I’ve been a vegetarian since I was born. When I tell people this I invariably get asked “so wait…never?” to which I could tell them about various sauces I didn’t realize had chicken stock in them or ramen that had pork broth but those are pretty boring. Usually I tell the story of how when I was 3 or 4 we were visiting my Aunt overseas.
I’m a vegetarian because my mother chose to raise me that way but her family was never really on board. Cooking has always been very important to them and the sorts of foods they cooked tended to contain meat.
Anyway, this time we were visiting we went to a meal where there was roast chicken. I was too young to know what that was. I don’t think I even knew that I was a vegetarian. My aunt capitalized on this and offered me some without telling my mom. Since this memory is very hazy I like to imagine my mom seeing this from across the room, the realization slowly spreading across her face as she begins a slow motion sprint knocking over family members and tables alike.
The end of the story is what you’d expect, I liked the chicken. From what I gather, everyone likes chicken. My mom was upset and my aunt said something like “but look he likes it!” and I never had chicken (knowingly) again.
I grew up in a lower middle class family of five. My Jamaican mother stayed at home. We lived on the salary from my Cajun father’s janitorial job in a bakery (meaning lots of German chocolate and pound cakes). I always knew what dinner would look like: Mondays were leftovers from Sunday, Tuesday was Wendy’s, Wednesday was Pizza Hut, Thursday was KFC, Friday was TV dinners, Saturday was McDonald’s, and Sunday was the only home-cooked meal, usually a Cajun dish made by my father (gumbo was a favorite). Thursday was also grocery day, where we loaded up on chocolate chip cookies, Twinkies, canned items, and other unhealthy supermarket staples. I was constantly sick. Luckily, the high school track team and its rigorous afternoon workouts provided a buffer. In the early 90s I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Syndrome, a condition that caused hearing loss and necessitates a low sodium diet, exercise, and overall healthy eating. I’m convinced my condition stemmed from and was compounded by horrendous eating habits. I hit rock bottom right around the time of my diagnosis, when massive dizzy spells left me incapacitated, and I knew I had to either change or continue suffering. Dramatic shifts are indeed possible—I now look forward to my new family’s weekly produce box from our CSA, visits to the local butcher, recipes sourced with organic fruits and vegetables, and feeling confident that another day can pass where nothing’s spinning. For me, food is personal, political, and medicinal.
Over the years I have been extremely fortunate to have access to many different types of food. Having that access allowed me an array of choices when it came to eating. After gaining 20 pounds the two years following high school I realized that although I had power to make choices when it came to food, I often chose fast food and junk food. About six months ago I had an overwhelming feeling to get healthy by exercising and eating right. I have lost 15 pounds so far and I feel so much better. By eating fruit, veggies, lean meats, and other healthy snacks I learned that having a choice is an amazing thing. By taking advantage of my power to chose I have transformed by body and will continue to live a healthy life.
I took a trip out to Pittsburg Pennsylvania to visit my cousins. My uncle owned a corner store there, and that was what I was really excited to get to! Over the next month that I was there the corner store became my life! I tried new things that my mom had never let me eat before! Not realizing that I was gaining weight by every bag of chips and soda that I consumed. By the time I left I had gained over 8 pounds!! This was a learning experience I will never forget. Now that I am older and wiser I take time to take into consideration what I put in my body before I just go “way too far”. :)
I had toyed with the idea of becoming a vegetarian for a few years. I felt that I should eat less meat for environmental and health reasons, but I didn’t believe that I would actually be able to be a vegetarian. This was partly because I didn’t want to give up my favorite dishes, but I think the not knowing how to make the change was a stronger deterrent, and ultimately had me feeling unable to control what I ate.
Becoming a vegetarian happened accidentally. I started dating a boy who was a vegetarian, and we began sharing meals. I realized that his choice to avoid meat was not a daily struggle, but a daily choice, and it was a choice that I could make. Vegetarianism has stayed with me and made me very happy (and so has the boy!). I may not always be a vegetarian, but I will always know that I am in control of what I eat, because I can choose.
I looked forward to the 4 hours drive between Washington D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina that me and my Dad took when I was a little girl. I had my favorite stops along the way…Waffle House and fast foods we didn’t have in D.C. I would take a small nap, wake up to ask “where are we?” It didn’t matter really because as long as we were just outside of Richmond Va or passing Richmond - I knew that a Waffle House wouldn’t be far! My dad liked to drive fast which was only problematic when he wanted to make time and didn’t want to stop! So, my secret was to have to go to the bathroom - of course near a eating place as opposed to stopping at the rest stops, that never had food. Driving fast was usually alright because the final destination of course was Grandma’s house.The sooner we got there the better. Before leaving our house we would call her and let her know we were getting on the road. That triggered her beginning to cook and timing things just so everything would be ready, when I came running through the screen door! Big hug and kiss for grandma and grandpa - and next “What’s to eat?!”