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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In the last DBD, Barbara and I were reminiscing about eating steak in a motel room that had been adapted for the handicapped. It conjured up thoughts of adaptations now needed during the holiday season in our own household.


Meat has always played a big role in my life, and I am the first to admit that “meat withdrawal” can’t be a pretty thing to see. Not if seeing it is anything like living it, which is what I am faced with during the holidays.

The condition, or symptom as some would have it starts with the restlessness seen in heroin addicts. At least those depicted in movies. I haven’t personally known any heroin addicts, although it’s quite possible that at faculty parties I unknowingly met several users who weren’t just then in the throes of withdrawal.

As with drug addicts, the growing need for meat is manifested in me when a roaming, aimless foraging takes over. Christmas cookies, crackers and cheese, Sesame Snacks, even wedges of the much maligned fruitcake are sought out in an increasingly desperate effort to assuage the craving for animal protein.

Because my wife and I are both lifetime fans of meat, I go through the withdrawal process only during family gatherings. At these times, our house is overrun by lively children tumbling over torpid adults, sullen adolescents slumped in states of isolated communion with this or that piece of technology, fifth-wheel boyfriends waiting for it all to be over, and so forth.

How and why these people turned on or away from meat I don’t know. I tend to think of it in terms of communicable disease, something picked up by my older stepdaughter during her exploratory years on the west coast. When she returned, she was clean. Meat-free. So was the father of her children, and her little ones. “Just Say No to Cow” I seem to remember printed on someone’s tee shirt.

Because I don’t know how else to explain the transfer of this no-meat orientation to my younger stepdaughter, I see it as viral. True, she is not strictly committed to the all-organic, meatless religion as is her older sibling, but I see ominous trends. For one, her youngest child is now insisting she is a vegan, a variant of the veggie religion requiring even more discipline and self-denial. Where this would come from if not from the child’s aunt I don’t know (although it is true that “vegan,” "Vulcan" and “Klingon” are all close, and it is not impossible that the child is now watching Star Trek reruns on her phone).

But during these vegetarian forced marches, Barbara always sees to it that rogue helpings of lunchmeat are stashed at the back of the refrigerator. Tightly wrapped to avoid detection, these packets are concealed behind ancient jars and bottles of long-forgotten condiments.

They’re my version of methadone or insulin, chilled and waiting for the next injection. I mainline them at odd moments when a lull occurs in our Christmas hijinks. I make a point of shoving in extra helpings of honey maple turkey or Polish ham in advance of one of the soy or tofu-oriented meals my wife lovingly prepares for our guests.

Two years ago, she actually molded tofu into a turkey, a joke that went over big with me. When she set it down, I took my cue from Bill O’Reilly and declared our house a No-meat Zone. I had stuffed myself in advance with bootleg lunchmeat, and now took my chair at the head of the table. Fortified by a last, quick hit of pepper loaf, I was now able to eat everything on offer, my plate arranged with portions the size of small coins. Thus, I maintained the image of dietary inclusiveness and tolerance.

Aided as well of course by courage, courtesy of Scotland. As every senior-citizen host of family gatherings knows, these occasions form the historical basis for the development of what in our time is called adult beverages. Your rob roy, your martini and manhattan all got their start this way.

So the next time you find yourself confronted by health food, use the occasion to say thank you and happy holidays to the owner/operator of your neighborhood party store. If he is like mine, he will return the greeting with a smile, even though his own time of testing must wait for Ramadan.

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