray feathers, I would have become a near complete vegetarian at that time.

My rule wasn’t hard and fast. Just as I had no problem eating beef and chicken, I found it easy to eat sausage patties as the gray-brown disks bore no resemblance to the haunting cartoon pig of my consciousness. Ham, bacon, links, and the like, however, were out.

My quasi-vegetarianism ended when I had sufficiently annoyed enough dinner hosts unaware of my pork abstinence. I still remember the dinner where I reluctantly reached for the spoon and dished out pork and vegetables onto my plate. That was the moment I hesitatingly shuffled back into the gates of meaty splendor.

The doors of Korean cuisine were then flung open wide, with samgyeopsal and daeji bulgogi now suddenly accessible. Dim sum’s selection was suddenly broadened beyond the few shrimp and veggie offerings in the cart. And bacon was back on the plate.

This was all good and well until I moved into an apartment and began to cook for myself. While in the past I was very fond of beef bourgignon, I became considerably less accepting of it when I learned to make it; my fingers slid across the still slightly bloody chuck, working to cut away the layer of silver skin. Chicken curry was nice until I glanced at my hands mid-prep, still sticky from handling the meat and slicing off fatty tissue. The point of all my stupid details is that food cannot be abstracted in the kitchen. It can be at the dining table, by the cash register, next to the drive thru speaker, but not around the counter, at the sink, or on the cutting block. Gradually, my meat intake would drop significantly.

So my own squeamish sensibilities, not ethics of any sort, influenced my decision to become a practical vegetarian. I’m not sure how this will work in the long run, like if I’ll get some brawn and open my freezer compartment with a steely face, or if I’ll grow more sensitive to literature by vegetarians and vegans.

I guess I’ll wait and see. Till then, here are some photos.

There’s a staple Taiwanese dish called “three cup chicken” that is involves a 1-1-1 ratio of soy sauce, sesame oil, and Shaoxing cooking wine, as well as ginger, garlic, and a generous bunch of basil. Here, I used eggplant instead of chicken, and then added some sliced sautéed onion and tomato to round out the flavor a bit. It looks like brown goop here, but it was pretty good brown goop.

My mom likes baking bread. The small green flecks on the loaves are pandan leaves, added for flavor.

One Response to “the circuitous path of a quasi-vegetarian”


  1. Vegging Out [Day 3] « _mphatic - September 12, 2010

    […] written about my quasi-vegetarianism, or “vaguetarianism,” in the past. I haven’t changed my stance on meat since that […]

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