New York City, USA
1987, Pasadena, CA.
Five years into living in the United States, we have our first Thanksgiving. I can still see my mother tackling her first turkey in the kitchen when I, nine years old, walk in—a moment not unlike when a child walks in on her parents having sex. We are eating that? I ask, pointing to the white goosepimpled thing, nothing like the stuff of commercials, which featured tan, glazed, muscular entrees like diet program After photos. Later that evening, we gather around it, on a red plaid tablecloth, with paper cups full of Oceanspray cranberry cocktail, while my father takes pictures, the first of many photos we have from family Thanksgivings where I look like not just unthankful, but like an adolescent clinical depression postergirl.
Six years later, at defiant 15, I’ve had it. It’s 1993 and my world is all flannels and ripped jeans and Free Tibet posters and Nirvana and gripes. I am as counterculture as Nineties malls will allow. The first milestone of my teen years is River Phoenix’s death and when the news emphasizes his vegetarianism, I have that aha-moment. Could it be that my problem—what is making me constantly loop Riotgrrrl mixed tapes on my Walkman, what is making me hate my family, what is probably giving me acne—is that food of the man: MEAT?!
And so I decide the dinner table is the perfect setting for my first move of adult independence: I am now a vegetarian, parents.
My horrified mother bombards me with a jumble of facts and fictions: meat makes you tall and strong, meat makes you live longer, meat makes you beautiful (her most potent weapon). My father, less worried, coolly mumbles that he was a vegetarian once but it was a phase. Still, it takes me seven more years to have even a bite of fish, another decade until I try every vegetarian’s downfall—bacon—and finally 18 years until I become a full-blown omnivore.
And yet my herbivore love affair was lustier than most. A first grade questionnaire reveals that my “favorite food” was “SALLAD.” To this day I can’t imagine starting the day without a variety of green leafy things in the blender: my beloved green juices. Vegetarian cuisines have been the love of my life. Hay and cud, my mother always grumbled, seeing it as a teenage rebellion I never outgrew. Don’t come running to me when being a cow kills you.