I was seasoning a quinoa salad with homemade nightshade-free curry powder when I remembered a cartoon I’d seen in the New Yorker last Thanksgiving. It showed a family gathered around a long table for the feast. A label floated over each member: Vegan; Gluten-Free; Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian; Lactose Intolerant…

I had laughed when I saw it, because I’d been preparing über-flexible holiday meals for the past twenty-five years or so, since I declared myself a vegetarian.


I grew up in a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes household; everybody I knew back there and then loved a good steak. My mother used lard in her pie dough and cooked her popcorn with bacon grease. I never thought of cows as dopey people in fur coats.

Then I returned from Viet Nam, after my gig as an Army nurse.

I’d seen a lot of death during my time there, and I found myself repelled by the idea that human beings were so at home with killing people—and, by extension, other animals. I looked at slabs of beef in the supermarket, and I thought about how we took for granted that an animal killed out of our sight and neatly packaged in plastic wrap was meat, not flesh. This depersonalization—which was also, after all, what war was about—struck a sour chord with me. I didn’t want to eat anything that I wouldn’t be willing to kill with my own hands.

It was a noble idea.

However, in those days, only hippies were vegetarians, maybe because they had the spare time to study all the dire cautionary dietary rules of the time: don’t eat rice without beans or you get kwashiorkor; take iron or you’ll die of anemia, that sort of thing. I was too busy—new marriage, new job, new baby on the way—to navigate the bleak and demanding territory of Meatlessness.

Plus, to be honest, I liked to eat out. That wasn’t something a vegetarian could do back then.

So I guiltily ate my chops. Which proved a good thing when we joined the Peace Corps. Vegetarianism in Venezuela during the early 70s? Hah. One could eat only so many plates of Arroz y Habitualas. Which was not necessarily a meat-free dish.

Gradually, over the next fifteen years, savvy dieticians decreed that vegetarianism wasn’t fatal without beans, and more and more restaurants began including meat-free options on their menus. At some point, I took a breath, bought some new cookbooks, et voila! I’ve been meat-free since. Sure, I still cook the turkey at Thanksgiving, even though I don’t eat it—I’m the chef, and it seems unfair to make everybody else dance to my philosophical  tune. After all, I wear leather shoes; the tires on my car contain animal components. I figure there’s virtually no way to be completely pure in this world.

What I do is, I draw the line at my own consumption. And I’ve walked that line for more than a third of my life.


Or I did, until last year, when I discovered I was lactose-intolerant. No milk; none of my much-beloved cheese.

I could, I suppose, have gone vegan. But…I like to eat out.

So I added fish to my diet.

Yes, I know that fish aren’t vegetables. So there goes my whole philosophy, my whole raison d’eat.

But I used to fish as a kid, and I would now, given the opportunity. It’s not quite the same as smacking a cow with a sledgehammer. Plus, I was already eating seafood at those rare times when I traveled to places in the world where vegetarians would truly starve to death—like darkest Africa, or Indiana.

Eating fish comes with baggage that goes beyond their absence of roots and leaves. Seafood is not the sustainable resource it used to be, due to overfishing. Shrimp farms are destroying coastal forests. Farmed salmon is full of mercury.

It seems there are almost as many rules to responsible fish-eating as there used to be for going vegetarian. Look them up on-line; you’ll be amazed. I was. I was so amazed that I’ve given up trying to remember them all. As I said at the outset, this is not a world where we can be pure. I eat the healthiest of what I can find, and close my eyes to the fact that the environment, and hence the world, is—as my late father was fond of saying—going to hell in a hand-basket.

And so I have officially become yet another label for the New Yorker Thanksgiving table: an ovo-non-lacto-pescatarian semi-vegetarian.


A few weeks ago, my daughter’s doctor confirmed that her achy joints were a symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

RA is one of those many auto-immune disorders that seem to be everywhere these days—possibly because the environment, and hence the world, is indeed going to hell in a hand-basket. There is no cure for RA, only management.

Conventional management usually involves steroids and pain-killers with nasty side effects. But there are so-called alternative approaches. One is dietary change, since there’s reason to believe that RA might be connected to food allergies.

Kym has several known food allergies—nuts, apples, the fuzzy skins of peaches and apricots, to name a few—and now she’s in the process of cutting out other foods that might exacerbate her condition. She’s cutting out gluten, dairy and nightshades—which comprise eggplant, tomato, potatoes and all manner of peppers, from garden-variety bell peppers to chillis and cayenne.

She is, I suppose, a gluten-free, lactose-free, nightshade-free carnivore.

Eating out is an issue. Not that she can afford it, because she’s working part-time, shares parenting duties for two rambunctious little boys with an ex-husband, and is in grad school, studying to become an acupuncturist. She has no money and no time.

While Kym works to find a gluten-free pancake recipe that the kids will eat, but which doesn’t contain potato flour (the nightshade that makes most gluten-free pancakes edible), I’m cooking up the odd culinary goodie for her that fits the narrow demands of her situation. I have concocted, so far, a fairly edible bread, decent chocolate chip cookies, some great biscuits, and a surprisingly good artichoke/spinach dip. And I’ve got that homemade curry powder (without red pepper—you can’t find that commercially).

Thanksgiving, it appears, will become very complicated…