I go to a college where it’s almost more radical to be a meat eater than a vegetarian. Our dining hall is full of kale and quinoa. Two years ago I took a course called “Animal Life,” where we discussed the ethics of meat consumption and learned all sorts of horrifying industrial details. My vegetarianism followed soon after. For a while I missed turkey sandwiches. But I’ve spent the last two years happy with my tofu pad thai, mostly unfazed by the limited options when dining out.
People laughed when I told them I was going to study in Argentina. “Good luck with that,” they said, “my friend studied there and didn’t see a vegetable for 6 months.” I saw a facebook picture of a girl who’d studied in Mendoza looking deliriously happy with a head of broccoli. My guidebook had pages of vocabulary for different cuts of beef.
I steeled myself. I decided that to fully engage in the culture of the country I’d have to eat steak. Last summer I was a vegetarian in Spain and it felt like a constant battle against little pieces of ham. I wasn’t going to do that again. So for my last dinner in the U.S. we had roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash and asparagus. I said goodbye to my family. And I said goodbye to being a vegetarian…
Last night I had sausage for an appetizer and ribs for dinner. And a tomato. Well, part of a tomato. It was an incredibly good sausage. My host mom must have seen it on my face because she sat across the table from me looking pleased with herself. “Rico, no?” She asked. “Rico,” I said, “muy rico.” In situations like that, during social meals, the transition hasn’t been difficult. Meat, it turns out, tastes really good. It’s the type of pseudo-revelation that’s the exclusive privilege of recovering vegetarians. When I’m with friends and starving because dinner doesn’t happen until 10pm, eating meat is the easiest thing in the world.
It’s harder when I’m alone. I ate the leftover ribs for lunch, sitting by myself in the kitchen. In the quiet I was acutely aware that I was gnawing on a cow’s bone. I couldn’t forget that all the gristle and sinew I was navigating had been an important part of an animal’s midsection. I ate two ribs and gave up in favor of a cheese sandwich.
But there’s good news for people who come to Mendoza with similar vegetarian leanings. It’s entirely possible not to eat meat here, especially if you’re willing to try fish every once and a while. There are almost always vegetarian pizza and pasta dishes, and occasionally you encounter a salad.
With a little research, you can even find dinners that are mozzarella-less and reasonably balanced. It is possible. And enjoyable. But that’s not to say it’s necessarily easy. Last week I went out to dinner with two friends who are also vegetarians back home. We had heard about a place called Go Vinda, which specializes in vegetarian Indian cuisine. Eventually stumped by its location in Godoy Cruz we ended up ordering pizza at a restaurant on the Peatonal. We thought it would have fresh tomatoes and oregano, but we laughed when it finally arrived—it was completely covered in ham.