“If he can turn you vegetarian so easily can he influence you to be Jewish too?”
This weekend J and I went to JFK airport to pick up ma who was returning from Bangladesh. Our 2-hour drive from New York to Philly was joyous and everyone was generally in good spirits. She told us stories of my cousin’s wedding in India, we thought about cool ideas for future travel plans we can do together, and we got lattes and curly fries from a highway rest stop. Right before we got to her house, I picked up some Thai take-out for dinner. Since she’s been out of the country for over a month, I safely assumed there would be nothing edible at home.
So there we are in her living room. Suitcases are leaning against the wall and the three of us are sprawled on the carpet and couch eating delicious Thai food off of paper plates. 30 Rock is playing in the background. I’m not really following the storyline and J is mesmerized by Tina Fey who looks particularly hot in a little black dress with deep v-neck. Anyways, I digress . . . .
My mom is holding a plastic take-out bowl of chicken lemongrass soup close to her, enjoying the smell as the steam warms up her smiling face.
“Take some” she says. “I can’t finish this all by myself.”
“Ma, I don’t eat meat anymore” I respond.
As her smile fades and her eyes grow large I can’t hear Jack Donaghy in the background anymore. She drops her spoon back in the bowl, looks down and starts stirring the soup around. The room grows silent. 1 second, 2 second, 3 ………
“But I still eat fish” I say, trying to save myself from drowning in a sea of silent awkwardness.
I assure her that it was completely my decision and J never tried to pressure or influence me. She is still silent. Her expression tells me I am betraying her somehow. Wow, this is not the reaction I was expecting.
First of all, I was vegetarian before (during college). Not too long after, I turned into a “vegetarian statistic” which cites 75% of vegetarians return to eating meat with 9 years being the average length of time of abstinence, according to Psychology Today. I only lasted two years, one which was spent living under my parent’s roof.
Second, my mom was raised Hindu, and with vegetarianism being congruous with the doctrine of ahimsa, I was sure that not only would she understand, but that she might also be proud of me. In contrast, it is clear from this circumstance that she is a maach mangsho kind of Bengali gal first, and a Hindu second. At the very least I thought I would get a, “Good for you! But don’t ask me to do it, shona. Just make sure you are getting enough protein and vitamins.” With vegetarianism originating in ancient India, she must realize that it is not a fad diet.
“I knew it would happen eventually” she says in a slow, calculated tone. “I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.” She pauses for dramatic effect. “I knew it was going to happen by the way you were talking about that book.”
That book she is talking about is Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy which I read on our Golden Triangle road trip last month.
Fast forward to the following day. I tell J about my mom’s reaction and he gives me some wise insight.
“Maybe she is thinking, ‘If he can turn you vegetarian so easily can he influence you to be Jewish too?'” J says as he bites into a fake-chicken wrap. “Second, it basically cuts down her menu of things she can make for you into one-third.”
I’m not sure how J got that percentage, but his points make sense. My mom, being a traditional desi woman who shows her love through her food preparations, is probably freaking out. Hopefully this was just her first reaction of initial shock and over time she will become more accepting of my choice.
Glossary of Bengali terms in post:
ahimsa – “no harm” in Sanskrit, the Bengali way of pronouncing it is ahingsa (aw-hing-show)
maach – fish
mangsho – meat