A few days ago, I ate my first hamburger in 13 years. It was from In-N-Out Burger. It tasted good.
I’ll get to the “why I ate said hamburger” in another blog post, since I don’t want to overwhelm you with my tendency to write 36 words where one will do, but I do feel I owe an explanation as to why I stopped eating red meat in the first place.
I stopped eating red meat in the spring of 2001. If you recall, this coincided with the announcement that Mad Cow Disease had been identified in the beef of several European countries, and that it was spreading rapidly (or so said the panic-mongering news media). I was but a young and impressionable (read: gullible) eighth grader, and I believed everything that authority figures told me. Enter: Mrs. W.*
Mrs. W was a chain smoking 8th grade history teacher, whose classes consisted of her putting notes up on the overhead projector for us to copy while she stepped outside to “take care of something” (read: smoke a cigarette). I spent most of my time in that class debating politics with my friend Alex or studiously copying the point-by-point overview of American History scribbled in black and blue dry erase marker that had been projected onto the board.
But when the Mad Cow outbreak began, Mrs. W. forewent her daily cigarette break to give us her opinion on red meat and epidemiology in long form. From what I remember, she informed us of the dire state of affairs regarding meat handling Europe, warning us that infected meat may have already crept into the US’s supply. Moreover, even if the greatest care is taken to prevent the tainted meat from crossing our borders, we were still at risk because the sick cows were being burned–and contained in that smoke were the prions that attacked the brain. That prion-filled smoke would enter the clouds and travel–by wind–across the Atlantic, where the cloud would release prion-filled rain into our backyards, spreading the dread disease and potentially killing our puppy dogs.
That is what she said; I kid you not.
That night, my mom served flank steak–my absolute favorite meal–for dinner. I pushed it around the plate for a while, seeing images of my own brain being ravaged by tiny brain-eating molecules. After much lecture and yelling, I took one bite. That was the last bite of red meat I consumed until just a few days ago.
At that point, I had never had an eating disorder. I didn’t know anything about vegetarianism. I had no idea what soy lecithin was or how many foods it could be found in. All I knew was that I no longer ate red meat. From there, it was a slippery slope downhill–and the slope, it turns out, wasn’t even slick from prion-rain.
And what was waiting for me at the end of that slope? Well, that’s a blog post for another day…
*Name changed to protect the bat-shit crazy.