07 January 2008

The meat of the matter

I have been a vegetarian since about 1986. I stopped eating meat for many reasons. Chief among them was that I didn't really like the flavor OR the idea of eating animal flesh. This decision didn't sit well with my family, especially my dad, who still offers me meat to this day.


After work I was talking to my folks. My dad was born in the late 1910's in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. My mom was born 7 years later in Santa Barbara.

My mother said she didn't remember eating meat much as a child. Times were hard. She said they ate a lot of soup, potatoes and beans flavored with a little piece of pork. A chicken was a nice treat for Sunday dinner.

Dad grew up in the country. He, his father, five brothers and cousins hunted and fished, so they ate meat all the time.

He said he remembers leaving the house before dawn, barefoot, taking his shotgun to hunt up some quail or pigeons for the family's meal.

He talked about other times when he would shoot a deer, field-dress it (removing entrails, head and legs) and haul the rest home by himself, which he said was tricky since the deer's skin was loose and he had to carry his rifle, too. (A full-grown deer usually weighs between 120 and 150 lbs).


Hearing their stories made me realize why eating meat is such a big deal to my dad. It isn't just some redneck macho thing. It is a link to his heritage and his feeling of belonging and importance in his family, that he could provide something of real value through his efforts.

Bringing home meat was a man's job, and, for them, a big part of becoming a man - literally "bringing home the bacon."

By becoming a vegetarian, I have cast aside a piece of my history and removed myself from the web of that family tradition. I didn't mean for it to be a hurtful choice, but now I can see how strange it is to my father.


super des said...

Wow, I'm glad I don't have any stories like that. My mom never got the whole thing, like I don't eat food cooked in oyster sauce because of the oysters involved, but I don't think she had gone out and caught any oysters.

I know people who were vegetarian except on holidays home with their families. I never got that, but now maybe I kinda do.

Kris said...

I have been a vegetarian since about the same time and it never set well with my father. I always assumed it was just to bust my chops (no pun intended), but I think your assessment has a lot of merit for many of us. Thanks for the insight!

Kelly said...

I think this is a great point why vegetarianism seems so foreign and so odd a choice to older relatives.

When I was a vegetarian (pregnancy made me really crave cheeseburger, so I fell off the wagon), my grandmother would try to slip me meat in stews. She'd make pasta and beans with small pieces of pork. When I'd gently call her on it, she'd insist it was a bean. I think there is also this notion that one cannot be healthy without animal protein sources. I believe that was part of her doing what she did.

FunnyGal KAT said...

I haven't eaten red meat in more than 12 years, but my dad will still, without fail, offer me a burger or steak at family get-togethers. Neither of his daughters eat red meat so it's not like he's getting us confused.

Speaking of vegetarianism, have you run into difficulty when eating at other people's houses? I once had an awkward situation where a friend forgot and had to make me a separate meal at the last minute.

lizgwiz said...

My family doesn't understand my vegetarianism, exactly, but they do refrain from offering me meat. I guess it's been long enough they know it's not a phase.

If people still acquired meat through their own efforts, and the animals lived a natural life up until the time they painlessly became dinner, it wouldn't upset me nearly as much as modern-day factory farming does. I probably would still be a vegetarian, but the choice would not have been so easy.

Count Mockula said...

What an interesting perspective. I've been a vegetarian since about '89, and my dad has never gotten used to it, either. Just a few weeks ago, he offered me a bite of his chicken ravioli at dinner. I was like "No thank you, I don't eat meat." I didn't add "for the last two decades." He just forgets.

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