Meat the 21st Century
A delinquent vegetarian's victory tale
In March, after a fine afternoon in San Francisco, I was riding a train back to Alameda when I started feeling sick. At first I thought it was the maiden stage of a migraine, but later when the headache subsided and the nausea surfaced, I knew it was something else. I had dined at a vegan restaurant before boarding the train, where my red curry dish was tainted with fake chicken I didn't order. I scornfully ate around the mystery “meat”: What resulted wasn’t pretty.
Having once been a fan of mycoprotein—a meat substitute made of fermented fungus, found in a product called Quorn—I ascertained my allergy to it about two years ago after repeatedly getting sick. I gave up all meat substitutes around the same time, realizing their processed nature and general lack of food value. No seitan, no tempeh, no TVP, no tofu, nothing.
Back to that fateful night in the East Bay. Once my queasy misfortune abated, I e-mailed the restaurant to ask what its "chicken" was made of, but never heard back. Allergic reaction or food poisoning, whatever it was, something changed drastically that night amidst my woozy fog.
The next day was Easter. In honor of my little sister's upcoming move to New Orleans, her friends were hosting a brunch replete with mimosas, fruit salad, hash browns, two quiches and four pounds of organic bacon. Still infirm and out of sorts from the night before, I was dragged to brunch and soon found myself filled with a strange compulsion.
Bacon appeared on my plate—I had put it there. Would I eat it? Yes. And I liked it. My sister, who had witnessed my teenage vegetarian transformation more than a decade ago, was in disbelief. She took a photograph to mark the occasion. It was like a gastronomic miracle.
In the week following that first rendezvous, my sister and I drove to Louisiana with me trying different ways to eat bacon across America. In Tucson, it was with potatoes; in Terlingua, Texas, in a breakfast burrito; and in Shreveport—where my father was absolutely glowing with satisfaction—there was a diner BLT.
I've tried other things, too: boiled crawfish, chicken nachos, sausage. This new omnivorous existence contains an absolute wonderland of foods. Things I haven't eaten in years are welcoming me with deliciously open arms. Chicken and dumplings, gumbo with andouille, turkey on Thanksgiving—the foods of my childhood are mine for the taking.
After almost 11 years of a repulsion-based vegetarianism, one day I just ceased to be repulsed. I'm alarmingly comfortable with relinquishing something that's been part of my very identity for so long. Vanquished vegetarianism is a little sad for me, admittedly. But the epicurean future is too tantalizing for it to get me down.
Thank you, bacon.