Friday, October 23, 2009


This is not a Rob Reiner tribute, although I like The Princess Bride. It's a riff on a New York Times article by Jonathan Safran Foer, "Against Meat," recently shared by my friend Steven on facebook. The main gist of the article, as you I'm sure have already guessed, is about the author's quest to become a vegetarian. I must add, however, that he freely admits his history has been quite on-again, off-again—so as a vegetarian manifesto, it leaves the reader a little skeptical regarding the author's commitment. In fact, he goes on quite a bit about his grandmother's delicious cooking and her history of food/experiences with starvation. I could practically hear him salivating about her chicken and carrots—he mentioned them so often you could almost start a drinking game...

I felt like a meathead reading it, because I am quite ambivalent on the subject myself. I rarely eat red meat, except the very occasional sampling of salami. I'm Italian/Sicilian, and come from a family where food was incredibly important and still isnot just as something to be consumed, but part of life, family history. One great grand-father had his own family bakery, the other was a chef.

Periale Bakery Calendar, Lodi, NJ, 1922

I have recipes from
my great-grandfather the chef written down that include parts of an animal or creatures from the sea that don't exactly make my mouth water. But would I try these delicacies if he were alive today and could prepare them? Absolutely.
"Grandma made sfincioni this way, with tiny meatballs."
"Remember the time she made them like popovers?"
"Didn't she use prosciutto?"
Foer's Grandma also had her traditions, of which he wrote fondly. I wasn't convinced, however, that he was able to justify his philosophy, which he is completely entitled to, of the higher moral/ethical ground of vegetarianism vs. the loss of his family food traditions, particularly, his Grandma' chicken and carrots. I'm not arguing with him that the higher moral ground doesn't exist, but has he truly embraced it, or is he trying to convince the reader and himself that this time he has, as opposed to his many previous attempts?

Foer seems to think he has finally found the perfect impediment to his backsliding into meat-eating and what struck a bum note with me most about the article. Foer is imposing his vegetarianism/food beliefs on his children (much like one might about religion, politics, etc.), and assuming that's O.K.—his kids will be free to choose for themselves when they're older.

Huh? My daughter, although only 5 1/2, makes zillions of choices every day, including what she will or will not eat on her plate. Of course I set rules and guidelines for her life and behavior (as well as put which items I deem appropriate on said plate), but "forcing" vegetarianism on a child seems to me to be not-so-hot. The world is not the bubble of your home. You may not serve meat or sweets or soda or whatever you are opposed to in your house, but what about when the kid goes to school, on trips, etc.?

clip from Oliver!
couldn't resist...

When it's a question of life philosophies, a kid will have questions...
"Do you believe in God?
Are we Democrats?
Where did that turkey come from?
...I think it's cool for a parent to explain the choices that they make, and if they can, why they make them. But they should also show their child the whole world, not just a narrow slice of it. It's a tightrope walk: good vs. bad and how a parent presents such choices. These are questions that come up for me, and I'm sure, most parents, every day. Kids have a hard-enough time navigating through all the various pressures of school, status, etc., without adding "special" meals to their profile. Parents can't control their child's actions when they're not with them (sometimes even when they are), so will the child be cross-questioned when coming home from a friend's house to see if the lasagna served at dinner was meat-free? Who wants to be that parent? Who wants to ramp up the stealth and obfuscation so early in their relationship with their child?

Don't serve meat at home, Mr. Foer. Set an example of yourself as a vegetarian to your children. But don't try to mandate every menu outside it, or you are opening up a whole other can of worms. Juicy, meaty worms.


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