Reconsidering My Meat-Eating Legacy
How raising my son has led me to question my cultural traditions
I’ve never held more influence over someone than I do over my son. I’m far from perfect and it’s disquieting to consider that everything I model will be absorbed.
One night at the dinner table last summer, I realized my son would be a vegetarian if I stayed out of the way — to his, and everyone else’s benefit — but I was absolutely in the way. I barked at him the way my father once barked at me when I showed empathy toward animals that didn’t fit with our traditions.
All that week, I had been toiling in the backyard, covered in cement and mud, digging, heaving cinder blocks, and slapping mortar in the heat to build a grill station like the one my father and I used to grill chuletas de filete (filet mignon) during the year I lived with him in Mexico between the ages of 15 and 16. I knew it wouldn’t be done until the following summer, so I picked up some chuletas anyway and prepared them in my usual manner: salted and air-dried in the fridge, pressed with dried herbs and pepper, and pan-roasted in butter and garlic. The aroma was so alluring that my wife floated into the kitchen like a cartoon cat. I set the good knives at the table, the French ones with dotted wooden handles that look like they fold up, but don’t, and served the steak to the three of us.
The knife slid through my first piece. Marcel interrupted, “Dada, is this a real chicken?” I looked up to see if he was enjoying it, hoping so, and he hadn’t even picked up his fork. “No,” I barked, irritated that he was waiting until it got cold, “It’s a cow; beef is from a cow.” “Like a real alive cow?” he asked. “Well, yeah, but we kill them and cut them up before we cook them.” Terror dragged over his face, and I realized how gruesome my description was. “That’s mean,” he whined. “Well, most people eat meat,” I said, softening my tone. “Well, Dada, that’s mean to the cow,” he said, forcefully. Understand, this is one of his routines when he doesn’t want to eat, but he did seem to feel bad.
Whether he meant it or not, he was obviously right. I told my son what I tell him no matter what food he’s complaining about: “Eat five big bites and you can be done.”
That’s when I sat and considered my influence. I knew that a few forceful redirections, like the one I’d given him, could blunt his sensitivity. I knew this because of the impact my father had on me during our year together in Mexico. We had been mostly apart for seven years and that time was very special to me. On Sundays, when we weren’t in the backyard sharing chuletas de filete and drinking Carta Blancas, we were at bullfights.