“Nana, I’ve decided to become a vegetarian,” I announced to my maternal grandmother one spring afternoon in 1976, as she bustled around her sunny yellow kitchen making my grandfather’s dinner.
“Why would you want to do that?” she bellowed, looking at me while wielding a kitchen knife.
“I gave it up for Lent and I’m not going to eat meat anymore,” I announced smugly.
“That’s crazy!” she exclaimed while chopping carrots for a stew.
She paused for a moment before continuing, “What about chicken?”
“What about chicken? It’s meat.”
“You’re not going to eat chicken and pilaf!” she exclaimed referring to the signature Armenian dish.
I shook my head.
“Where does she get these crazy ideas?” she muttered to herself while slicing onions.
“What about your mother’s lamb chops?”
I shook my head.
“I thought you liked the way she cooked them?”
“I do like them. But lamb is meat.”
She waved her hand at me dismissively. I fiddled with the buttons on my shirt.
“You can eat the pilaf. There’s no meat in the pilaf,” she responded proudly for finding a loophole.
“But you cook it in chicken broth,” I countered.
A few Sundays later, my family sat down to dinner in my Nana’s dining room. She emerged from the kitchen carrying a platter of roasted chicken, which she placed on the table next to a big bowl of rice pilaf.
“Karen, have some chicken,” offered my Nana seated to my right, reaching across my plate with a forkful of white meat.
I blocked her move with my right hand. “No, thank you, Nana. Remember, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat anymore.”
“Don’t be silly,” she responded, waving the meat-laden fork in front of me.
“Have a little. Who’s going to know?”
I shook my head defiantly.
“Why do you keep insisting she eat it?” reproached my mother.
“What will you eat?” queried Nana.
I pointed to the green beans, the salad and the looped Armenian string cheese piled next to dan hatz, Armenian cracker bread.
“That’s not enough.”
“I’ve heard enough,” announced my grandfather in Armenian.
“I don’t like the idea of killing animals for food,” I continued.
“If you think meat was once an animal, of course you wouldn’t eat it. But you can’t think that way,” Nana admonished me.
Having failed to appeal to humaneness, I resorted to her religious side.
“You’re a Christian, Nana. Doesn’t God say, thou shall not kill?”
But my grandmother had an answer for that, too. She emphatically plopped the meat back on the platter with a thud. “He didn’t mean animals.”