“Vegetarian” I say, because it's easy. People know what you mean. Vegetarian. Simple.
Um. No. Not anymore. Not ever.
I said vegetarian in China and got jiao zi – Chinese dumplings – full of tiny shrimp. Beef in my noodles.
“Vegetarian? So you can eat chicken right?”
And let's not blame the Chinese. Every time I'm home my father tries to feed me turkey bacon. I mean, it's not real bacon. Right?
Now that I live in the south – the southsouth, the dirty south, Cajun south Louisiana – people understand vegetarian more or less, but every single time I say it I get the follow up:
“Well, do you eat seafood?”
And the worst part? I do! I do eat seafood, goddammit! Ever since that first California roll I've had a special place in my tummy for sushi, and I happen to know the best jukejoint in the world, just north of the BR, which just happens to serve the best fried catfish in the world, and how else do you justify all that standing around and drinking Highlife but with the crawfish boil, and oh god those oyster po'boys. Seriously. Whatcha gonna do?
But it hurts me every time I say it, because what Vegetarian eats seafood? Capital 'v'. I'm devaluing the term. I'm one of those fake vegetarians and if I were in a Scott Pilgrim comic the vegetarian police would totally bust my ass.
And more than that? More than seafood?? I eat other meat too. Chicken and beef and pork. Venison sausage and goat curry. Duck gumbo. Even bacon, but that's a hard one.
So where do I get off saying vegetarian? How can I even think that word in the same thought as me??
Because. Here's the thing:
I only eat happy meat. Yeah. Happy.
Or it was. When it had a more specific title. Like steer or buck or duck. And there's no word for that. No neat packaged term. "Vegetarian" embodies the spirit of it, so that's my go to, but it certainly does not embody the reality.
And the kicker? I actually think I'm better than a vegetarian. Better than vegans even. I think the way I eat is more right.
See, I became a vegetarian for several reasons: 3 parts environmentalism, 1 part health concerns, 1 part pleasure. (College cafeteria meat? Indeed.) And 2 parts I-double-dare-myself-to-try. That was when I was 18 and had just gone away to college and for the first time had complete control over my diet. I never really learned to cook while I lived at home; my mother is a fabulous cook. And she loves it. It's her art, poor physicist that she is. And it was just the two of us against the world. I wasn't going to ask her to cook completely separate meals for me. Besides, who doesn't like chicken right? Chicken? You know. Tastes like fried?
But I grew up with a certain idea about food anyway. We never had mixes in our house. Like, brownies from a mix. Cake mix. Stovetop stuffing. Instant pudding. Bisquick. Uh-uh. No way. I spent many of my childhood lunch times trying to trade for the Sunkist juice packs and Sharks fruit snacks. Too bad all I had to offer was homemade hummus and Graham crackers with Smuckers natural peanut butter. (Crunchy, duh.) We drank whole milk and made chocolate chip cookies from scratch and my favorite breakfast? Cornmeal pancakes with real corn kernels and maple syrup.
Aunt Jemima. One thing I will never get behind. And as many Betty Crocker brownies as I'll wolf, Sysco blueberry muffins will always turn my stomach. Blueberries in season. Batter only slightly sweet. Powdered sugar. End of story.
So you see, I've come back around to meat for a couple of reasons. For one, I don't think people are meant to be vegetarians. Of course we can survive on all kinds of diets, but why choose anemia? I'm not big on supplements. I'd rather get it all from my actual food. For another thing, vegetarianism isn't 100% across the board the thing that makes the most environmental sense. Or, it wouldn't be if we didn't eat meat three meals a day seven days a week. And we wouldn't if we didn't eat shitty meat. Which is what we do.
And then, my brattiest argument. Why deny myself something that I like? I mean, I'm not saying never deny yourself anything. Clearly. Clearly I make choices with bigger picture things in mind all the time, choices I wouldn't make if I were solely concerned with my own pleasure, but I think everything has limits of reason-ability. I won't give up seafood – although recent reports on NPR have made me seriously cut back - because I freakin like it. And while I could easily live without crawfish, the crawfish boil – the cheap beer and the bags, the family and friends and hours standing around talking about talking about talking – that is a beautiful thing. I think it's important to try to do right by the world, but it's also important to try to do right by yourself.
Anyway, I'm pretty happy about how I eat. I get a little bit of everything tasty, I shop a lot of local, thing taste good and look good and my cholesterol - I just got checked - is stellar. The only problem, really, is that I don't have a label for it – which would be super fine, except for the explaining. Do you see how this gets complex?
“Why don't you eat meat?”
“Well, I do. Eat some meat. Sometimes. If I know where it's from. Or how it was raised. You know, not that meat. Not the meat you just spent the whole day rubbing and stuffing and basting, but some meat. The kind of meat that costs at least twice what you would pay for it.”
I was on a rant about this recently to my brother – also pretty conscious, but sometimes it feels good to preach to the choir.
“So,” he said, “ you're a snobetarian.”
“Ha,” I said. “Ha ha.”