So I said to him hesitantly, “you know I eat meat, right?” I had five different ways to construct an answer to his earlier question about what I ate in London, and this was as close as I could get to an honest yet non-hurtful response.
I had mentioned that food in London was good, that I went out with friends and had eaten odd things with them. One of my friends, G, is an actress/microbiotic diet instructor. She cooked an all vegetarian dinner for me at her home and was exactly the kind of friend I knew he would approve of.
Crystal, on the other hand, eat foie gras and deer loin with me. You must try how they cook their yewei (“flavor of the wild”), she said, “it’s the only thing the Brits are really good at.” So I took her advice and thought, what the hell, if I’m going to eat venison it’s gonna be here at this fancy restaurant in Kensington.
The deer loin was lovely. And that was what I tried to but did not tell him. I was gonna say “and I went out for dinner the other night with my friend Crystal and had deer loin at this English restaurant called the Clarke’s and it was delicious.” But I didn’t. Instead, I worried intensely about his feelings for five seconds and cowardly refrained from saying what was truth. I said tentatively “you know I eat meat?” and hoped he could understand.
He didn’t. And I had hated to discuss why I still eat meat with him every time.
I said I was reading Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, and that I had read part of it that was later published under the title “The Lives of Animals” before but never the entire book. It was so good that I didn’t even want to finish the book. I told him that the whole human-animal relation problem really did mean something deeply intimate to me and I did want to take it up someday seriously, but not now. For me it was really a more complex issue than “not harming sentient beings” and “consent.” I told him I was ill prepared at the moment to discuss this subject with him. “If it helps,” I said, “I eat a lot less red meat now, mainly fish or shrimp, that kind of thing. I am more conscious of my choice now and I can definitely feel the influence from people around me – my friends and you – stuff that I read, and my studies, etc. I think I will eventually work through this on my own, but I just need a little bit more time.”
We dropped the subject. I remembered that time I cried uncontrollably in his room when he told me quite harshly that “there should be no meat in this house.” I was hungry. I had no time to have proper dinner that day and therefore brought a salad to his house hoping I could eat it there. “I didn’t expect you eating,” he said, “at this hour.” It was half past nine. I had shrimp in my salad. My chewing sound disturbed his peace.
I felt nausea, deep inside my abdomen. I couldn’t eat anymore in front of him and I wanted to go. The whole situation seemed ridiculous if not extremely humiliating. I had more respect for my food than that whole housefull of pious people. But I caved in and stayed. I abandoned my box of unfinished salad and tucked it under my coat. I brushed my teeth. I went to bed and half an hour later we made love.
On our first date we went to this vegetarian sandwich place near harvard sq. I asked him “are you vegetarian?” as soon as he suggested over text that we should meet over there. I speculated because I often went there for a quick lunch when I was studying a language course over there during the summer. He replied, “yes,” with a smiley face. I happily agreed and rejected my very own earlier ramen proposal.
I will continue to eat meat and be good friends with my dear fellow carnivores. I guarantee you animal eating is not the worst thing a human being is capable of. Jonathan Swift is right in his “modest proposal.” It is cruelty between people ignorant of tenderness and who would like to profess kindness over love.