Growing up, I identified as a pepperoni-loving, sausage-eating Italian American. I was weaned on my grandmother’s pastine, an Italian take on chicken noodle soup, before I even had my first set of teeth. I lived for her homemade meatballs, laden with little wrinkly raisins in every bite. So the idea of becoming a vegetarian never really entered my mind—not with all that delicious prosciutto e melone waiting in the wings.
That didn’t stop some of my vegetarian friends, however, from trying to sway me over the years. Watch this video, they’d say. Read this book. No, thanks, I’d reply. I’m happy just the way I am. That is, until about two and a half years ago when one of my friends laid Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer in my lap. “OK,” I said. “I’m putting this in my bag, but I want you to know that I’m not going to become a vegetarian just because I read some book. I’m not easily influenced, you know.” About halfway through—I think it was somewhere between the chicken chapter and the undersea creatures—I set down my ham sandwich, mid-bite, and that was that. I quit cold turkey.
The past couple “sober” years, as I like to call them, haven’t exactly been a walk in the park. You know those vegetarians who claim to forget what meat tastes like? The ones who say they don’t crave it anymore? Bologna. I dream about bacon, bubbling on the skillet while morning light shines through my kitchen window. I drool Pavlovian-style at the very thought of slicing into a shiny, green pepper stuffed with beef and rice. And don’t even get me started on holiday ham encrusted with thin layers of crackly brown sugar.
Usually this is the part where I’m supposed to delve into the details about meat production and consumption—that’s for your personal journey. As for the happy ending where I tell you that I skip through vegetable fields with copious amounts of joy? It’s not that kind of story. Being a vegetarian is a choice, and not always an easy one. But, for what it’s worth, despite the pregnancy-like cravings, the absorbent amount of squishy protein substitutes in my diet, and the absence of my grandmother’s savory meatballs, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.