I remember my first oyster. I was maybe 6. It was the fall. I know that because I can still picture my mom in this short, black coat she loved to wear. We were at this shopping center a few miles from our house. It was memorable for several reasons, not the least of which was the look of disgust on my mother’s face as I downed the slimy goodness. I’m pretty sure it was at that point my mother questioned if I was truly her son.
She hated seafood with a passion. As a kid we almost never had fish for dinner. Mom would tell stories of how growing up in Brooklyn her family would have fish nights and she would run from the house.
So why you may ask would such a mother give her son an oyster? Good question. It was to teach a lesson, that one should try everything to find out what you like and don’t like.
Adventurousness is a learned trait in my opinion. As is cautiousness. On the one hand my mother wanted me to be open to new experiences and to try things that I hadn’t; on the other, she was also very concerned about my well-being.
Part of being adventurous for me is being a foodie. I’m one of those people who takes good food seriously. I know my way around a kitchen and have a well-developed sense of what is going to work, but also a willingness to try something new.
I’m a mean chef and I love to cook for large groups. It’s my inner Italian grandmother. If I like you, you’re going to be invited for dinner. That dinner will usually include beef, pork or chicken. I’m used to working with all types of meat, from basic hamburger to butter-frying a flank steak to make a braciola, which is an Italian dish that takes pretty much all mourning to prepare.
So it was with great trepidation that I took a friend up on a suggestion to go vegetarian for a while. My annual men’s retreat is coming up in May, I could stand to lose a few pounds, and I was told that cutting the meat from my heavily carnivorous diet could help with that.
I’ve lived with a vegetarian before and found it challenging to cook for him, so I decided that I was going to be moderate about this “no meat” thing. I’m not going to go all obsessive compulsive about it. If I should get a little chicken stock in my matzah ball soup, so be it.
It’s been about a month, and but for dinner at a friend’s house for pasta carbonara and one night of dinner at T’s Thai on Fourth Street, I’ve been meat free, which is not as hard as I thought, nor as easy.
Making the decision to be more aware of what I eat has brought a consciousness to just how pervasive the consumption of meat is in our culture. I’ve started to look at menus in restaurants differently. By reading them in an exclusionary way, it readily becomes apparent to me how few choices some places have for vegetarians, even as the relatively easy-going type of vegetarian I am trying on for size.
I can see how if I was more strict, like the no eggs or dairy kind, how difficult it would be to find a meal.
As a culture we are high consumers of meat. This past Sunday I was at Costco with my friend Anne. As we strolled the aisles of that temple of consumerist adoration (I was slackjawed at the three types of tanning beds that were for sale — don’t they know we live in a desert?), it became overwhelmingly clear to me how pervasive meat is in the products we eat. The fresh meat section is huge at a Costco and you can buy, almost, a side of beef in a vacu-seal.
The frozen food section has more variety in prepackaged and individually wrapped portions than I thought possible. From beef Wellingtons that are ready to be re-heated to mini-quiches with bacon and ham, there is an almost endless variety of what can be purchased.
It truly is astounding when I consider how big the meat industry must be to support just this one chain of stores.
I don’t know if this vegetarian thing is going to last for me; my first trip to the river for some jet skiing is only a few weeks away, and that usually means cheeseburgers, chicken wings and stuffed shrimp. But the awareness of what I eat is likely to last, because as mom taught me long ago, once you’ve tried something new, the experience stays with you, no matter what you do about it.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.