Saturday, July 7, 2012

Getting used to being around carnivores

I'm not used to seeing a ton of meat.

I usually try to limit my land meat intake to once a week - it's healthier, better for the environment, better for certain health issues, much easier for keeping kosher, and, I feel, more morally ethical (I'm inspired a bit here by the teachings of R' Kook). I actually haven't had anything fleishig (land meat) for about a month now. I'm toying with the idea of forgoing meat altogether.

I never grew up with that much meat - my sister's pescatarian and my parents never really understood the meat-every-day thing. Also, a significant number of my friends have some sort of restriction on meat - from keeping kosher or halal to vegetarianism to vegan to picky eating. I'm also friends with a lot of people in groups with traditionally high vegetarianism rates - liberals, Jews, queers, etc.

So most of the year, restaurant visits, catering, and cooking are organized around things like:

"Um, wow, we can't eat anything on this menu, everything has beef."
"Tofu cookoff!" (Can we do this?)
"We're out of lentils. We need to get more."
"This is a vegan remake of ________ "
"I think everyone has some sort of restriction, just cater the whole thing vegetarian."
"Did someone buy vegan/kosher marshmallows?" (Most marshmallows have pork gelatin.)
"They put ham in the mac and cheese again." (No, seriously, UChicago Dining does this all the time.)
"Er, can I get a vegetarian ___________, hold the ______?"
"Seitan! Seitan everywhere!"

In short, I'm not particularly accustomed to being around carnivores.

So D.C.'s most interesting culture shock has been the amount of meat.

Yes, I am aware that most Americans eat a ton of meat. Meat is subsidized and heavily promoted in this country, and high consumption cuts across social classes. Significant constructs of American masculinity, authenticity, and normativity revolve around meat consumption.

It's just that I'm still not quite used to the amounts of meat this physically involves.

My colleagues (who, by the way, are lovely) for example, eat meat-packed sandwiches, chicken-laden lunches, and flesh-crammed salads for lunch. Some every day. I've seen more meat at the lunch table some days than has entered my digestive system in two and a half months.

Or when I'm in the supermarket. Perhaps this is a product of living near university types during the year and having grown up in a heavily Jewish area, but I'm not used to seeing so much meat in shopping baskets. At the supermarket I'm going to, it's easier to buy a pricy cut of chicken than a decent broccoli. (Whole Foods at Foggy Bottom, take note.)

Or what people I know here eat. I've seen lots of packages of minced meat.

Or folks in restaurants. The meat parts of portions look bigger on plates, and I definitely see a lot more meat orders through windows or when I've gone out to eat. The three or four times I've gone out, however, have mostly been with people with dietary restrictions of their own that meant that we were the "vegetarian table" or such.

I guess this is me - a good New York Jewish kid of immigrants who lives in a university neighborhood in Chicago and spends a lot of time around Jews, liberals, queers, and fish-Friday or old-school Catholics - getting used to the American norm. Or maybe it's a white American thing. I don't know.

(And now, I will proceed to stuff my face with onions and bread before Tzom Tammuz)


  1. Oh, well, American norm, I guess, but it sounds likes my kind of a thing. I'm sorry! I'm a big omnivore.
    (PS - finally in DC!)

    1. 1. Yes! You are here.
      2. No need to apologize! Although if and when I make you food expect it to not have meat products. (Although I've never seen you eat meat?)