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February 13, 2008



Aww, sorry to hear about your friend's breakup. He totally does not deserve her!!!


My sympathies to your friend, although her ex sounds like a superficial ass. At any rate your very well-stated argument reminded me of a time many years ago, when I was what some would call a militant vegetarian. I was walking home through Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, across one of those big fields dotted with picnic tables and little charcoal grills for public use. In the distance I saw a guy cooking on one of those grills, cooking meat with some kind of sauce on it, because it smelled spicy and smoky and good as I walked across the field toward him. Apart from us the park was empty, so as I neared him I nodded hello, and he noticed my San Antonio Spurs cap -- this was, I believe, the spring of 1996 and the Spurs were in the playoffs -- and asked me if the Spurs game would be on TV that night. I said it would, and then we started talking about basketball in a friendly, two-guys-passing-in-an-empty-park kind of way, while he moved chicken breasts and thighs around on the grill, and I remember thinking him an unusually soft-spoken and pleasant man for a New Yorker (I had lived in the city less than a year at that point and still fell under the influence of certain prejudices and assumptions) -- a thirty-something black man grilling his chicken in the park, maybe waiting for friends or a wife and kids to join him, or maybe just a single guy who, having spent one of the first warm days of the year watching the traffic from some Flatbush apartment, decided, "Hey, why don't I go down to one of those little bbq grills in the park and cook this here chicken?" Soon we exhausted our thoughts on basketball and I started moving on toward my little house on Westminster Rd. in Flatbush, when he said, "Hey, have a piece of chicken" and stuck a drumstick in my direction, the skin all bubbly and crunchy and reddish-brown with sauce. I had probably not tasted meat in two years, and instinctively offered my usual refusal, but before I even spoke the words I saw a downcast look come over the man's face -- the look of someone being rejected. So I reversed course, I accepted his chicken and thanked him profusely, through my stuffed mouth (it was delicious -- I should have asked what kind of sauce he used). And as I wolfed it down a grin replaced the downcast look, and I saw in his face a kind of generous pride, a look that said, "No matter what else I may have screwed up in this life, one thing I can do is grill a damn fine piece of meat."

My whole encounter with that man lasted less than five minutes, but as a result of it I decided on an exception to my vegetarian discipline: I would never refuse food, even meat-food, offered to me with good intentions by friend or stranger. Later I gave myself even more leeway, on the grounds that certain essential American experiences necessarily involve the eating of meat: stopping in a small town in Texas for bbq brisket, visiting a Jewish deli in New York, tasting crab cakes in Baltimore or smoked salmon in Seattle. I still consider the industry that puts mainstream meat on people's tables to be one of the most sickening horrors of this world -- but I guess I've decided that removing oneself from the food-based rituals and experiences that bring people together (or even worse, imposing on those people one's particular and difficult-to-satisfy demands for purity) is even worse.

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