Migration — No Meat for Me

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I stopped eating meat more than 30 years ago and poultry a few years later. The process actually started when I was a kid. I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when I was about 12 or so. The jungle refers to the Chicago stockyards. His nauseating descriptions of people sweeping the rodent droppings, hairs and sawdust into casings along with ground pork put me off hot dogs for the rest of my life. I knew those conditions no longer existed. In fact Sinclair’s novel brought about legislation that regulated the industry and improved conditions for the laborers. But that image was forever fixed in my mind. It didn’t help that shortly before I read the book I became violently ill after eating some beans and franks.

Things continued in that vein until I was in my twenties. I went to a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat salad bar and filled up on lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, etc. Took the steak home. It sat in the refrigerator for several days, and I finally tossed it. That was the end of slabs of meat. I continued to fix stir fry – small pieces of beef chopped up but again I ate more vegetables and rice than meat.

Then came law school. On the first morning I walked into the cafeteria and smelled this kind of heavy almost musky odor. The woman behind the counter smiled and said, “Would you like some scrapple?” I looked at this square brown curled up thing and thought, “I don’t think I want to eat anything that smells like innards and looks like a piece of the heel of a shoe.” I politely declined.

For the rest of the semester I was so nervous I couldn’t eat much of anything. Mostly survived on tea and crackers for the next two and a half months, though I did begin to eat a bit more after a doctor at Penn Hospital gave me Donnatal.

When I went home for Thanksgiving, Daddy fixed roast pork because it was just the two of us. Mother was teaching in Hawaii and wasn’t coming home till Christmas. I ate the roast pork without thinking and was sick for the next three days. Mother issued a long distance prescription for paregoric, and that settled the worst spasms.

Without realizing it I had not eaten any animal protein for months. Apparently there’s an enzyme in the stomach that digests heavy protein. And it’s another example of use it or lose it. Plus I had picked about the fattiest meat possible and so had doubled my misery.

After that episode, I swore off red meat but still ate chicken, usually browned in a bit of oil and then simmered in various liquids. That was until I ate a piece of unadorned breast, and it tasted like it had been in a closet for three months before it got cooked and served. That was the end of poultry except for one excursion with roast duck in the early 1990s. Boy, was that a mistake! I had a repeat of the roast pork experience but no paregoric to ease the pain.

So now it’s just fish when I eat out. At home, it’s all rice, pasta, veggies, beans, and very occasionally a potato.

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