Never Name Your Food
Even as a very young child, I had a realistic view of nature. I never believed that claptrap about all the animals living together in some sort of vegan paradise – I knew better.
This authentic view probably came from the fact that I am the daughter of a farming and hunting family. My mom likes to recount the story about the pig roast when I was three or four years old. She wanted to protect me by keeping me inside and away from the blood and gore of killing an animal, but all I wanted was to be outside. Finally, Fuzzy told her that if I wanted out so badly, she should let me go. My mother remembers me dancing around the fire pit “like a wild indian” as the pig was roasted. I don’t actually remember the event at all, but I don’t doubt the veracity of my mom’s account.
When I was in grade school – probably around the first or second grade – my mom volunteered to be a chaperone on a school zoo trip. My mom was left with five little girls, including me. As we were watching the crocodiles that day, a duck landed in the water near a lurking amphibious creature. Mom, being a relatively squeamish person, attempted to turn the group’s attention away from the bird’s impending death. However, I was quick to get everyone’s attention with my announcement that the crocodile was going to “have lunch.” Sure enough, a few seconds later we were rewarded with the sight a crocodile smiling around the spread wings of his unsuspecting – and now very dead – prey. The other girls were screaming bloody murder, my mother was trying to draw them away from the traumatic scene, and I was saying, “What? Why are you crying? Crocodiles have to eat too!” Needless to say, I was the most popular girl in class – at least as far as the boys were concerned. The girls…not so much.
My cavalier attitude toward animal deaths came to an abrupt end around the age of nine. Fuzzy took me out to meet the new calves my grandfather had bought at auction. There were four of them, and I named them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were cute, all black and white and still a little playful (well, as playful as livestock can be). I visited and petted them over the course of a summer. In short, I thought of them as pets – not food.
Several months passed. One night, my parents and I went to my grandparents’ house for dinner. Now, I am anything but a vegetarian – I enjoy meat, especially steak. Grandpa dropped a nice cut of beef onto my plate, and I dug in. I was maybe a quarter of the way through that steak when Grandpa said, “That’s Matthew you’re eating there! Tastes good, huh?”
My stomach rolled in horror and I seriously thought I was going to throw up right there on my plate. I must have blanched, because all of the adults looked at me with a mixture of concern and amusement. I pushed the plate away with three-quarters of a tasty steak on it. No matter how the adults cajoled me, I would not eat another bite.
That was the night I learned the most important lesson of an omnivore: if it might end up on your plate, don’t hang a moniker on it – no matter how cute it is.