From an early age I wasn’t that much into meat. Looking back, I realize that part of my distaste of meat was that it was associated (in my young mind) with cooking for a husband. Odd, I know. But I was set from very early on that I just wasn’t going to learn to cook in order to please a man and inexplicably meat got entangled in that. Then, I suffered the horrible misfortune of having little chicks for pets one day, and the next I was served hairy chicken (or something to that effect). That was my first horrible chicken incident. Despite my family being a meat-loving bunch, I did not care for it. There was no other recourse at that time other than to become a vegetarian at an early age.
Going away to boarding school at the age of thirteen afforded me the opportunity to freely be a vegetarian. I wasn’t considered odd or bratty for being so. I mean, there were people I was startled to know, that didn’t eat cheese and dairy. At the time, that vegan thing scared me. Nowadays, I just happily munch away on cheese while my vegan colleagues don’t. It’s a happy co-existence. When I was accepted into my school year abroad program for my senior year in high school, I was scared and ecstatic. I was also clueless. I was not very aware of the meat love affair Spain engages in. I had no clue ham was so ubiquitous.
I was rather clueless and happy in the cluelessness. That is until I had to complete paperwork detailing all my habits, pet peeves and allergies. Vegetarians had a whole other set of documents to complete. Did we eat chicken, were we willing to? Could we live in a house where meat was cooked for others? I should have taken that as a sign of how exhausting my life as a vegetarian would be in Spain.
My host family was assigned thus because they were willing to cook vegetarian fare. As a matter of fact every Friday my Spanish mom would make homemade pizza. She was fabulous. Her husband, well, he liked meat and made it explicitly known that he would not forsake it nor would he be happy if meat wasn’t a staple. I didn’t go with an agenda to convert anyone. Trust me. I was 16 and had ready legal access to alcohol. I couldn’t care less about anyone’s meat predilections.
In our constant alcohol-driven club hopping, we came across this bar called … Well, let me keep that to myself. See, this club’s patrons loved, loved Caribbean girls. I bet it’s still the same. We got free drinks but the guys were a bit too old for me. I wasn’t looking for a sugar daddy. One of my classmates liked older men for she considered herself so much more mature than the rest of us. She started dating one of the men. He was a retired bullfighter (oh sexy!) who had an unfortunate career ending accident that made him kind of a douche (not sexy). He had a fondness for rocky mountain oysters (not called that in Spain) that seemed to give him an odd sense of pleasure payback. He was an avid meat eater.
This rocky mountain oyster aficionado wanted to impress my friend Nickki (I need a pseudonym and all I could think of was Prince’s song) by showing how sophisticated he was. He told her he wanted to take her friends out to dinner but it had to be one friend at a time with him and Nickki. He started out with the meat eater of the group and they had a delightful time. Then he was flummoxed. How could I not eat meat? I also didn’t eat fish. He talked about me as if I was this hick, uncultured, Hispanic. I was so the embodiment, in his eyes, of being low-brow. I’m not too sure that phrase existed back then, but whatever.
I was deeply saddened by the ridicule, feeling a bit ashamed of letting my family down. I know, looking back that sentiment makes no sense. It’s how I felt then, though. I agreed to eat chicken on this group date. Even so, he thought that was so lowly. We went to a nice place where I got some chicken dish. Knowing me it was probably covered in cheese or something to that effect. The meal was as awkward you could imagine being that there were two sixteen year olds with an aging somewhat-lecherous bullfighter. I have no recollection whatsoever of the conversation. What I do remember quite vividly was my body’s reaction to the meal. It was near instantaneous.
My stomach starting waging an epic internal battle with itself. I thought everyone could hear my gurgles and such. I felt like molten lava was coursing through my veins. My body was in distress. I ran to the restroom several times. Somehow, however, I managed to keep a smile on my face. The meal ended and we went for a walk down the Ramblas. It was a gorgeous evening. We were going to go get dessert somewhere along the way. Now dessert is something I could always go for. But just because the meal had ended and we were walking down the beautiful avenue did not mean my body was done with its chicken protest. I will spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say I stopped at numerous establishments along the Ramblas that I never went back into again. Every time, I would pass those establishments thereafter, I got a bad, bad taste of chicken in my mouth. As we continued on that walk that night, the aging bullfighter became more incensed. In his eyes I was horribly low-brow and uncultured. I will say this: I was horribly naive as to what happens to the body when you start eating meat out of nowhere. There definitely needs to be a phasing in process.
The aging bullfighter stuck around in Nikki’s life for a while. Fortunately, I never had to deal with him again. I went about my merry little way stuffing my face with cheese and the likes. I eventually came across other vegetarian places and people. Spain is most definitely a fan of ham, meats but there is plenty of vegetarian fare. I just warn you to be weary of aging rocky- mountain-oyster loving bullfighters. They tend to have a vendetta agenda.
I am no longer a vegetarian. That’s a story for another day. Although, I am still not a big fan of chicken. Most restaurants overcook it in the hope of not giving one salmonella poisoning.
Nowadays, whenever I now see chickens crossing the road, I think of how they must be trying to outrun my bad chicken karma.