Best of RG III: Meat, meat, meat!

by Zora O'Neill on January 5, 2006

The crowd with feathered hair and jean jackets seated at the diner table were snapped out of their laughing reverie by the sound of the doorbell ringing…

Joanie scampered downstairs [because, um, the diner is on the second floor?] to find a big box from Niman Ranch on the doorstep. Wow–Joanie must be a psychic online shopper, because just the day before she’d been thinking of ordering a side of beef from this very place. In fact, though, the box was a gift from a member of the cast from Season 1.

Normally, in sitcom land, this would cause a flashback to that very character from Season 1 doing something totally hilarious, but I don’t think I’ve written anything about Chris on this blog. She was my college roommate for all four years, and now she lives in Geneva, where she eats her weight in cheese and duck daily. And she clearly knows me very well, to send me a box of oxtail and sausage as a get-well present.

So instead, we have to flash back to more issues re: meat. To set the tone, consider Meat Comes from Animals: Deal With It, or Eat Vegetables, or closer to home, Peter’s response to a vegetarian.

I’m also counting down the days to the release of Michael Pollan’s new book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It doesn’t come out till April, but Pollan is a smart guy, elegant writer and excellent journalist, particularly on the issues of industrial food. While you’re waiting, I highly recommend reading The Botany of Desire: highbrow research on GM potatoes, along with lowbrow musings on Amsterdam hydroponic weed.

End of commercial break. Back to the show:

Joanie breaks open the box and ogles the cross-sections of oxtails. “Cool! And to think there was a time I wouldn’t have eaten these…”

“Gosh, that was a really funny time…” says one of the wiseacre boys, and there goes the screen again…When it straightens up, we’re in Albuquerque, NM, circa 1990:

February 1, 2005

I Was a Teenage Vegetarian

I’ve been harboring a horrible, horrible secret: For several years, I did not eat meat.

I realize that may be difficult for many to imagine—especially if you could see me now, just starting to drool slightly at the thought of next weekend’s lamb roast.

But the odd thing is that there’s a whole category of people in my life who ask, “Wait—are you still a vegetarian?” before every meal. So I guess I must’ve been pretty fervent at the time, but I can’t even really remember why I’d given up the pleasures of the flesh.

It had something to do with reading Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet, which posits that meat-eating is untenable because it’s an inefficient use of land. I was very into efficiency at that point—it informed a lot of my young thinking, including on such knotty subjects as the death penalty. (Whatever I said at NM Girls State, strike it from the record!) I would’ve made a tidy little fascist if I’d grown up in a different environment, but luckily some hippie humanitarianness rubbed off, and now I channel my love of efficiency into daily OCD rituals instead of public policy.

I was also raised whole-grainy, so Lappe’s whole combining-proteins concept didn’t seem too difficult, as we were already eating rice-and-bean casserole with green chile for dinner. And the power-to-the-people aspect of me loved the fact that I, halfway around the globe, was eating what 99 percent of India was eating for dinner.

People also talk about teenage vegetarianism as a low-level eating disorder, a way of expressing control over your body the same way anorexics and bulimics do. In my case, though, that was just crap. I was pretty well adjusted, body-wise (OK, small breasts meant for distressing bathing-suit shopping, but lots of people had it worse than me), and, more important, it soon became very, very clear that I had absolutely no control.

I’d been meat-free for the last couple years of high school—two years of high school I’d spent starting an environmental organization and squandering gas driving around aimlessly on weekend nights—and after I graduated, I needed a summer job to save up the necessary “student contribution” that my generous university had decided on for my financial aid package. Albuquerque not being exactly a booming economy, the options were slim. First I went to the nearest Wendy’s and picked up an application, and briefly talked myself into thinking I could work there, but fortunately my friend Chad called and said his mom could probably get me a job at Kmart.

Lo and behold, the first act of shameless nepotism in my life transpired, and I was soon wearing pantyhose and a little name tag that said “cash register service employee.” I felt bad getting a job offer after a five-minute interview, when there were six other more desperate people sitting in the antechamber, but given the management’s utter (and justified) paranoia about people stealing shit, I soon rationalized that it was just more efficient to hire the white girl who’s going to college, even if she is wearing a tie-dye T-shirt.

I wasn’t actually working for my friend Chad’s mom—she was the manager at another Kmart on the other side of town, in a livelier strip mall. My Kmart was just off a freeway exit and shared its mall space only with the Olde America Shoppe, a slightly creepy right-wing junk store that even I couldn’t find anything good in, and I’d been shopping second-hand my whole life. And way off at the far end of the parking lot, by the freeway on-ramp, was a Burger King.

On my mandated 15-minute breaks, I would step out in the sun to counteract the frigid a/c. Also, the break room was grim and fluorescent, and once I got cornered by the manager, an earnest, sad man who told me how great it was that I was getting out of here and going to the Ivy League, and that I should make good and sure I made something of myself. Usually for lunch, I would pack a little something and eat it in my car (employees were discouraged from sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store and eating sandwiches).

But with a few weeks to go before the end of my Kmart tenure, the wind shifted, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. Whenever I walked out of the store’s front doors, all I could smell was flame-broiled goodness, the essence of Whoppers wafting downwind toward me from the far-off BK.

Even pre-veg, I’d had a soft spot for Whoppers, always coming down firmly on their side whenever a Big Mac booster shot off his or her mouth. I mean, duh: Flame. Broiled. Meat. Essence of human food.

Also, of course, essence of corporate evil. We were very pre-Fast Food Nation at that point, but I still knew about slash-and-burn ranching in the rainforests and all that. I knew BK was wrong, but, baby, it smelled so right.

So one day, I walked right across the parking lot (huh, not so far away after all, it turned out) and ate a Whopper.

I’d like to say I never looked back, but then I went to my very expensive college that had very vile food, and rarely did we have anything meat-based in the dining hall that was as sublime as a Whopper. I ate so much broccoli in two years that I couldn’t eat it again for four, and I had peanut-butter sandwiches (good combining proteins) every day for breakfast. I scavenged free pizza and ice cream, and gained a decent ass-load of weight.

I was greatly relieved when junior year rolled around, when I joined the amazing Terrace Club and could choose from fabulous food of every possible kind, from roast suckling pig to the human sushi bar. Chef Barton Rouse (RIP) made all food so pleasurable, so filled with love, that it seemed ungrateful not to eat all of it. Plus, he took great delight in bitching about finicky eaters like “milk-jug girls,” who whined that the skim milk had run out, and all, coincidentally, had really big tits. Earning Barton’s approval meant eating meat, and loving every bit of it. That strategy worked, and as a bonus, all that free-pizza weight came right off.

I think my few meatless years now keep me from indulging in that unthinking macho meat-coma gluttony (most of the time), but it also makes me appreciate that it’s all about where the meat comes from, and I don’t mean just whether it’s bioengineered. If it comes from someone who cares about you, that’s the essence of human food. And if it’s flame-broiled, well, so much the better.

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