Photo: What's left of a platter of strozzapreti, a pasta dish served with meat sauce.
(This post is dedicated to my friend Leslie Kelly.)
In February 1974, concerned about my weight and wanting to clean up some fairly unhealthy habits, I stopped eating meat. My then-wife Freddie and I opted instead for a fairly restricted vegetarian diet, abstaining from all meat, fish and fowl. Though Freddie and I divorced in 1993, I continued my veggie lifestyle until three years ago.
I won’t go into the whole story, but a medical condition caused me to rethink things. I started taking medication that was, in essence, pure pig enzymes, so I figured … what the hell. If they’re killing pigs to feed me enzymes, I might as well go, uh, whole hog. And so, after 35 years, I again began eating meat.
I started slowly. My friend Leslie Kelly helped me break my flesh fast by preparing me a delicious halibut dinner. And for a while afterward, I was disciplined. But that sense of dietary care lasted barely a few months. Pretty soon I was back on the carnivore train with a vengeance. I ate everything. If it was meat, I consumed it. Roast beef, chicken, turkey, pepperoni pizza, hamburgers, filet miñon and rib eye steaks, swordfish, sausage and salami, lamb chops, seafood of all shapes and sizes, I tried it all.
My now-wife, Mary Pat, finally began calling me a carnivore when she saw me eat a Costco hot dog. Yeah, I ate it. The whole tasty thing. But that was hardly the peak moment. The peak (so far) came during the Christmas holidays of 2010 on Hawaii's Big Island when I ate a meat platter at a place called Huli Sue's. It was so flesh-filled I called it Meat-o-plenty. Ate it to the last bit of gristle.
For the past week and a half, I've been in Italy. And so far I have eaten pork chops in Florence (at a place called I’Che Ce Ce), roasted duck in Cortona (at the winery Teminemti Luigi d'Alessandro), picci with ragu sauce in Perugia (Il Falchetto), strozzapreti (or “strangled priest” pasta) with ragu sauce in Florence (A Casa Mia), porchetta in a panino in Florence (at Pork's in the Mercato Centrale). And before I leave, if I can manage it, I plan on eating the biggest, most famous Florentine meat dish of all, bistecca alla fiorentina, which we’ll consume at Sostanza.
I don’t mean to sound boastful. For three and a half decades, I was a proud vegetarian. And, to be completely honest, I was at times a tad bit judgmental of my non-vegetarian friends. Which, of course, is never a smart thing to do because things have a tendency to come back around. A couple of years ago, when I was regularly traveling to Washington, D.C., for a web-production job, I would have lunch with the whole D.C. staff. One of the young web producers was not only vegetarian but actually vegan, and I could see her nose get slightly out of joint every time I would take a bite out of my tuna-salad or turkey-and-provolone or roast-beef-and-cheddar sandwich.
So if you are like that young colleague and what I have written here offends you, well, I apologize. I do understand that, 1, you may have different values; 2, that you might not understand how I could have changed my opinion about food so easily, if not cavalierly; and, 3, that it might seem strange how few regrets I have. Fact is, I could have gone the rest of my life eating a diet of tofu and veggies and rice and beans and all the good nutritious foods that are available to the average American eater. And I would have been fine with that decision. But fate intervened.
And when I do bite into that bistecca alla fiorentina, and the first chunk of flesh gets masticated slowly into succulent bits of pure carnivorous lust that I will wash down maybe with some fava beans and a good Chianti, just know that I will be thinking one thing.
Yeah, sometimes karma is a bitch. Other times, though, it’s simple deliciousness.