People tend to assume I’m vegetarian because of some deeply-held radical belief that meat is murder. I’ve even had some friends ask if it’s OK for them to eat meat in my presence. Well, I like mammals, and I don’t think they should be mistreated, and I don’t personally feel I should eat them; but the fact of the matter is, I’m vegetarian primarily for a much more mundane reason.
I don’t like the taste of meat.
I never have done. As a child I found chicken and turkey palatable, so long as there were no bones involved. Beef was OK as long as it was flavored with something and minced up so you couldn’t tell what it was. Every other kind of meat I disliked to a significant degree, and I loathed pig meat of every variety, from tough salty unpleasant pork chops to greasy fatty salty bacon.
(You there at the back, stop drooling.)
The worst part of all was the fat, which made any kind of meat-on-the-bone sheer torture. The texture of white fat on my tongue provokes my gag reflex. My mother, of course, thought it was a ploy and that I just wanted to eat candy or cookies or something instead. Well, frankly I wanted to eat anything instead; I’d have gladly eaten sawdust to get out of having to finish those pork chops. Same goes for liver and the other disgusting animal organs that people used to eat in England in the 1970s.
My mother dealt with my reluctance to eat meat in the time-honored way of mothers everywhere: she laid a massive guilt trip on me.
There were poor families who would have been delighted to get a piece of liver like that. There were children starving in Africa who would find a feast in the scraps of meat carelessly left on that pork bone. There was no way I would be allowed to leave the table until I had eaten everything, every last scrap, and I was clearly a horrible child for even daring to think otherwise.
And so it was that I was programmed to be unable to leave food on the plate. Not even the smallest scrap. And the same programming rendered me unable to tolerate the wastefulness of an unscraped yogurt carton or a ketchup bottle being thrown out while there was still a good tablespoon of ketchup in it.
There’s a sting in the tale, though. It turned out that the behavior my mother carefully instilled in me drove my dad nuts. The sound of cutlery on plate was like fingernails on a blackboard to him, and the sight of me licking a yogurt carton lid would make the red mist descend before his eyes.
After six years in America and a lot of effort, I am beginning to deprogram myself, because an inability to leave food uneaten in America is a dangerous health hazard. A couple of weeks ago I left some food uneaten at a restaurant because I had sated my hunger. Today I turned down a portion of french fries and let someone simply throw them away. OK, I still lick the yogurt carton lids, but it’s one step at a time, you know?