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Where's the beef?

Or taking the 'pesca' plunge

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"It's OK to eat fish/'Cause they don't have any feelings." -- Nirvana, "Something in the Way"

It is with great trepidation that I state the following: I am (at least for the last three weeks running), a pescatarian.

More specifically, I am a pesca-lacto-ovo-vegetarian (a P.L.O.-vegetarian, if you will -- I say "Yasser" to anything that doesn't walk by itself). This is a fancy way of saying that I am -- at the moment, at least -- eating seafood, milk and eggs (albeit not exclusively!), but shunning chicken, pork, and beef.

I'm keenly aware that some folks would say that I'm not much of a vegetarian at all.

It's not a decision that I spent a lot of time, as they kids say, "marinating on." In fact, the idea came to me rather suddenly, therefore giving it, at least to me, more credibility ... more heft. A rash decision, in other words.

However, as with any rash, there have been a few itchy details to work out. As I make at least a portion of my income -- not to mention my reputation (such as it is) from writing about food, where does this leave me? Is this aversion to slaughtering animals (all except for those poor, unfortunate fish, the longest-living species on the planet, despite always being the last to go whenever folks decide to embark upon the Veg lifestyle) going to affect my bottom line, even as it slims my waistline? Will I have to trade in stories about beef brisket for paeans to phyllo and free-range farming?

And what about my girlfriend, who, while not a hardcore carnivore, enjoys a good steak/burger/barbecued chicken sandwich on occasion? I know more than enough restaurants offering vegetarian options to make restaurant dining a breeze, but what about all those nights we make dinner at home? Do we make our meals separately, or do we do his/hers variations on the various dinners we're already apt to eat?

Here's the salve, as I see it: What's to lose? The study of foodways -- the stories food tell us about ourselves, loosely translated -- go far beyond barbecue and bacon, two foods, while undeniably delicious, have been written about so much (and so badly) that there's not a whole lot more to say (nor suitable entry angles) concerning them anyway.

And there are stories, of course, even if they're not quite the kind of thing most people want to see in their new Bon Appetit. Stories about the stunning waste, and pollution, and general pestilence perpetrated by N.C. hog farms. Stories about small-scale farmers who produce pork the right way, feeding their pigs actual vegetable matter instead of a mix of drug-pumped feedstuffs that often include (see the signs at some barbecue joints, featuring a cannibalistic pig holding a knife and a fork) ... other pigs. Stories about organic farmers growing sustainable crops without nary a cent ever crossing the palms of Monsanto or ConAgra or Tyson Foods. Stories about chefs and restaurants, and stories about families and communities bonding over that most intimate and interesting shared characteristic of human existence, food. (Sex excepted here, of course -- see the "family and community" disclaimer).

Of course, I'm well aware that I'm making things hard on myself, and my family, and most of the people I'll come into contact with, especially at the dinner table. However, I'm also sure I'm not going to go out of my way to make anyone uncomfortable, or to try and convert them, or to demand any sort of special dietary considerations.

That's not my place. My place is to do what, for me, seems right at this time in my life. To change not the world, but myself, in the only way I know how: by being true to my feelings, as fleeting as they may sometimes be, for as long as those feelings happen to resonate inside of me.

I should say here that I've been a vegetarian before. It was one of those "vegetarian by girlfriend" situations so aptly described by Samuel L. Jackson's "Jules Winnfield" character in Pulp Fiction. It lasted about four years, this relationship, and I cheated quite often (on the vegetarianism -- not on her). In fact, after we broke up, one of the very first things I did was down a big fat cheeseburger.

Why?

Why not? It felt right at the time.

Timothy C. Davis is an associate editor with Gravy, the official newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. His food writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Saveur, the Christian Science Monitor, and the food Web site www.egullet.com. He may be contacted at timothycdavis1@gmail.com.

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