A collection of biographical incidents and largely irrelevant observations
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 in his next birthday; he’s been a vegetarian since he was 8 years old and came home one day and said to us: “I can’t be involved in killing things”. He’s been a vegetarian since that day and for the rest of our family it meant that vegetarianism became a very present theme from then on.
But it was one of those weird kids saying the darndest things 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!
People make up all kinds of shit when you ask them about their earliest memories. Most of the time, almost all the time, they don’t even know they are making things up. People believe all kinds of shit. People say all kinds of shit—even when they don’t believe it, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about.
There are all kinds of ways to do those kind of things and all kinds of things that trap us in the tales we tell. There are the well-known illusions and tricks of consciousness. There are the lies we know we are telling and the much more serious ones that we don’t realize are lies. There’s the posing and posturing; our reflex like need to mark out our turf, defend, counterattack and strike, pre-emptively if possible. Then there’s all the weird stuff that’s more difficult to map out and even to name. Stuff that locks us into conflicts we barely begin to understand, conflict with ourselves and with others.
It starts young. I remember hearing my kids (they were perhaps 4 and 8) in the kitchen arguing. I walked in to hear Josh saying forcefully to “it’s a lemon”. Rachel replied even more firmly “it’s a melon.” In a spiralling escalation they argued back and forth: “it’s a melon”, “it’s a lemon”, “no it’s a melon”, “no it’s a lemon” round and round they went. Before leaving the room I felt obliged to point out to them that the object sitting on the table in front of them was in fact usually called “an onion”. They paused for a moment, both staring perplexed at this strange object that was suddenly inescapably there – and then they exploded in astonished and delighted laughter.
Tragically, not all conflicts are resolved in this way. Sometimes we never discover that it’s an “onion”. However, in this case the revelation of the roots of the conflict produced a moment of joy, where the tensions of the conflict were transformed and forgotten. It was a great moment for them and for me — perhaps for different reasons, perhaps not.
Here’s another one of those “kids say the darndest things” thing.
My friend Salvatore Puledda was a very interesting and funny guy. His sudden and unexpected departure was perhaps, from the perspective of those of us left behind, inopportune. Here you’ll (eventually) find photos, tales and observations.