I don’t remember exactly the year, but I was between the ages of 10 and 12 when I became a vegetarian. It was the evening before Thanksgiving. We were having steak, potatoes, and peas. A meal I dreaded so much that I still can’t look at green peas without feeling nauseated and it wasn’t until I took a trip to Ireland in my 20 that I could stomach any form or semblance of potatoes.
We were lucky children. My mother always cooked and we always ate dinner as a family. I went to school, played sports, and rode my horse everyday. I would be starving by dinnertime. When my mom cooked this meal it would be torture for me. My father (his views have since changed) firmly believed that we should waste nothing and clear everything on our plates. My mother did not share this attitude.
So there were my parents at the head, my younger sister, Zoe, next to me, and my older brother, Grant, across the table. Jinx, our black and white English Cocker Spaniel, secretly waited eagerly for multiple napkins-full of my half chewed steak to be served to him below the table. This day, I tried to sneak Jinx some peas but he refused them and a few rolled towards my father feet. “Oh, no,” I thought. When my father got up to get something from the kitchen, I pointed and said, “Look, deer!” even though there were none, and as the rest of my family glanced out the window I put all my peas in my napkin and escaped to the nearest bathroom to flush them down the toilet. I made it back to the table before my father.
On his way back he stepped on some of my rouge peas, wiped them off his shoe, and as he sat down glanced evil-eyed in my direction. “Just chew the damn meat,” he said half jokingly. I didn’t answer but caught everyone’s eyes on me, while Jinx poked me with his nose. As the others chatted and engulfed their food I slipped Jinx another piece of meat off my plate. Ten minutes later, my father asked, annoyed, “Are you still chewing that same piece of meat?” My brother smirked. My sister became invisible. “It’s hard to chew,” I answered, with a tone he didn’t like. “You are not leaving this table until it’s all gone!” he replied. I glanced around. “You know I don’t believe in that.” My mother chimed in. “My parents use to do that to me and I hated it.” I had sat before at that dinner table long past dinner time because I could not fully chew a piece of steak and I was not going to do that again.
“I am a vegetarian,” I impulsively announced. “What?” They all said. “I am not going to eat meat anymore. I can’t chew it. It’s not good for me. I’ll be a vegetarian.”
“Eat your dam meat,” My father answered, poking my hand with his fork.
“No! Dad, I can’t chew it. I am not going swallow a huge piece of meat.”
“Young lady, you will eat it.”
“She doesn’t have to eat it if she doesn’t want to,” my mother insisted. “She can be a vegetarian.”
“Fine. We will see how long that lasts,” replied my father.
And then we all got up and cleared our plates.
“Let’s shoot some hoops, Sis.” My brother grabbed the back of my t-shirt and pulled me towards the door. I picked up my pace and I felt a sense of serenity come over me that I had never felt before. I got out of sitting at that table for another hour.
It has been over 25 years since I have eaten meat. That Thanksgiving, I had tons of food to eat and I was thankful for standing up for myself, for taking control of my life, and for realizing that deep down I never wanted to eat animals. (I will say that now I feed my dogs 90 pounds of meat a month.) That night, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12, I made a big life choice for the first time. I still have that antique wooden table, and every Thanksgiving season I find myself there, in my old seat, wondering what big life choice I should make next.