Almost 20 years ago, I digested my last steak.
It wasn’t even fresh off the grill but nuked in a microwave, animal flesh leftover from an earlier meal. I ate it late at night at my friend’s boyfriend’s condo, probably after too many adult beverages, and with a generous sprinkling of salt. I think it was fine as far as reheated steaks go. I don’t remember the flavor as much as I remember the setting.
I have zero plans to indulge in that particular meal again, which comes with sides of shredded relief and pickled contentment.
“Don’t you miss it?” people ask. “Isn’t it hard?”
“Not even a little,” I say to both.
I went meat-free after a dozen years on the planet, during summer camp, where I developed a girl crush on my camp counselor, a worldly 21-year-old who went to Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s school in Massachusetts. It wasn’t so much a crush as a desire to inhabit and become her. She was the epitome of cool. I can’t remember her name, but I do remember her long, straight, light brown hair, lissome figure, sandaled feet, free spirit and staunch political views.
She was the complete opposite of yours truly, with my round edges, mushroom-shaped haircut, unflattering octagonal glasses and thoughts and beliefs that would take me decades to sort out.
She was a vegetarian, and before you could ask “But how do you get your protein?,” I became a vegetarian, too, one night at dinner, as we sat next to each other on long benches in the dining hall. She said no thanks to the meat, and I, in a transparent gesture, also turned up my nose at the dish. I’m sure I hoped to attract her attention and praise. One might think my commitment would falter as soon as summer camp and my ethereal counselor were in my rear view mirror, but it never did. Not eating meat felt like coming home to my body. It was eating meat that felt abnormal. And I love animals. They’ve got souls and personalities. I can’t shove them down the hatch.
Upon my return from camp, my perplexed mom wasn’t sure about my new diet. She didn’t love it, but she tolerated it pretty well. This was a long time ago, back when going meat-free was shocking, people still cooked with gobs of Crisco and the back of the airplane was reserved for smokers. She was always sure I wasn’t getting the right vitamins and minerals, and probably she was right. I expect my diet looked like that of a lot of newbie vegetarians: lots of bread and pasta.
I’ve mostly maintained the course, minus a few back-and-forth periods when I went back to eating meat for a time. That waffling ended for good about 15 years ago.
Since then I’ve done the vegan thing, until after a couple of years, I woke one morning with nothing but eggs on my mind, so I ate some. Some years I’m a pescatarian, though nobody seems to know the word when I say it. (It’s somebody who eats fish, but not other animals.) Sometimes I revert back to veganism for stretches of time. It’s really about listening to my body and eating what makes it feel good. Some years eggs feel good. Some years they pummel my belly from the inside out.
Nowadays nobody raises even one eyebrow hair when you tell them you don’t eat meat. Mostly I always get the response about how they don’t really eat that much meat anymore. Hey, I’m not judging. It’s no matter to me. Sure, I’d love it if you gave it up or at least tried to eat less of it, but to each their own. More roasted cauliflower for me.