How I became a vegetarian.

Well, I haven’t been one for so long, certainly not when compared to my son Joshua. As I write this he will be 30 at his next birthday; he’s been a vegetarian since he was 8 years old and came home one day and send to us: “I can’t be involved in killing things”. He’s been a vegetarian since that day and for the rest or our family it meant that vegetarianism became a very present theme from then on.

But it was one of those weird kids say the darndest thing moments that presaged later events…

Josh was perhaps eight or nine years old, already a vegetarian. Rachel is four years younger than him – something that remains true. I was walking by the kitchen, a lot happened in that kitchen, when I heard Rachel laughing. I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone laughing so fully and deeply. There was no way I could have walked by, so I stuck my head in. The two of them sat at the kitchen table, they’d been playing or talking or eating or more likely some mix of all three. Now my little daughter was laughing so hard tears were rolling down her cheeks. Her brother gazed at her with the oddest expression…

“Rachel” I asked, “what’s so funny”. It took her a moment to be able to answer she was laughing so hard she couldn’t breath. But finally the response came as she wiped the joyful tears from her face: “Joshi says that…” she couldn’t quite get past her renewed laughter. Finally she managed it: “Joshi says that chicken the food is the same as chicken the bird!”

Explaining that awful truth led to a really difficult conversation, and though it took almost twenty years to pay off, none of us could forget the impossible absurdity that had cracked Rachel up.

Years later his sister triggered her mother and my decision to finally follow suit. She came in one evening and said, “I stepped on a snail as I walked in; the sound was awful. I can no longer eat animals”. Donna and I felt it was a decision that we had made some time earlier but like the snail was for Rachel, we were, without knowing it just waiting for a trigger and this one little snail was going to be it for the three of us.

We had been lurking around the edges of this decision for years. I’d said I would become a vegetarian when it was a visceral (pun semi-intended) decision, when I really felt a rejection of meat. And now that moment had come. Not an intellectual or “moral” decision, more an aesthetic one.

Negro was no vegetarian, though very sympathetic to avoiding eating meat when it was part of a cultural landscape, or when it was motivated by a genuine response. The oddities of what people considered food was a favourite theme of his dinner conversations. Try to explain the joys of kæstur hákarl to a non-Icelander not raised on it, or enjoy a drink of traditional non-malted chicha if it’s not part of your cultural landscape and you have the misfortune of knowing how it is fermented. Here our late friend Salva would have added the example of formaggio marcio. Of course the list of foods that seem ridiculous, disgusting or impossible to outsiders goes on and on. Negro was also extremely solicitous when it came to the culinary customs of visitors, always concerned that they have food they were comfortable with. He showed much less concern for his own diet.

One evening we were talking about food and Negro commented on how there are those who like the idea that every being in our universe eats some other beings and is, in turn, eaten. They feel it reveals a great harmony, when in reality it is just monstrous!