BY SKEPTIK SINIKIAN
“I won’t eat anything that had a face or a mother,” the late Linda McCartney once said. Her and her husband Paul (of Beatles fame) were ardent supporters of a vegetarian lifestyle and had also never tasted my uncle’s famous Armenian style barbecue (khorovadz.) But Linda’s quote has become the motto of many vegetarians and animal rights activists around the world and couldn’t be a term that worse describes my own personal carnivorous diet. In fact, if I really like how a particular cut of meat or meal tastes, I’m liable to find its siblings and parents and see if the succulence is hereditary. And thank God (literally) that I’m Christian because I could not live in any culture or society that judged me for eating pork.
I dig on pig along with cattle, buffalo, goat, sheep, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish and anything else that can be raised, sold (legally) and cooked. Which makes what I’m about to do one of the hardest things I have ever done. Starting on Wednesday (February 17, 2010) and for the following 40 days after Fat Tuesday (Poun Paregentan in Armenian) I shall not eat any animal product. I’ve decided to do something that many of my friends don’t believe I can do – honor our Armenian heritage and observe Lent.
“You’ll never do it,” commented one friend. “You’ve never met a piece of meat you didn’t like!” This is only partially true. I once got sick off some bad chee kofte (Armenian steak tartare) at a friend’s New Year’s party during the serving of appetizers and swore off eating meat completely. I got so sick that my face turned greener than the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. But that only lasted until the main course when plates of lule kebab came sizzling hot on a plate of lavash bread that had been soaking all of the grilled meats juices and oils – well, you get the picture. Giving up meat is going to be hard and will require every ounce of will power I have. I It will take more willpower than the time I resisted the urge to let the air out of the tires of the Range Rover that stole my parking spot at the Glendale Galleria (actually, she took two spots because she learned how to park from an instructor who apparently suffered from a severe case of astigmatism.) Or the urge to tell the middle aged fake blonde mother on her cell phone who was driving said Range Rover that her makeup and hair made her look like someone spilled a can of peroxide and cosmetics on her head during a hurricane. Don’t even judge me for that – you’ve had the exact same thoughts.
But this isn’t just about being an observant Armenian Christian who wants to keep a pure Lenten diet. I want to do this to prove to myself that I’m able to deprive myself of something that I have every day without caving in. I’m approaching this with the dedication and attention to detail of an explorer preparing for an expedition. I’ve stocked up on rice and bulgur and even have a box of this Incan or Peruvian grain called quinoa. I have cans of fava and garbanzo beans lined up in my cupboard and have bought a big bag of lentils (black and orange). I’ve got a canister of olive oil and potatoes and onions. So I have the basics and figure I’ll buy fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis so they won’t spoil too quickly. I’ve come up with a schedule of when to visit Super King market and how to do all my shopping and avoid the meat and seafood sections of the store. On Tuesday night I had my last Zankou chicken(s) and feel that I’m now prepared to take this challenge head on.
I’m not going to change anything about my lifestyle. I’ll still go to Raffi’s Kebab when my Persian Armenian friends want to go out or to Carousel when my Beirutsi friends who want to get their kebab fix or to any Armenian banquet hall when invited to an event. The goal is going to be to see how an Armenian who is trying to observe Lent and keep his traditions alive can possibly survive in a society dominated by … OTHER ARMENIANS! Will my own people look at me weird when I refuse to order the Sultani plate with the barg (filet) and koobideh (ground meat lule style)? Will my friends think I’ve lost my mind when I don’t have the Sultan Ibrahim (fried red mullet fish) plate with filet mignon on the side and a glass of tan (yogurt and mint beverage) to wash it all down? It’s going to be interesting to see if Armenians will take kindly to my militant vegan choices and whether I’ll be able to make it to 40 days without losing my mind.
All I ask is that you send me your best, most satisfying recipes and ideas for Lenten dishes. I know there are some crazy people out there who still believe in our traditions and I want to hear from you. I also know that our Armenian kitchen is a treasure trove of vegetarian and vegan delights so please share your wisdom and experience with me. We’ll keep each other posted on our progress and see how long I can last. In the meantime, I’m going to try to find a place that can make a falafel shaped like a 16 oz. rib eye steak.
Skeptik Sinikian plans on doubling his meat consumption after Lent and Easter to make up for lost time. He will eat anything as long as it’s not endangered or illegal. You can reach him at [email protected]