Meat was a constant part of my diet when I was growing up in rural Southwestern Ontario. Pot roast, chicken wings and my mother’s signature headcheese took turns stealing prominent places of distinction on my dinner plate. At Christmas a large platter of honey-glazed ham was proudly displayed in the middle of the dining table, forcing all other lesser dishes of food to fight for the remaining space, and at Thanksgiving a beautifully browned turkey encouraged sibling rivalry over the wishbone. I didn’t question whether I should or shouldn’t eat meat.
Time passed and I moved away from home, and after careful deliberation decided to stop eating meat — at least land animals. I continue to eat aquatic creatures like fish and seafood. For the past 20 years I thought I was a vegetarian because I was raised on the belief that fish flesh was not meat. Unknowingly I have been lying to family, friends, and myself for nearly two decades. The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as someone who does not eat the flesh of any animal, including the critters residing in our lakes, streams and coastal oceans. For the sake of simplicity, I often continue to refer to myself as a vegetarian. “I’m a pescatarian” elicits quizzical looks, head tilting and raised eyebrows.
Over the years I’ve mastered the skill of discreetly removing pepperoni from slices of pizza at social events and avoiding bacon bits in Caesar salads. I suspect many people assume I’m a picky eater with a small appetite. With only two or three meatless dishes at most group gatherings, my plate often looks desolate. A hefty helping of large salad greens usually solves the problem. If a host should discover I’m a pescatarian, he or she is always accommodating and generous.
Sometimes my choice of diet defies a way of life that someone has identified with since childhood. My husband eats meat and probably always will. Chicken legs, pork sausage and beef burgers are a regular part of his diet. We visited his friends in Alberta shortly after we started dating, where Chinook winds, frigid temperatures and meaty meals are as common as breathing, walking and sleeping. I wonder to this day if his friends initially considered an intervention when they heard his girlfriend did not eat beef. But the seafood chowder they prepared for lunch was absolutely divine.
A pescatarian diet can be a conversation starter, stimulating interesting discussions. New acquaintances have asked, “Do you miss eating chicken?” and “If you don’t eat red meat, what do you eat?” — queries similar to those I asked myself in the first couple of years of saying goodbye to most types of meat dishes. Soon after answering their questions, we are sharing stories of what influences our food choices, which usually launches a delectable chat on a buffet of topics.
Having an atypical diet can also cause confusion, as perfectly portrayed in one of my favourite scenes from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When the bride’s aunt, played by Andrea Martin, discovers the groom is a vegetarian, she exclaims to a room filled with guests, “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat!” All conversation suddenly ceases. A glass crashes to the floor. After a pregnant pause, she calmly says, “Oh, that’s okay, that’s okay, I make lamb, come.”
A baked, meaty portobello mushroom is beginning to look as appetizing as a seared fillet. Perhaps I will be a vegetarian by the end of the year, but until then, please pass the fish.