I have been eating meat for as long as I can remember. My forte into flesh consumption started with the ever so ominous Happy Meals. I devoured the puck like hamburgers with such vigor to ensure that I got the toy. My mom would keep it hostage until I finished my meal. My affinity for potato sides dishes also has its roots in those Happy Meal days. As I grew older and my palate became more sophisticated, but not by much, I graduated from hamburgers with french fires on the side to Parmesan mash accompanying my well done steak. Nevertheless, I still get a bit nostalgic upon passing a McDonald's. I smile at the thought of my nephews and niece experiencing the same joy from the cardboard happiness of Happy Meals.
Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, my daily school lunch was a cheese and egg sandwich. My mother made it for me every morning, that is until I started middle school and was thus informed to wake up earlier and make my own lunch. I decided to skip a mid-day grub in return for a few extra minutes of morning snooze. Nevertheless, on the rare occasion we had cold cuts and cheddar cheese, I'd brown bag it that day. Always opting for smoked turkey slices. We couldn't afford to buy such delicacies on regular bases. It was always a treat when the parchment wrapped packages of deli sliced meat and cheese appeared in the fridge. I'd make my infamous Amira Wraps, spreading cream cheese directly on the turkey meat, placing peeled slices of cucumber in the center, and rolling it up. I'd imagine that I was a refined socialite eating hors d'oeuvres at a soiree.
I continued to eat meat, a medley of beef and chicken, never warming up to lamb or mutton. I enjoyed cooking with meat, incorporating a variety of spice blends to transform the cuts. I had a strong preference for chicken and turkey. Every special occasion was celebrated with a meaty center piece. Ramadan feasts were always infested with an array of meat dishes from Kofta, bread encrusted cutlets, fired chicken, to mince meat laced pasta, as if the only sustenance to combat our daily fast was meat. Again, I enjoyed these dishes immensely. However, the older I got, the more difficult it became for me to digest meat, literary. It all started with McMeals. Yes, at the very ripe age of 37, I still enjoy the occasional Big Mac. After consuming a McBurger, my body would revolt. My forehead broke out in sweat, heart beat raced, and digestive system expanded with the strain of breaking down the alien ingredients. I wrote it off as post McDonald's stress. I noticed that these symptoms reoccurred, yet on a smaller scale, upon eating beef. I'd always follow my meat meals with a digestive aid of green tea, not sure if the relief was real or placebo. With every bite, it became harder and harder to ingest beef. I turned to chicken and fish for solace, chalking it up to old age.
In December 2011, I moved to Long Island, New York. With Brooklyn and Queens in the vicinity and a diverse Muslim community, there is an abundance of halal meat (as a Muslim, I can only eat meat that has been butchered and prepared in a certain manner). However, access to halal meat vendors is conditioned to owning a car. Having failed to obtain a US driver's license, I opted to become a vegetarian instead of commuting 2+ hours by train and bus to procure meat. Yet, on special occasions, I allowed myself to indulge as I recited Besemel Allah El Rahman El Raheem (in the name of God the merciful and compassionate) before scarfing down the sinful meat. One of such occasions was the Feast Holiday, celebrating the end of Ramadan. After a month of fasting, I decided to reward myself with a big juicy burger. I selected a local restaurant near my apartment in Rockville Center. I called in my order while at work to guarantee that it'll be ready for pickup on my way home. After two weeks have passed, I can finally bring myself to write about the traumatizing experience. The beef paddy was bland, tasteless and over cooked. The delectable onion rings, as described on the menu, turned out to be soggy thinly sliced fried onions. I spent the entire meal wondering what the white paste like sauce was, until the metallic aftertaste reminded me that the burger was promised to be dressed with a creamy horse radish condiment. The side fries were salty and stale. I was too hungry, with an empty fridge, to forgo this poor offering. Two hours later, indigestion set in. Had I not known better, I could have been fooled in assuming that I suffered a heart attack. A warm cup of ginger tea could have remedied my misery, but I was too disposed to make it. Fearing I was suffering from food poisoning and wouldn't be able to attend a book signing the next day, I tried to purge my body of the atrocious burger, but to no avail. I woke up the next day feeling a bit better, yet I was cautious with what I ate. I had planned to go to the Shake Shack for lunch. I had grilled halibut instead. It is on that day that I decided to become a full time vegetarian, relegating my meat eating days of yonder to the memories of my wasted youth.