This is one of my favorite stories to share, so please forgive me if you are someone who is hearing it for the bagillionth time.
As many of you know, last spring semester I studied away from the Georgetown Hilltop and relocated to the hillside of Fiesole in Florence, Italy. During those four months abroad, I commuted from my homestay to attend classes at Georgetown’s Tuscan villa, Villa Le Balze. As a homestay, I lived with another female student from the program in the home of a local family. My host mother was the sweetest, tiniest woman, and, as could be expected, she was an incredible cook. Every meal at Flavia’s table reminded me of those Sunday mornings as a child spent with my Italian great grandmothers.
Although there were occasions when Flavia served something I had never tasted (coniglio, rabbit, immediately comes to mind) or less than appetizing (too much fennel!), I never outright rejected any of her offerings. But when Quaresima, Lent, rolled around the corner, I knew I had to tell Flavia that I could no longer consume meat during our Friday meals.
At dinner a few days before Ash Wednesday, I sat down at the table for il primo, the first course, and began to explain to my host mother about my Catholic background and what it meant for the coming 40 days.
Perche sono cattolica, non posso mangiare la carne ai venerdi. Translated: “Because I am Catholic, I cannot eat meat on Fridays.”
Ma tu puoi mangiare bacon? asked Flavia. At the sound of the word “bacon,” I froze. Did she seriously just ask me if I could still eat bacon? Part of me wanted to break out into laughter because of her joke, but reading my host mom’s face made me realize that she was not kidding.
In attempting to explain my Friday vegetarianism, I became a victim of literal translation. In every Italian textbook I have studied, the word carne was defined as “meat.” What I never realized, however, is that carne literally translates to “beef” in the Italian language. In my saying that io non posso mangiare la carne, Flavia concluded that pork was acceptable for dinner’s secondo, the second course. Trying to clarify myself without knowing another word for animal flesh was one of the more challenging and interesting conversations I had in Italy.
So what was the point of sharing this story? Well, I have officially decided that io non posso mangiare la carne il lunedi, il martedi, il mercoledi, il giovedi, il venerdi, il sabato, o la domenica. Translated: I cannot eat meat Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. Yes, I have officially become a vegetarian.
Forgoing meat has long been on a mind, but I never could fully commit myself to doing it. The closest I came was spending Lent 2010 as a vegetarian, but that ended once I saw our family’s Easter feast on the table. However, now I am ready to do it. For real.
Although there are a few things I will miss on my new diet, such as my dad’s meatballs, prosciutto, and yes, bacon, I do not anticipate that it will be too difficult. The truth is that I rarely ate meat, especially at school, and even when I did, it usually was chicken. I also was never a huge fan of beef; tacos, lasagna and a couple of pasta dishes were my few sources of red meat. But as of now, all animal flesh is off-limits, except for fish. By allowing myself to consume fish, which as a cash-strapped college student is very limited, I guess that would make me a pescatarian. However, I’m not really one for labels and lengthy explanations, so et’s just call me a vegetarian.
Yet, while I am very excited about and dedicated to my new vegetarianism, I’m not about to become any vegan anytime soon. For my reasoning, see Exhibit A above left and Exhibit B below.