Wednesday, September 24, 2008
No Way, No How, No Meat
Because I don't like meat I don't eat meat. That's it, no hidden agenda, nothing political, I don't like it in the same way I don't like brussel sprouts. Admittedly, the meat idea is rather disgusting to me now but originally, I simply didn't like eating the cow. We ate way too much of the stuff growing up. Dad was a steak guy, and my mother, bless her wayward in the kitchen heart, cooked ground beef. She had a five day repertoire of ground beef dishes: tacos, spaghetti with meat sauce, goulash, hamburger stew (ooh!) and stroganoff. Years later she told my sister and me that the burger was all we could afford. We'll leave that alone but rest assured, the ground beef parade was all her doing.
My husband is from a small town in Nebraska. He had meat in his baby bottle. My father in law is a federal meat inspector, he works in a slaughterhouse (seriously). The idea that I don't eat meat is as foreign a thought to them as one not being a Cornhusker fan (which I am not, strike two). The first time I met them was at an extended family gathering over the Independence Day holiday. This is how these celebrations work: every family brings their own meat, the wives each prepare a side dish (think potato salad, layered salad, jello salad and brownies) and the hosts supply the accouterments. I was terrified. In an effort to fit in I brought with me a pack of vegetarian hot dogs thinking I could casually throw them into the mix without anyone noticing. My then boyfriend disappeared leaving me with the women to get the meal together. I dug furiously through cooler after cooler looking for my "meat" when my future mother in law stopped me and said "now stop, I told Jack we'd bring the meat for you also. I've got the good ones, natural casings!".
The next day we ate breakfast at a diner on the highway. I ordered the "Veg Omelet". Seriously, a vegetarian omelet in Nebraska? How about this? It was full of ham, huge pink chunks of ham messing with the canned mushrooms and American cheese. I tried to subtly remove the offending meat product. The future father in law, clearly a keen observer, noticed my picking and yelled across the table, "what's she picking out over there?". This is a man of few words, how touched I was that he used his morning allotment to take note of my picking. Charade over.
Ten years later the in laws still struggle with this madness and I do feel terrible about the whole thing. When we visit they have no idea what to cook. There is no explaining that I can make a meal from side dishes, there must be a meat to anchor the plate. My mother in law once made spaghetti and meatballs, assuming I could just pull out the meatballs. And they have no more luck choosing a restaurant. Steakhouse are out for obvious reasons despite both Jack and I assuring them that steakhouses are actually among my favorite restaurants. No Mexican, tacos have meat. Italian does not work, meat lasagna, meat sauce, meatballs, meat meat meat.
Meat is a universal term for main dish. All things in the middle of the plate are called meat, whatever the particular meat may be. Meals are arranged around the meat. What meat did you bring? How do you like your meat cooked? Where's the meat? What, no meat!
The question them becomes, do the children eat meat? Most assume they do and yes, when we are out, if they chose they may eat meat. Occasionally Jack will cook a main dish on the back deck (no meat in the kitchen please) and he does honor my insanity; last night he grilled a grass fed hormone free steak. While I pushed the potato, corn and arugula salad, Kate devoured her steak bites, "may I please have another clump of the beast?". Kate's Nebraska future looks far more promising than anything in my Nebraska past.