New Jersey Food Journal

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eschewing Meat to Silence Bullies, Lose Weight

Rembrandt's "The Slaughtered Ox"
By Johanna Aroca

Food is love and love is food. Everything about food is welcoming—smell, taste, sound. The sizzling sound onions make when thrown in a hot pan is glorious. But food does not like me. I can praise burritos and fawn over the perfectly toasted flour tortilla and how it gently encases the carnitas, black beans, rice and mounds of cheese, but no amount of adoration will keep me from gaining weight. Those calories have to go somewhere, right? In a perfect world, lasagna would be calorie-free, cannolis would give you washboard abs and pepper jack cheese (the Holy Grail of all cheeses) would give you a clear complexion. Unfortunately, that world does not exist.

Growing up I would eat anything placed in front of me, especially if it was deep fried and processed. I threw temper tantrums anytime mom refused to buy me Doritos or the double cheeseburger instead of the regular one. I was a pretty hefty kid.

Bodegas and fast-food joints litter my town; grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce. My local supermarket had an amazing sale on fruit once, but that’s because it was rotten. The mayor should do something, but instead he throws block parties with free hot dogs, hamburgers, soda and cotton candy. Gaining weight in this town is inevitable.

My weight was spiraling out of control and it was making me miserable. Kids would tease me. “Look at that fat girl trying to make friends” or “Ew, I would never sit with her, she’s so fat.” I dreaded school because of the bullying that awaited, and it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I decided to do something about it.

I became a vegetarian.

The transition from carnivore to veg head was difficult, and still is. All of our family events revolve around food. The typical get-together dish is pork, rice with chickpeas and macaroni salad (which has zero leafy greens and 100 percent mayonnaise). Turning down a plate will offend someone.

But I had to do this for my own good, not just for my physical well-being but also my mental health. Every time I’d see a piece of meat or junk food, I’d think of my bullies saying, “Go on fat girl, you know you want to eat it.” If I were to quit, my bullies would be right. By not quitting, I was proving my bullies wrong. I was no longer the fat girl.

Fear of gaining weight keeps me from eating meat, but anytime I do have a craving, I watch “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Like magic, my craving goes away. Thank you, Guy Fieri, for helping satisfy my meat cravings.

Johanna Aroca is a senior at Rutgers majoring in journalism and media studies.