Opportunivores: Why I Cheated by Jeni Stewart
I had been thinking about it, literally, for years.
My body had been longing for it.
I could go days, sometimes weeks, and sometimes even months without thinking about it. But then….
La Panza Es Primero. The Belly Comes First. And after weeks of travel, of being hungover and then drinking through the hangover, I gave in. I wanted something familiar. I wanted tortillas, and salsa, and cheese. I wanted, I needed, and I devoured pollo cabreado. Its chicken in a spicy goat cheese sauce. I cheated on four years of pescetariansim.
And the first bite was delicious.
So was the second, third and fourth. And then, as my hunger slowly started to abate, I started thinking about it.
Muscle, sinew, MEAT.
My teeth were tearing into flesh.
And again, my teeth were tearing in to flesh.
I didn’t stop, but by the end, I felt odd. The texture felt odd. The guilt was setting in.
For years before I stopped eating beef, chicken, and portk I ate more like an opportunivore than anything. Never a big fan of the meats, I would avoid them whenever possible. But if a friend prepared dinner, I never said no meat for me. I would just eat what was prepared. Or push it around on my plate if I didn’t care for it. But I really like food, so that didn’t even happen all that often. But in 2008 I bit into a grisly bone in a hamburger drunkenly purchased from a hamburger stand in a square in Mexico at 4 am (please feel free to judge). And that was the last bite of meat I knowingly had until the pollo cabreado last week. There was an incident with a quiche that was supposed to be veg and actually had tiny bits of ham in it, but that was an accident (and tasted terrible) so I prefer to pretend like that didn’t happen.
The irony is, I didn’t expect to feel guilty. I do believe in animal rights and I don’t believe in factory farms. Ethics in food production are important to me, and yes, I go out of my way to buy farm raised eggs from happy chickens, but I do still eat eggs, and am somewhat embarrassed by my obsession with cheese in all of its delicious forms. But when I went vegetarian, it was almost from a form of laziness if nothing else. I don’t HATE the taste of meat, though I am often turned off by the texture of improperly prepared meat. But searching out sustainable, affordable, ethical meat choices is not a budget friendly procedure. And frankly, I prefer the variety of the different colors and constructs veg meals can provide. I like to eat. I eat a lot. I like to eat healthy. I just don’t eat meat. I don’t care if you do. I don’t think everyone has to make the same choices. In fact, I value my friends because they make different choices from me. It keeps things interesting. It keeps me thinking. And that’s good.
Except that pollo cabreado. I spent four summers studying in Madrid and went to La Panza es Primero every time. In fact, I went a lot of times. In fact, I went as much as I could. Eventually the same slew of tapas grows pale for the palette, and finding protein sources when you’re traveling can be difficult. I craved spices. Chipotle chiles. Tequila and salt. And the spicy goat cheese chicken comes in a steaming skillet with fresh tortillas on the side. You can fill your tortillas or just dig your fork in. They have pitchers of margaritas they make with fresh fruit. They have Luchador masks all over the walls. And for those of us who learned Spanish outside of Spain, they don’t lisp their c’s and v’s. In short, its balm for the over stimulated traveler’s soul.
And also, I just wanted it.
And I had it. I haven’t had meat again since. In fact, the sight of pastrami on a supposedly vegetarian Panini nearly turned my stomach the other day (actually never was a fan of pastrami). But perhaps the whole opportunivore thing wasn’t wrong. Or perhaps the whole pescetarian thing was right. Or perhaps sometimes, rules just really were made to broken. And remade. And broken. And… yeah. Perhaps on my tombstone it should say, when opportunity came knocking, she ate it. Or maybe, just maybe, this is a good example of how we should all be just a little kinder to ourselves, starting with the Panza.