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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dad dips into a vegetarian dinner

A hunter's daughter takes her shot

By Sara Peck

The rudest awakening of my childhood was not anything Santa-related, but that the antelope heads poking through our family room wall weren’t standing in the adjacent garage and inquisitively looking through—they were dead, there was no body behind those cuddly faces.
After that day I was afraid to fall asleep on the couch watching television. Can you imagine waking up as an 8-year-old to taxadermied heads in the dark? To flip the bill for the thousands in therapy I’d need, my father would probably have to take those heads on Antique Roadshow.
My father was and is a hunter/gunsman/motorcycle guy ardently, passionately and fully. While my mother was pregnant with me, he was hunting in the Arctic Circle. When I was six, I asked him to bring me back a duck bill from a trip in Maine to use as a hand puppet (I would only later realize how morbid this was).
When he needed to blow off steam, my dad loaded up his faithful shot gun and took down the squirrels that dived between trees, fearing for their lives. Why buy Halo II…I hear the thrill of holding a gun in your hands is a little more powerful than a joystick. To prove a point, I brought a squirrel tail to my kindergarten show-and-tell. Other family functions were too marked by light-hearted animal slaying—on Easter, the best eggs were always inside the mouth of our bear rug or hidden behind the pair of taxadermied ducks.
At age 11, I announced that I was becoming a vegetarian. No matter how many times that he explained to me that hunting was not about the killing but about the memories with friends, I had had enough.
Now, I’m not one of those trendsters who saw a "meat is murder" T-shirt on Pam Anderson’s goodies and took it as a message from Hugh Hefner himself, shunning off animal products until sushi came back in vogue. I was honestly opposed to what my father did.
Many of my 9 years as a vegetarian were spent 1. defending my choice and 2. persuading others to do the same. Most of my friends who knew my family were both amazed and amused that a hippy wild child could come from a two-story colonial safari complete with bear rugs and antique shotguns mounted on the walls.
I’ve seen my fair share of fair-weather vegheads — they nibble some tofu, read a little of Civil Disobedience, and muse uninformedly about joining the Peace Corps. But within a week or two, when some handsome graduate student takes them out to a fancy steak dinner, they click their $300 heels back to meateaterndom.
These people annoy me almost as much as those who carry fabric shopping bags screaming "I’m not a plastic bag" only to fill them with designer bottled water—an equally trendy, but infinitely more harmful choice for the environment. Vegetarianism as a trend certainly has its benefits—even a short-lived reduction in meat-eating reduces ones carbon footprint—but ideologically it just seems insincere and petty.
So, when friends of mine leaning towards vegetarianism tell me that it is "too hard" or "I just don’t think I could do it with my crazy schedule" I take it as pure laziness. Even Burger King rolled out a veggie burger in mid-2002 (not that I’d recommend eating it in non-dire circumstances—after many bunches of paper napkins were wasted blotting away grill sludge-fat, I could still hear my arteries waving the white flag). Other, less-intimidating vegetarian staples like hummus are regulars in many restaurants, and might I recommend the roasted red pepper variety? And in Stop n Shop, right next to the chocolate covered pretzels and greasy trail mix, there are packages of soy dogs, just waiting to be grilled. The laziness, I have concluded, is mostly mental.
To his immense credit, my father has always respected and supported my decision. Even if now, 9 years later, he sometimes "forgets" that I don’t eat fish, he will always help me badger the waiter for extra veggies in my emaciated side salad or bought me tofu when I’ve run out. He reminds me to call ahead at family gatherings to ask what vegetarian food will be there; he isn’t even embarrassed when I bring an Amy’s frozen dinner to Christmas.
If you need no other reason to at least convince someone to hide tofu in your dinner, I will leave you with this story.
My father, the gun-toting, cow-blood-makes-the-best-gravy, Harley-riding dad, actually has eaten tofu. And liked it. When he and my mom visited me at college one weekend during my sophomore year, I did what all impoverished, bohemian college students do—give their parents a tour of the local eateries. My roommates and I longed for parental visits to try out that new restaurant or to languish in a full meal not rationed over a week in plastic baggies in our fridge.
After wooing them with stories of great grades, sunshine, rainbows and lifelong friends, I did what any good date would do—I cashed in. I took them to my favorite overpriced but delicious vegetarian eatery that I would only go to on three occasions: 1. post breakup (the vegan chocolate peanut butter cake was always my rebound romance) 2. After finding money on the street (never happened) and 3. When someone else was paying –Blind Faith Café in Evanston, Ill.
My dad was used to my vegetarian antics by now, but never before had he been without the convenience of ordering a burger while I interrogated the waiter about anchovies in Caesar dressing. The whole menu is vegetarian and vegan, even the desserts.
After ordering the Seitan Marsala dish, a feeble shout-out to his love of Italian food, my dad waited grimly for his meal to arrive. I can only imagine that he invited the homonym between the meat substitute and the fiery depths of hell.
And then it arrived, covered in sauce and loving resting on a bed of egg noodles, not the starchy ones he so loved. But no matter how it looked, the "meat" was really just a blob of wheat gluten. He took his first few bites with trepidation, probably mentally plotting a course to the nearest burger place for a real meal after be forced down a few bites of this slop to make me happy.
"This is really good," he said, looking around furtively to make sure no one 1,000 miles away from New Haven knew him. My mother almost gagged in shock—he wasn’t lying. Not even a little bit.
"I know."

Editor's note: Vegging Out barely needs to say "Sara Peck rocks" at this point because you have read her truly tasty visit to her family dinner table. However, for the record "Sara Pack rocks," and Vegging Out offers a big thank you for this post - and for teaching a hard core carnivore a thing or two about meat.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed this story, and though ive only been a vegetarian for a year,im 16, i really do enjoy it , people always ask me why i do it and they always tell me to just take a bite out of whatever kind of animal their eating and i deny it i tell them about the story how i started being a vegetarian as a bet with my ex-girlfriend and that after wards i liked it and i learned things about the farm factories( i even went vegan for 2 months) and how they treat all the animals which just gave me more motivation, i have to say im pretty healthy now and though people say animals are still going to be killed for food i truly believe that by not buying and supporting the people that mistreat animals so horribly that im making a difference in the world and it makes me happy to see others do the same.☺

sincerly, anthony

August 12, 2009 12:11 AM 

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