I'm Vegetarian

There are three large meat-cooking appliances in my home:

1. The Weber. On the porch off of the kitchen for everyday convenience. For chicken and mild endeavors like chicken. Skewers. Fish, for the salt/ pepper days. Vegetables. Easy to use — a solid first grill. Weber cookbook is the bible.

2. The Smoker. The next addition to the family. Much bigger than the Weber and from a small smoker company in Houston, Texas called Klose. And, according to the BBQ 4 U Show Host Greg Rimpy who did a segment on Klose Smokers, “Unless you’ve been under a huge barbeque rock, you’ve at least heard the name thrown around on barbeque boards.” This apparatus is best for large (large) quantities of salmon, pork and experimental things like almonds to give as gifts.

3. The Big Green Egg. The newest addition to the family — materialized at some point during my summer in India. Looks more like a big avocado with its ridges and hue — it’s the American version of a ceramic cooker derived from the ancient clay “kamado.” It claims to produce the “juiciest, most succulent food you’ll ever taste.” In fact, it’s “EGGstraordinary” (the website’s pun, not mine). On a Big Green Egg online forum thread entitled “which do you prefer Large butts or Small butts,” EGGheads (Big Green Egg owners—again, not my pun) debate the size of meat cuts and their tenderness versus cooking time. Ribmaster writes, “I have done 11lb and 6lb butts and the meat is good regardless. Considering it is only two in my house the 6 pounders keep the leftovers fresher.”

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Dad has three homes — the office, the golf course and the grill. He is the hardest worker I know — sweats over numbers for 15 hours a day as a Certified Public Accountant, and on weekends (when he’s not golfing) he sweats over hot metal waiting for flesh to become food.

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Meat is a given for my family — an opportunity to show off (Uncle Scott’s “Sexy Barbeque Sauce” is one of those tastes you can taste when you’re not tasting it), a root of friction (Aunt Cathy’s ribs versus Uncle Don’s). Dad always cooks about four times the meat he needs to. Some goes in the freezer for distant future use, some goes in the fridge for near future use, and some is given away to the family members that rave and rebel. He has several masculine aprons with clever phrases about grilling and wine (“Life is a Cabernet, Old Chum”).

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Slabs upon slabs of raw flesh in red/brown juice: the backdrop of a holiday kitchen.

The day before Thanksgiving every year, my mom leaves the house at five to snatch fifteen or twenty live crabs from the bait shop. This season, crab season, they go fast. They are double-bagged into extra-thick, clear plastic bags. Still alive. After lugging home these clawing minions, she places them (still clawing) in the fridge (still clawing) until it’s time to boil them. They don’t make a sound when you boil them.

In the summer camping days, Dad would grill up fresh salmon on folded foil and charcoal. Milky parts oozed from crevices. Metallic skin on creamy flesh. He’d give us kids a penny for each bone we picked out.

Childhood dinners at home were quieter than holiday grill escapades. Full of meat and pasta and cheese and steamed carrots. Television on. Each in our own chairs at the table. Talk of spelling tests and summer plans.

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I never questioned my family’s food until high school when I started to text and drive and go out eat out with friends — I could make my own decisions. On my 15th Thanksgiving, I stopped eating meat. A quiet decision that entailed not eating turkey that day, realizing that I didn’t miss it, and not eating another piece of meat after that. Haven’t since.

The confession of my vegetarianism to my father must have sounded like “I’m running away from home.” I refused to eat his long-labored feasts, but he kept on grilling for the rest of the family — more and more — more leftovers. Five years later he still asks me if wouldn’t just like to try a bite?

I never offer a concrete reason for my vegetarianism — based on my mood, what I’m studying in school and my empathy level in the moment, rationalization has ranged from “I do it for the environment” to “How could you eat another creature?” to “It’s healthier this way” to “It just feels right.” To be honest, I enjoy dietary restrictions. They’re a challenge and I’m the judge. I’m winning. Everybody likes winning.

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Dad plays a lot golf — a solitary sport. You’re playing against your own low score much of the time. I tried playing golf with Dad when I was younger, but the truth surfaced quickly: I’m no good. A thing we can’t share.

In the timeline of humans on this earth, eating meat is relatively new. Did the first meat eater feel cannibalistic as he shoved a half-cooked rodent into his mouth? Veggie enthusiasts claim that humans are not designed to eat animals — otherwise we wouldn’t have to cook them in order for them to become edible.

When in zoos, I fight to get the best view of dolphins slugging down mackerel — heads tilted back, yawning throat ajar. I hate YouTube videos of random children saying random things, but I could watch animals eating animals for hours.

(I am an animal.)

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Every once in a while, I smell a burger and consider eating meat. But I’ve come this far. Five years, no burgers.

When my parents were kids, they never would have considered becoming vegetarian. Their families were the “meat ‘n potatoes” crowd. Mom’s father owned the meat section of a grocery store. Grocery stores for staples, not adventures. Now our freezer is fancy meat substitutes piled upon fancy frozen steak. My family’s meat consumption has decreased in the last five years, partially because of me and mostly because of the health revolution in Northern California. We mostly shop at the farmer’s market now. Mom enjoys cooking vegetarian for the family, but Dad says, “great appetizer, where’s the main course?”

As the years went on, Dad worked later and Grammy ate earlier and Chris went off to college, so waned the amount of time we spent as a family at a table. I’ve eaten a lot of meals with a book next to my plate. When there’s a collection of us (rarely all chairs are full), televised sports eclipse conversation — golf goes well with wine goes well with steak.

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Owl fathers forage alone for rats/ mice/ squirrels to feed owl mothers and fledglings that cry for food and can’t maintain their own body temperature. Each owl craves the moment of food passing from mouth to mouth — a transfer of love and sustenance. An owl takes what she can get — denying food is denying life. Love.

Sometimes Dad throws tofu on the Weber/Smoker/Egg. He refuses to try it, but asks me repeatedly how it is. Tender.

We are animals.

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Last holiday season, as nonchalantly and uncertainly as I stopped, I decided to eat crab. I’d been thinking about it for a while. Maybe it was my Christmas present to my family. Maybe I just needed a new challenge. We threw the live critters in the giant pot and waited as they silently boiled to red perfection. Smothered in butter and garlic, crab was chewier than I remembered, creamier.

On a few summer nights when Dad gets home from work at a decent time and Grammy is up for waiting and Chris is home from Boulder and it’s actually warm, the five of us sit on the porch off of the kitchen (adjacent to the Weber) and shoo bees. California wine. Mount Tam to the right, the Bay to the left, Oakland in the distance — the angle of the sun on metal skyscrapers bends back and blinds. We eat fish. No bones. TC mark

image – gmtbillings

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