Confessions of a food facist

by Robert Nanninga
AVE YOU EVER HAD ONE OF THOSE DAYS when you knew things would never be the same? The threshold sneaks up on you. You're just minding your own business, safe within the ethical little world you've created, a world where you decided what was right and wrong ... for everyone, when: Boom! You realize things are not as they seem.
I have. I'm a tree hugging liberal lost in a forest of personal choice.
Currently, I find myself in the market for a new identity. I used to think of myself as a vegetarian, but according to Webster, a vegetarian "is one who eats no meat, with a diet consisting only of vegetables." But I could never go without pasta. Next: for a short while I tried to ally myself with our bovine brethren, but to call myself a herbivore would imply I dine exclusively on grass and plants. That's certainly not true. I will eat anything that doesn't contain animal products. The box of Girl Scout cookies I consumed last night is the most recent example.
Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. As briefly as possible, I will try to chronicle the evolution of the "dietarily impaired."

was born a card carrying carnivore. Coming from a long line of Texans, I would eat or drink anything that was placed in front of me. It was not unusual to find a cow's tongue on the dinner table next to macaroni and cheese, both of which I would wash down with tall glass of milk. The vegetable that accompanied every meal was usually smothered in butter.
As I got older, there was less time for sit-down, family-style dinners. Fast food became the rage. Not only did this truly American creation provide me with the nutrition via the drive up window, it also provided me with my first job ... MR. HAPPY STEAK.
Fast forward eight years. Having worked at a Wienersnitzel, Burger King, and Carl's Jr., I finally made it to the big time: prep cook at Carlos Murphy's. So there I am, in the mall at 7:30 every morning, cutting big slabs of beef into little chunks. After I was done with that bloody business, I had the pleasure of skinning chicken breasts, de-veining shrimp, and slicing the pork loins.
After a year of this, I was struck by a bad case of ethics. My Southern Baptist upbringing snuck up on me. One day while I was pounding a chicken breast into submission, I had a Sunday school flashback: "Thou shalt not kill," and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It was with these mantras that I decided it was time I became a vegetarian.
Slowly but surly I eliminated meat from my diet. First it was pork, then beef, and finally poultry. As part of my poultry purge I gave up eggs. It seemed the sensible thing to do, considering that an egg is nothing more than an unborn chicken. One could say I was taking a pro-life stand. "An egg is a chicken that never was." Give the man a pulpit, I was on a roll.
San Diego was not the place to embrace an animal rights philosophy, so I headed north to the waiting bosum of Santa Cruz. It was there I found my true calling: "Robert Nanninga - ANIMAL AVENGER." Boy, was I obnoxious. You know the type. Picketing a poultry farm because of the conditions the chickens were forced to endure. Demonstrating in front of restaurants that served veal. I read everything I could get my hands on. One book about the horrors of factory farming scared me so bad I gave up all dairy products. No more ice cream, no more cheese quesadillas. I meant business. All that was left for me to give up was fish, so I took the plunge and became MR. VEGAN. Vegans eat no animal products
Having accomplished the conversion for myself, I moved back to San Diego to save my family and friends from their carnivorous selves. No matter how hard I tried, I could not persuade those near and dear to me that there is life after Big Macs, Whoppers and hot dogs. The health and vitality that I acheived, although apparent, was not a strong enough selling point. Every time I tried to tell them of the wonders of vegetarian cuisine there were 20 other commericals telling them: "milk it does a body good," and "beef, it's what for dinner." Tell you what. Give me $20 million dollars and I'll have the country eating lima beans. It's all in the marketing.

ver the past five years I have mellowed considerably, realizing that we all make choices. Mine was to read every label, on every package. I still don't know why you would need Calcium Disodium EDTA to protect flavor, but I'm sure it has nothing to do with the Polysorbate 60.
Having come full circle recently, I was enlightened to realize that people who ate meat did not hate animals. The truth is: they really love the cute little critters. They also like to eat them in spicy barbecue sauce.
Since I was losing the war of tofu conversion, I decided to prepare for my friends and roommates, a dinner of their choosing. I explored the freezer for a suitable offering, found some poultry of a questionable vintage, and proceeded to whip up Chicken Tarragon al Checa. It was weird handling the flesh again, yet still somehow therapeutic; let's call it baptism by chicken fat. Was I worried that my friends might get food poisoning from something that I wouldn't eat myself? No ... because if they had gotten sick, I would have turned it in to a learning experience for them, by saying "this just goes to show how dangerous meat eating can be."
Eat up America. I have no room to judge. I'm sure if I listened close enough, I could hear my salad scream. Bon Apetíte.

Mr. Nanninga is an independent video producer in San Diego's North County, and an active and vocal member of the Green and Environmental community. As a volunteer for San Diego Earth Day, was the EarthFair '94 Stages Manager.