Friday, October 05, 2012

So a Vegetarian Walks Into a Butcher Shop...

Well, not a butcher shop exactly, more of a butcher counter.

Carrying a turkey.

A turkey that was tentatively poked by me in an attempt to gauge it for...what, freshness?

Like I know the difference between a fresh and a stale turkey.  You'd call it stale, right?  Like bread?

Having been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, this annual pilgrimage into the meat section of the grocery store feels extremely foreign.  I pawn off the turkey cooking when I can, but when I'm hosting the dinner I feel compelled to, you know, cook the main dish.

That's not really accurate, actually.  I like to think that dinner guests at our Thanksgiving don't feel that the turkey needs to be in the spotlight.  We have a table loaded with goodness, from curried squash soup to mashed potatoes, to stuffing.  Not to mention roasted veggies, gravies, salad, spiced cider and mulled wine.

We once hosted my in-laws for a dinner.  These are the folks who - despite having full knowledge of my being a vegetarian - can't seem to come up with any reasonable menu item to serve me at any given gathering.  My mother-in-law used to put a container of hummus on the buffet table, let me know that it was there, and then call it a night.  So I'd have mashed potatoes, hummus and a bun for dinner.  Now I just bring my own, despite their protests.

And that was before my going gluten and dairy free.  Now we don't even get invited. Ha.

But I digress.  We hosted them for Thanksgiving one year and they were shocked that the turkey was the only thing on the table containing meat.  I'm a dang good cook when I want to be.

Still, when I'm hosting a mixed crowd of meat and non-meat eaters, I like to be fair.  Especially during such a traditionally meat-centered celebration.  I've done it without the turkey, but feel a little like I'm not doing anything different than the hummus bit.

Back to the grocery store.  I'm choosing a turkey.  Mostly by size, because I count on not having too much left over.  I've learned that I prefer to cook a turkey that has already been cut up.  It not only cooks faster, it also allows me to not waste  reserve the stuffing to be cooked meat-free in a casserole dish.

I take it to the butcher counter.  And I swear, the conversation goes EXACTLY like this every year.

Me: Um, excuse me?  Could you please cut this turkey up for me?
Meat cutter man: Sure, how would you like it cut?
Me: Um, smaller?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

This year, he took my turkey back to the saw (seriously people, did you know that they use power saws back there?  That freaks me out!) and then started shouting questions at me.

Meat cutter man:  How small do you want the breast?
Me: Uh, I don't know.
Meat cutter man: (holds up a hunk of turkey) Like this?
Me: Sure?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

After several of these exchanges, he finally gestures me back into the cutting area.

This may be a good time to tell you that my paternal grandfather immigrated here to Canada and opened a butcher shop in our downtown.  I have distinct memories of being no older than 5-6 years old, and being shut up in the meat fridge by my father who thought it was hilarious to leave his little girl all alone in the dark with hanging dead cows and pigs.  It may have only been a few seconds that I was locked in, but it certainly felt longer.  It was maybe a little bit traumatizing.

So the meat cutter man calls me back into the meat cutting place.  All I can see are the hanging dead cows and pigs in the fridge behind him.  He looks exasperated, and maybe a little disappointed.  I feel obligated to explain away my ignorance, and I apologize and tell him that I'm a vegetarian.  But I also feel like maybe that's insulting to him, given his chosen career. So then I ramble on to say something like "not that there's anything wrong with meat, and my grandpa was a butcher so I come from a long line of meat eaters, it's just that I stopped eating meat so long ago and now I probably wouldn't digest it anyway, but I do want to try and make a turkey for Thanksgiving for my guests to eat and I like to cook it after it's already been cut up so it cooks faster and..."

Then I had to take a breath.

He took that opportunity to cut in.  And laugh at me.

And then pull Every. Single. Piece. of turkey out of the bag and explain to me what it was.

He put the pieces in a giant bag, handed it to me and wished me luck.  I turned around and saw that a small crowd had gathered in the meantime, and were watching me get schooled on turkey.

Meat cutter man turns to the crowd and yells out "she's a vegetarian!  What can I say?", then looks at me and asks "so, I gotta know.  What are you going to eat on Thanksgiving?  Please don't tell me it's tofu."

"It's not tofu" I say.  Which is sort of true.

Then I got the hell out of there.

I'll let you know how the meal turns out.

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