My Cow in Jodhpur

Another frigid morning in lower Manhattan. The priest from St. Paul’s stood on the corner of Church and Vesey. He was giving out ashes. The crowd came up from the subway, heads down, moving fast, checking their phones. A woman stopped, the priest said a prayer and made a cross on her forehead. She thanked him and moved away. I wondered if she was giving up meat for Lent.

I’m not religious. I’m skeptical of epiphanies, but sometimes I envy the faithful.

The closest I’ve come to an epiphany was in India. Donna and I were staying in a guesthouse in a quiet neighborhood in Jodhpur. A few boys were kicking around a soccer ball. We sat on a bench to watch them.

a-cow-in-jodhpurA woman came out of her house with a tray of pea pods. She brushed them into the gutter and went back in. A cow came by and ate the pea pods. Then the cow came over and nudged me. I rubbed its nose and scratched its ears. We locked eyes. I thought “I wonder what it would be like to think of a cow as my equal or as a higher being.”

As soon as I thought it, I knew I was going to have trouble eating beef. In Rajasthan, it was not a problem. In deference to the HIndu and Muslim communities, we were never offered beef or pork. I decided not to worry about it until I got back to New York. Each time I saw a cow on the street, I thought about my cow in Jodhpur.

The morning after we get back from a big trip, Donna and I always go out for breakfast. We never go out for breakfast in our normal life; we go out so we can pretend we are still on vacation. Donna ordered fried eggs and bacon. I ordered pastrami and eggs. I took a couple of bites and told Donna “I don’t think I can do this.”

Ten years later I’m still either a ovo-lacto vegetarian who occasionally eats fish, a pescatarian, or an omnivore who doesn’t eat meat and poultry. I’m not sure what to call myself. I know that sounds familiar.

When I stopped eating meat I was shy about it; I didn’t know if it was permanent. I used to eat meat with great pleasure, and I was embarrassed to tell friends I’d given it up. It was a visceral decision, not an intellectual or moral one. It was based on one precocious cow.

I don’t talk a lot about not eating meat. I’ve been criticized because it is inconsistent to eschew meat but eat dairy and fish. I’m not into purity. It isn’t a big deal to me. I don’t want to put anyone out. I am lucky to have food to eat.

I’m shy about explaining that I am transgender but not transsexual. That there are contradictions between how I look and how I feel. That I’m not explicitly trying to be read as male, but I do not want to be seen as female. I’m hesitant to request third person singular pronouns, slow correcting people who use my old name, and tired of explaining dysphoria and defending top surgery.

Friends from my meat eating days periodically ask “Are you still a vegetarian?” As if it is just a phase I’m going through and eventually I will come to my senses. As if they are still waiting for me to invite them over for a standing rib roast. A few have asked me if I still consider myself to be butch, and I tell them yes, but I am qualifying it with transgender. I don’t think they really believe me; they are waiting for me to move one way or the other. As if it is a phase I am going through and eventually I will come to my senses.

19 thoughts on “My Cow in Jodhpur

  1. amediablogger

    I think the main point is self acceptance then who really cares what others think! People (especially friends/family) will often place their issues out there and sometimes on us. Always remember that’s their issues not ours.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Surprisingly, of all the changes I’ve made over the years, giving up meat created the most ruckus. If I had been able to come up with a solid ethical or ecological argument I might have gotten less flak, but no one expected it to last. I do think people take some pleasure in dietary recidivism (watching people fail at whatever they set out to do, e.g. lose weight).

      On the subject big fails – until Donna and I moved in with each other (7 years after we took up) if I showed up solo I would be asked “Are you two still together?” and I had to tell them that I’d send out telegrams (pre e-mail) if we broke up and they should stop asking.

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  2. urbanmythcafe

    I work around poultry production periodically, and every time that I do, I am struck by the gruesomeness of it. Meat comes at a high cost. I constantly threaten to stop eating meat and poultry, but it never quite happens.

    I have a deep respect for people who do not eat meat. I know that some of my non-meat-eating friends feel that they are inconveniencing others with their food choices, so I always make a point of telling them how much I respect their decision.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It took some getting used to at first. I’m a good cook, so I can work around the limitations of my diet without feeling like I’m eating back to the land tofu casserole. But if you are used to cooking meat and two sides, it can be daunting to have someone over who doesn’t eat meat. I try to tell them that I will “eat around” the meat, and not to go too far out of their way.
      Mostly it inconveniences Donna, because she eats what I cook (she could cook for herself but she doesn’t) – she only gets to eat meat when we go out or travel.

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  3. P

    Since I was little I’ve always seen the in between predicament you describe as being not enough of any identifiable category to fit in or make other people comfortable. I applaud your efforts to simply be. I’m trying to do the same myself.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      If left to my own devices I would probably eat less fish (I’d have a hard time completely giving up bagels and Nova). The fish is a compromise with Donna; I’m the cook so we negotiated a couple of nights of fish a week. She still complains once in a while about it being unfair, she took up with a lamb chop eating baby butch and ended up with me.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I did that once and got served chicken; now I’m more specific. Friends who only know me as a fish/veg person are fine with it, the others are still hoping I’ll relapse.

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  4. RonaFraser

    I went lacto-ovo (never liked fish) in ’93 — environmental reasons (takes much more land to raise a cow to feed a few people than to raise grains/veg bla bla). It was easy at the time because I’d just moved to England — I was never a big meat eater (bacon-sausages-hotdogs) and the bacon over there was too thick for me and the hotdogs had grissoly bits, so I only gave up sausages really. Stuck to it when I moved back to Canada 2 yrs later… but then some time… I dunno when… I was eating breakfast out with friends, and envying their bacon, when I thought to myself “either eat bacon or don’t eat it, but don’t be staring wistfully at it because it is your damned decision not to eat it!” So since then I eat the occasional bacon, hotdog, sausage. I figure I am still doing better environmentally than I would be eating meat freely, and no, I do not want to hear about what goes into these “meats”. 😉 I think it is an age thing. The younger me was more passionate — more black and white — more making a statement. The mid-forties me is more “enjoy life and try not to do harm”. Some people take offense — almost like they are angry I’ve made my own rules instead of following what they see as one path or the other. But that’s their problem. I feel bad sometimes, about the pigs… but not bad enough to stop! 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Ah, the power of bacon and greasy spicy sausage. I went vegetarian in college and was fine until my Senior year. I was studying and went out with roommates for a late night snack. I got the bacon munchies and that was the end of that (until I went to India).

      I think Michael Pollan does have the right idea (in The Omnivore’s Dilemma), but I’ve lost my taste/desire for meat. Eating a wide variety of minimally processed foods is probably the best.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Food is complicated. Unless you do not think about it at all and eat at McD. In India, McD served only the chicken dishes, not the beef/pork based dishes. We didn’t eat there but you could get chicken nuggets or fried chicken fillet sandwiches (and they were full of teenagers).

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      1. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

        I actually wrote a piece about my proclivities towards meat a couple years ago after a Thanksgiving incident. I have a very hard time eating meat if I do not know where it came from, how it was grown, what it was fed when it was alive, etc. I could very easily be a vegetarian.

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  5. Georgeann

    As usual, your post touched on several issues that apply to my life (why I love it so)! I gave up three types of food products last year upon discovering that they were wreaking havoc on my health, and I know that some friends and family saw this as a “phase” that I would “outgrow” (because apparently I am still a child?) — annoying that I wasn’t given the respect and space to make decisions based on MY experiences and instinct! Anyway, I think another blogger mentioned that it’s too bad people push their preconceived notions on us, but maybe it isn’t always vicious.
    I found it interesting that you were having a hard time eating beef based on meeting that personable cow — I would too, for the record! I already KNOW that when we start raising chickens and other various animals for meat, there will be some that become so dear to my heart, I may lose the will to consume their kind ever again. I may be reduced to fruits, nuts, veggies, and grains!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Georgeann,
      I answered your note with a “new comment” instead of reply (arghh). Content is as follows:

      There is a misconception that a person should be rational about the food they eat instead of sentimental; or that dietary changes should only be prescribed by doctors (e.g. gluten free or lactose free). I think if you pay attention you can figure out what your body wants, and we are all different. I could not eat dogs (except perhaps under extraordinary circumstances) but I can eat fish. Maybe if I had guppies I would have to give fish up too. I didn’t mention that I am also squeamish in general about blood and gore (I won’t go to movies that have gratuitous violence).
      I’ve never had a problem eating dairy or eggs, but that is probably because I don’t pay enough attention to how the animals are raised and how the products are made (I try to buy mostly from our local year-round green-market and quasi-organic food market but that is no guarantee). It is a complicated matter.

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      1. Georgeann

        Couldn’t agree more! I actually have a story on my list about my sister’s rooster, who met his end recently because he was so vicious to my daughters, my husband, and my brother-in-law. In fact, only my sister and I escaped his wrath. He is currently in my freezer, but I keep procrastinating making coq au vin because my daughters have been telling me they can’t possibly eat ‘Roo’ or any other chickens from Auntie’s farm. I totally agree that eating habits are more irrational and sentimental than anything else. My stomach is completely controlled by forces beyond what my brain tells me *should* be compelling me!

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  6. Jamie Ray Post author

    There is a misconception that a person should be rational about the food they eat instead of sentimental; or that dietary changes should only be prescribed by doctors (e.g. gluten free or lactose free). I think if you pay attention you can figure out what your body wants, and we are all different. I could not eat dogs (except perhaps under extraordinary circumstances) but I can eat fish. Maybe if I had guppies I would have to give fish up too. I didn’t mention that I am also squeamish in general about blood and gore (I won’t go to movies that have gratuitous violence).
    I’ve never had a problem eating dairy or eggs, but that is probably because I don’t pay enough attention to how the animals are raised and how the products are made (I try to buy mostly from our local year-round green-market and quasi-organic food market but that is no guarantee). It is a complicated matter.

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  7. weavergrace

    Thank you for presenting transgender in a way that people can relate to who have made alternative lifestyle choices.

    I agree that accepting ones own judgment of ones self is more important than anyone else’s judgment. I also recognize the pain of decisions interfering with precious relationships.

    Food is loaded with meaning, with the ability to sustain or hurt. I have been on many diets for the sake of ethics, and am currently on one for the sake of my health. My appetite is as fickle as my age. It fluctuates with what I associate with the food. Did that carrot come from the farm where I saw the farmer abusing his employees? What was that cucumber fed? How do I feel after eating organic, totally grass-fed, free-range beef? How long do I want this meal with this person to last? What do I want to do while I eat this meal? Is my health and wellbeing more important than that of the animal or plant I am about to eat? I’m sure you can continue this train of thought.

    Food preferences, like gender, are loaded with meaning, but much less stable.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading the post and for continuing to make connections. It is fascinating how some people do not think about where their food comes from at all, including who picks it and how the workers are treated.They just want the food to be cheap, no matter what the consequences are.

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