The unexpected vegetarian

For Meatless Monday, learn about one man’s decision to go vegetarian. This is the first installment of a three-part series.

By Mark Donahue
Why did you become a vegetarian? Once in awhile I get this question, though not as much as I used to, which suits me fine because I’ve always hated answering it. And that’s because I've never just cut to the chase to conserve the effort.

I did it for a girl.

This is 100 percent true. I did it for my wife, who at the time of the pact was my girlfriend — or fiancée to be precise because it was a wedding pact. Very simple, really: Erika challenged me to stop eating meat after we tied the knot, and I challenged her back to stop smoking. It was a playful, loving bet borne of our mutual concerns for each other's health. We metaphorically shook hands and sealed the deal when we married on June 18, 2005.

I was 28 years old and had been eating meat all my life. Erika was 24 and a vegan since 15 — she'd started smoking around the same age as well. I was not a "meat lover" or "vegetarian hater." My diet was given to me as a child in a meat-and-potatoes Catholic Midwestern home and survived into my young manhood out of habit and laziness. I had no real attachment to it, save maybe the fried chicken and ribs (and white borscht, and Cuban sandwich — okay, enough.)

Erika's own reasons for being a vegan are more complex, but they were definitely the product of the times. Like me, she was a music-loving leftist in the '90s, and for many people that meant adopting a non-meat diet, more out of politics than health concerns. By the time I met her in early 2003, that cause-conscious epoch had passed, and many young people we knew had slid back into eating meat, along with a lot of other new bad behaviors.

I was impressed by Erika's continued rigor. She and her good friend Marie had never wavered, even as the mohawks and chain wallets disappeared, and it gave me a glimmer of hope. Hope that young people of our generation could actually stick to a good cause, not just to things like, say, a coke habit.

And she could cook. She cooked like no girl I'd ever met, and I soon became her biggest customer, supplanting the starving hardcore boys and coffeehouse crowds she'd fed before. I'm a very liberal person in support of total equality of the sexes, but something stirred in my blood when this beautiful young woman would put a plate of food before me. Maybe one of my Austrian ancestors in some tiny mountain hamlet had experienced the same thing hundreds of years ago*. Of course, he was probably served mutton, not tofu.

Check back Monday, Aug. 27 for the next installment. 

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