I was born into a militantly vegetarian family, a family so militant that poor garlic for reasons unknown is not allowed in the kitchen. No Siree, they say it is almost non-vegetarian. My mother wrinkles up her nose at mushrooms and the sight of an omelete will make her take a walk around the neighbourhood till “the smell” leaves her kitchen. Needless to say we had special pots and pans which were solely dedicated for cooking eggs. A few of my aunt’s who married Brahmin men, who gave a rat’s ass and ate meat anyway had special pots and pans for chicken,fish etc. Of all the ridiculuous things, this is the one that kills me. All these women are educated women, women of science, and yet they believe pots and pans cannot be rinsed of something that was cooked in it ! Haven’t they watched the detergent advertisements, one swipe with a vim bar and its a sparkling new dish !
So I was brought up thinking that it was cruel to eat animals and being a vegeterian was taking the high road, the “pure” road.
But, then, school happened. I was 8, at a friend’s birthday party and her little sister passed around a plate of tiny samosas. I ate one, it was delicious. I remembered my manners and thanked her mother, who informed me that they were mutton samosas. They were just to delicious for me to care, I ate another one.
I then realized that all the kids in my class ate meat, and I wanted to as well. I had no chance against peer pressure when I was 8! So everytime we went out for dinner my dad would order chicken soup for me. It was oddly satisfying, but that was the end of my culinary experimentation.
In the 7th or 8th standard, they showed us a series of documentaries in school of which I remember only one name, the ‘Diary of a Chicken’. They were horrifying videos of the unethical practices involved in poultry farming, videos of male baby chicks being ground in a big machine and being fed to the moms. As male chicks cant lay eggs they were not useful ! Videos of the beaks of chickens being removed so hundreds of them could be housed in the same cage, and they won’t be able to peck each other. They were fed and fattened with injections. Videos of pigs in cages so small that they could never turn around, just stand or sit in the exact same place. Videos of pigs that were overfed to the point where their legs broke, unable to support their weight. Videos showing the destruction of forests to grow alpha alpha to feed cows. So if you were a vegetarian your foot print on the earth was halved as opposed to using land for grains and vegetables as well as feed for meat. Needless to say I was mortified. I abolished the chicken soup from my diet and turned strongly vegetarian.
Over the years, I turned vegan as I felt milking the cows continuously was far less humane than killing the cow once and had similar views about eggs.
But as I grew older, I relaxed my ideals, gave into a cup of filter coffee when I went home, indulged in dessert once in a while, but remained vegetarian. This was a serious handicap many times, as in any group of friends I would always be the only vegetarian and when we went out for dinner, I would have no one to share food with. It also seemed to bother a lot of people, and I had to constantly justify and answer ridiculous questions on why I drank alcohol but did not eat meat. I don’t know what it was in me that people thought my eating habits were open for public discussion, I don’t think I have once asked anyone why they eat meat.
The family was no different, all my cousins are strictly carnivorous now, but one boy has so much guilt about eating meat that he cannot eat it of his plate. He will eat it from someone else’s plate, enjoy it even, but has convinced himself he is is a vegetarian for the meat never touches his plate.
I was always told I didn’t know what I was missing out on, so I decided to change that. I decided to eat meat for a month before I turned 30. I expected to be blown away, I was worried I was trying out a slippery slope, of no return. I was disappointed more than once, but i was never blown away, maybe it is the way my taste buds have devloped but give me fresh fruits and vegetables any day.
So this is my review;
1. Chicken – I tried Chicken the most in various forms and feel it is the carrier of whatever it has been cooked in or marinated in, and was the most disappointing of all the meat.
2. Mutton – I was disappointed the first time as it was mixed with egg and stuffed in a ceylon parota, and I really could not taste anything. The second time is when I came the closest to being blown away. It was a girls night out, and we were at this roof top bar in Chennai and my friends ( thanks jp) ordered this mutton curry with melt in your mouth parotas. That I would eat again.
3. Beef – The first time was a tad bit disappointing. It was a burger at Hard Rock Cafe, and I took a big bite. I was chewing and chewing and chewing for what felt like eternity. I could not take another bite. When my true blue mallu friend, GB heard that I was disappointed with beef, he took the matter into his hands. He took me to the Monkey Bar and got me the most delicious hand pounded beef kebabs that melted in your mouth like butter, that could be spread on bread like butter. We also had some tiger beef which was chewy, but passable.
4. Prawns – Prawns are one of the Other’s favourites. He would choose prawns over anything, except crab but including me. So we had it together. I liked the texture, it sort of burst in your mouth, but don’t understand how it could be somebody’s favourite. He says I have to eat his mother’s version of it. Hmmmmm
5. Fish – We had it at at the same place as the prawns. It was called Thanrangambadi fish curry, it had bits of fish in a dark brown kozhambu. I was nervous about eating fish, I have had a strong aversion to the smell since I was a child. As part of a school project we were once talking to fishermen, and without thinking I asked one of them how they managed to work with the bad smell ! ( I used the tamil word natham!!)There was an uncomfortable silence, followed by angry muttering, everyone was offended. As my teacher hurriedly pushed me to the back of the crowd, the fisherman said ” it does not smell bad to us” through clenched teeth.
I took a hesitant bite, I loved the texture of the fish, soft as silk, but the kozhambu tasted just like my mother’s vathakozhambu. The Other startled at this revelation almost fell of his chair and vehemently refuted my observation. Looks like we have to take a pot full of my mother’s vatha kozhambu and go back to Tharangambadi.
I had a different fish curry at a malyalee friend’s house. In this case the fish had its skin and was fried before being immersed in a coconut gravy. The flavour was too strong for me, I had to force myself to swallow what I had in my mouth and transfer the contents on my plate on to the Other’s plate in haste.
6. Crab – Once again JP, a friend who was visibly excited at my resolve patiently broke open the crab and gave me the choicest bits to eat. With crab I can almost understand the Other’s passion, but it is just so painful to get out of it’s shell and I don’t know if I could put in the effort on my own.
I decided I would pass on the pork, as all the pigs I have seen in India are always eating garbage and covered in slime and I don’t think I could bring myself to eat it.
So that was it, me strongly vegetarian, almost vegan, brought up in a no garlic family, breaking my barriers and trying some meat. A lot of it was delicious, but I think I can live without it. Idon’t think, for me, this is something I will miss. On the other hand, I have successfully mastered any aversion I had that may have developed through years of conditioning, so if I do travel to remote Argentina or Mongolia I can survive happily.