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My Beef with... Well, Beef
At a recent BBQ outing with my wife and a couple of friends, someone I was talking to was surprised by the fact that I don't eat beef. “How do you live?” she asked with a genuine tone of surprise in her voice. What I responded was the same thing I always tell everyone when this kind of topic comes up:
Growing up in Brazil, I frequently attended outdoor parties, and beef was always consumed in large quantities. Not only that, but my parents were very fond of rodizio churrascarias, the countr'ys traditional all-you-can eat restaurant, where countless servings of choice meat cuts are brought to your table until you are, well, bursting.
Just over a decade ago, I began to abstain from beef (later the same thing with pork), and started feeling much better. No longer did I feel that heavy feeling in my stomach that always came after having a meal. And also, I discovered that there were so many other options on the menu that included poultry, seafood or simply vegetables.
Not that it was easy for people to get it. I recall that ten years ago I made a stop to Sao Paulo, Brazil as I made my way back to Fortaleza after a few weeks in New York and Kansas (this was before I relocated here). I was with a girlfriend at the time who pretty much kept a diet similar to mine, and on the first night my mother invited us to have dinner at a local restaurant. Brazil's biggest city prides itself for being the capital of gastronomy there - in fact, you can find the best of international cuisine in the entire country.
I told my mother that we ate “everything but beef,” and she took us to Avenida Angelica Grill (Av. Angelica, 430 in the fancy neighborhood of Higienopolis), which is considered one of the best steak houses in the entire city. Not that I was complaining – their salad bar is as stupendous as their service is impeccable. But I thought it was a waste to sit there and watch all that beef glide by without even touching it.
When I met my wife Renata, she was a bit surprised about my diet, too. Having come from a culture where beef is part of everyday life (look at a Polish cookbook – how many recipes do NOT have beef in them?). But she got along with it fine – since I'm the cook of the house, I get to do the food shopping. But she does ask for kielbasa every now and then, and of course I oblige.
Today, I still stay away from beef (with the exception of an occasional summer hot dog at Nathan's whenever I go to Coney Island), even though some look at me like I'm crazy at times. I have no problem with other people eating beef in front of me. Just don't ask me to have a piece.