As a child, I did something so radical, so disturbing, that my family feared I was careening toward self-destruction. I became a vegetarian.
In their defense, this was over 20 years ago, when vegetarianism was far less common. Particularly among 7-year-olds like me. And particularly in the Midwest, where a meat-and-potatoes diet is practically a requirement.
The shock swept through my family swiftly and without mercy. Some merely shook their heads, thinking it a phase I’d soon abandon. Others grew enraged, berating my mother for allowing her daughter to indulge in such a dangerous lifestyle. And a few grasped this opportunity to challenge a 7-year-old to a philosophical debate. One relative pointed out that plants were also living things, and how did I know they didn’t have consciousness like those animals I now refused to eat? I’ll admit, I didn’t have a good answer for that. I was only 7.
The consensus among my relatives was that I was misguided and sure to perish without the nutrients derived from a hearty helping of animal protein.
“But...but she’ll die,” they gasped.
Despite my attempts to explain that meat wasn’t the only source of protein in this world, and that vegetables were, in fact, quite healthy, my relatives clung to the belief that I was in mortal danger. And they weren’t the only critics. Strangers often fired off a barrage of questions about this “vegetarianism business.”
“So you don’t eat any meat?”
“What about fish?”
“What about chicken?”
“What about on Thanksgiving--do you eat turkey?”
Here, they expressed shock, horror, outrage. No turkey on Thanksgiving? Sacrilege!
“What do you eat, then?”
“Everything but meat.”
They always seemed disappointed by such a simple explanation.
Other people were more suspicious:
“Is it, like, one of those secret societies?”
“Do you have meetings?”
“Are you allowed to associate with people who eat meat?”
“Only if they promise not to give away our secret handshake.”
Sometimes, people thought they could convert me. They described, in detail, their favorite meat dishes, hoping the temptation would be too great. If they were desperate, they tried to sneak meat into my food.
Despite feeling like an oddity at times, there are some advantages to being seen as unusual. I’ve always been painfully normal, but thanks to my peculiar eating habits some people see me as unique. To my family, I am an independent spirit who follows her heart with no concern for public opinion. To strangers, I am an enigma, with exotic ways that are mysterious and fascinating. And who am I to argue with that?