The Devil Made Me Eat That Whopper Jr.

My sons came home from school today with a letter from David L. Brewer III, the Superintendent of Los Angeles' schools. It explained that the school district has ceased serving all food items containing ground beef until further notice.

What brought on this decision?

Well, the meat distributor for district cafeterias, Westland Meat Company, is being investigated by the USDA for, as the letter says, "slaughtering non-ambulatory cattle". There's no denying that these cows were being abused because it was caught on tape.

The letter made me think about how I became a vegetarian.

In a Burger King.

At two in the morning.

It was my freshman year of college and although I'd like to say I was motivated to put down my Whopper Jr. by a sudden desire to save cattle from the slaughterhouse, I can't. Sure, I'd read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"back in eighth grade but I didn't think too much about conditions in meat packing plants. In fact, at the time I had no idea that animal activists even existed.

However, I am a highly competitive person and a gauntlet had just been thrown down.

"You couldn't stop eating meat if you tried!"

Actually, let me back up. I believe the whole of what was said was, "You're such a devil, you couldn't stop eating meat if you tried!"

How did the devil come into the conversation? Well, I was dating a guy whose cousin was hardcore into the Nation of Islam. Needless to say, thanks to mon père irlandais, I was not popular with NOI Cousin. Clearly, if my Irish dad was the devil, I was, by extension, half a devil and therefore a bad influence.

In a college town there aren't many places other than a 24 hour Burger King to hang out at 2 AM. And the security guard, Sam, was a chatty old guy who could play a mean card game of spades. It was not unusual for me to hook up with a couple of friends, go get a bite to eat at the Burger King and end up talking and playing cards with Sam till the sky started to get light.

On one of these nights, NOI Cousin happened to be driving past the Burger King and spied my boyfriend standing up, laughing with two other friends of mine. (I'm now married to one of those friends but that's another story.)

NOI Cousin parked his car and came into the Burger King, full of disapproval for our little late night fast food and card game excursion.

I wasn't too bothered by his critique of our playing cards because I've known people my whole life who believe playing cards is sinful. But I didn't get what the big deal was about eating Burger King. I pointed out that I knew Muhammad had not restricted Muslims from eating beef, just from eating pork.

NOI Cousin explained how as a member of the Nation, he was committed to all forms of discipline. That discipline included avoiding fast food. He then ridiculed my Whopper Jr. to the point that I'm convinced he could have written "Fast Food Nation".

I was barely eighteen and more than willing to challenge his statements. He didn't like my lack of passivity so he started up with his, "Your devilish side keeps you from being able to see the truth!" He began to loudly preach about how I was corrupting the black males in my company by eating poison put out by Burger King, a corporation owned and operated by white devils.

Looking back, I can't believe I sat there and debated whether I was part devil or not. But the discussion escalated to the point where he pulled his final piece of proof out of his back pocket just as I was about to take another bite of my Whopper Jr.

"You're such a devil, you couldn't stop eating meat if you tried!"

I remember saying, "Oh really? Is that right?"

NOI Cousin had no idea that even though I ate burgers, I rarely ate beef growing up. My mom is very health conscious and only occasionally fed us hamburgers. She read Dick Gregory and Adelle Davis books regularly and only fed us whole grains and all natural products. She did not fry food. She did not cook pork. There were no ribs ever served my home. No brisket. No pot roast. Instead, we ate a lot of chicken and fish. I used to joke that she was the first person in the Midwest to eat tofu.

So I put the Whopper Jr. down and announced that I had so much discipline I'd never eat a burger again. NOI Cousin didn't believe me and said that my devilish side was prone to lying and I'd say anything to trick the black man.

Guess he was wrong because I've kept my word all these years. That night was the last time I ate beef.

A couple months after I stopped eating beef, I felt so much better physically. Then I stumbled on an article that described the conditions on a chicken farm and how the chickens were fed a mixture of sawdust, growth hormones and seed. A few months after that, I read something about mercury levels in fish.

Before I knew it, I was a vegetarian. All these years later I have a hard time even looking at meat, whether it's raw or cooked and I'm seriously considering going completely vegan.

But my husband and my children are not vegetarians. They eat poultry and fish. And call it my devilish influence, but my seven year-old loves hamburgers. He only eats them at school because there's no way I would ever cook them. And now it makes me ill to know he's been eating beef from sick cows that are being mistreated.

Earlier tonight, I read that letter from the school district to my son and he's disgusted. He's torn because he doesn't know what to do. He loves the taste of hamburgers but he doesn't want to eat animals that are being hurt. My son is, at the age of seven, more mature than I was at eighteen when all I thought about was whether or not a burger tasted good.

Sometimes I wish I could track down my old boyfriend's NOI cousin and thank him for inadvertently pushing me back in a healthier direction. And then I'd sic him on an LAUSD school board meeting. Maybe he'd be able to somehow bait LAUSD into serving students grass fed, free range beef or more vegetarian lunch options.

But however the lunch menus change, let's all hope the devil stays out of it.


Jameil said…
i bet that NOI cousin eats meat now. he probably also has some white relatives not too far back in the bloodline. you should've made his head explode w/that little tidbit! lol. oh liz. i know maybe i should but i def. care more about how the burger tastes than all that other stuff. no ribs?! wow. animals shouldn't be hurt, but i'm hungry!

before college i wouldn't have even CONSIDERED a meat-free meal. now i'm more open to the idea so i'm growing! and yes, i will allow you to take me to a veggie place when i finally get to cali! lol
1969 said…
I don't eat red meat or pork. I have been strictly chicken an dfish for almost two years now. I agree, giving up red meat made me feel so much better.

I am not ready to walk away from the chicken and fish just yet though.

Your son can have turkey burgers! Delicious.
none said…
If NOI was so opposed to meat nad fast food why was he at Burger King?

I became a Vegetarian at 5 because my dad was studying Hinduism and asked if I wanted to try it too.

It was the opposite of your situation, I was the devil for rejecting god's bounty. But I stuck with it.

Also, like you I'm the only one in my family who is a vegetarian.

I tried vegan but it was a huge ordeal to keep it up.
I eat red meat rarely but at least I try to get free range chicken and buy meat from the the butcher.

I don't eat at fast food restaurants. The last time I ate at Burger King, (it was the only place open at 3:00 a.m. Miami International Airport,) I got sick to my stomach. Some people eat that stuff everyday. I suggest they watch "Supersize me".

I knew quite a few NOI brothers back in the day. I wonder what they are doing now?
Mes Deux Cents said…

"On one of these nights, NOI Cousin happened to be driving past the Burger King and spied my boyfriend standing up, laughing with two other friends of mine. (I'm now married to one of those friends but that's another story.)"

Isn't that the most wonderful thing about life, you just never know what people are going to end up meaning to you.

On the subject of vegetarianism; I had been a semi-vegetarian since last August. That means I ate meat only about once a month.

The recent report of cloned meat being put into the food supply (without being labeled) pushed me the rest of the way. About 2 weeks ago I became a full-fledged member of the vegetarian club.

One of the issues that is really important to me this campaign season is food safety. The FDA is a useless agency except in its role as an advocate for big business.

Unfortunately I haven't heard a peep about food safety from any of the candidates.

Ultimately I might just have to move to Canada. I think the government actually regulates food safety there.
Liz Dwyer said…
I found out much later that NOI cousin's mom was really light skinned so that made his stance even more curious.

We have a lot of really good vegetarian restaurants out here so when you come, you'll have lots
of star studded choices!

Chicken was really hard for me to give up. I used to love to bake it because I learned really great techniques from my mom. I'll still bake one for my family a couple times a month. My husband still gets amazed by how I can cook it but not eat any of it. My vegan friends say I haven't really given it up since I still eat eggs.

My boy does like turkey burgers a whole lot as well. I wish they served those in schools instead of beef.

He drove by and saw us in there. That's why he came in.

That is so cool that you became a vegetarian at age 5. I also worry that being a vegan will be very difficult for me. I think I'd have to really read up on it more than I do. I only drink soymilk but I really like cheese a whole lot. Veganism would mean kissing my beloved Chicago deep dish pizza goodbye! Not sure if I could go there.

When I buy chicken I get the free range ones from Trader Joe's or Whole Paycheck. At Thanksgiving I tried to buy one from Vons and they wanted $12 for an itty bitty chicken.

I wonder what all the NOI guys I knew are up to nowadays as well. Back in the early '90s, it seemed like joining the Nation was "the thing" in Chicago. My now husband was even going to their meetings for a minute. I think the discipline of it all really appealed to a lot of them and overall made positive changes in their lives. I wonder if they stuck with it.

I know! Back then I would never have thought we'd end up married with two kids. He was just my really really good friend! :)

The cloning issue really is just so immoral. It's wrong to not even give people the choice to eat it or not. I agree about food safety. There's always some shady stuff going on with food growers (the spinach scare last year) and I don't feel confident at all that my lettuce isn't coated with jet fuel.

I wish our government was more willing to learn from places like Canada that seem to do a better job regulating these things.
the joy said…
That is so funny! I would have done the same while in his face but once he left, I woulda been right back to the burgers. I rarely eat red meat these days though.

I met Dick Gregory 2x. He's a bit nutty, but he's very interesting. And he said I look like his wife.
Jen said…
We were an Adelle Davis family, too. My friends hated coming to my house because there was nothing "good" to snack on, lol.

Your son sounds so thoughtful. What a wonderful child!

I'm a ... flexitarian? I guess I mostly eat vegetables with a little of the other mixed in. I rarely eat beef, and when I do, it's usually from a farmer I know who has her cattle wander her fields - no grain, no antibiotics, etc., etc.
Malik Akbar said…
"Whole Paycheck" LOL
Kari Carlson said…
huh. if i'm picturing the scenario correctly, this all took place in the burger king in evanston, no? if so... the uncanny connection is that i gave up vegetarianism in that same burger king when i was 19 or 20. i did so because a cute guy i adored wanted to buy me a burger... my response was "sure. i'll totally have one."
Anonymous said…
My friends brother was NOI and was visiting his mother who was frying food in the kitchen.

He hadn't eaten all day and was hungry. His mother offered him a plate, which he wolfed down. He complimented her cooking, saying how much he liked the veal chops.

We all know that he ate pork chops.
Anonymous said…
Liz, it's great that you reacted so positively to the chicken farm article. What amazes me is how many people know perfectly well the barbaric treatment of animals reared for food but couldn't care less. Like you at 18 all they care about is the taste. I became vegetarian in the early seventies when I was converted by a couple of gay vegetarians in Wales.
leila said…
dear liz, did you see this article, "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler"in the new york times? i haven't read it yet, but as a vegetarian, i'm going to.

i've also abstained from meat for years and years and years, and even though i am sometimes tempted by the smell of, for instance, bacon, it never gets very close to my mouth before i screw up my nose and say I'M SORRY! I JUST CAN'T!

if you're contemplating veganism, take a look at "The Corporation" to make up your mind. i haven't fully crossed over yet (and it would be for the second time), but it's honestly all i needed to put me off of my generic dairy products. now we only buy fancy NON-bovine growth hormone stuff.

but my husband makes the point that even with "organic" or whatever products, the production of food from animals in this country is never going to have the animals' welfare as a top priority---which means that if you want violence or "ethical" eatings, vegan is pretty much the way to go.

(i've been a long-time reader of your blog: i know i can come over here for stimulation and humour whenever the rest of the internet bores me.)

love! from leila
leila said…
obv. i meant "violence-free".

Unknown said…
Wow, you are to be commended for being a vegetarian before it became a necessity (I wanted to say long, but we're not THAT old) I became one about five years ago after having a very,very unahppy encounter with my ultimate favorite The Dairy Queen double cheesburger. After that I never ever - ever on earth - never wanted to see, hear, look or cook anything with legs. Though it was probably that someone did not wash their hands. My son is a straddler too, but it would be nice if the federal gov. stepped in to REALLY regulate our food ~ I agree, Let's bring that to the campaign trail! But until then we should all stay clear of meat, its just not safe or humane unless you buy it kosher or halal.
Lydia said…
Hey Liz,

I applaud your discipline! I am working on it. I know this might sound lame, but it is so inconvenient and expensive to eat the way we should.

Although I could do without meat most of the time (this said 5 hours after devouring a Big and Tasty Burger from McDonalds while driving down Sawtelle.) I live in a house of serious carnivores.

I have tried to go meatless,( or at least organic) but find so many excuses like not enough time and money or patience.

Every once in while I just crave the burger or the hot dog and ( i almost wrote hot God! the battle with the devil???) I try not to think about it as I scarf it down.

However, I think about how awesome I will feel if I fix my diet. So you are motivating me!!

Thanks for checking on me. I am having a rough patch, along with new job responsibilities, but am encouraged by YOU and my awesome blog family! You always inspire me!!
Liz Dwyer said…
The Joy,
That's SO cool that you met Dick Gregory! Gosh, I don't know how old he is but I wonder how healthy he looks in person.

Never anything "good" to snack on in our house either! But I suppose it's worn off on me because we almost never have any of those sort of snacks around my house these days. And my son is SO thoughtful.

I remember when I was young I thought all cattle got to wander fields and just eat grass.

You know it's the truth! And their prices just keep getting higher and higher!

NO WAY!!! Yes, it's that same Burger King! Oh my goodness, that place must be some sort of magnet for transforming into or from a vegetarian! And all these years I just thought that place was just special because they refuse to bag your food!

Ha! He was operating under the, "If I say it's veal, it's veal!" principle. That is too funny!

You'll have to write about your conversion to vegetarianism sometime. I want to hear about that!

It's sickening that people feed animals the sort of things they do so that they can be mass produced. Greed makes us do terrible things to this planet.

Glad you de-lurked yourself! I didn't see the article but thank you for the link. And thanks for the suggestion about the book. We only get the non hormone organic milk and cheese here at home. But I'll bet the Breyer's Triple Chocolate ice cream is made with regular old hormone filled leche! Gosh, no wonder my kids are so tall!

Your husband makes a good point about the ethical treatment of animals. And I suppose if the end result is killing an animal, it's not ethical anyway.,
Oh you changed your profile picture! Neat!

It's so interesting to find out how many other bloggers are vegetarians or near vegetarians! I am glad I never had the sort of encounter I suspect you had at DQ. It would be nice if the government actually regulated food the way we all think they do.

It is VERY expensive to eat healthfully. I mean, grapes are $3.99 a pound. A cantaloupe is 2-3 dollars. And even a box of mandarin oranges is $9 if it's not on sale. I can spend $40 in 10 minutes at the Hollywood Farmer's Market.

I get the Big and Tasty with no meat, no mayo and extra tomato. My husband is a big chicken eater. He can't eat burgers any more unless it's a turkey burger. I guess I've worn off on him.

Glad you're doing alright. You'll get through the rough patch...and in the meantime, we're always here for you!

Thanks for leaving a comment in my post New Blogger template by Final Sense. I have responded to your comment.

Peter Blog*Star
Earn with blogs
We used to be vegan, but my dh got sick with an autoimmune disorder. Even though we both believe that vegetarianism and veganism is moral superior, the diet itself was making him ill. So we eat chicken, fish and some "reddish" meat (bison). I won't cook beef. So sometimes we go out for it - but otherwise we don't eat it. I wish we could be veggies - it's just not in the cards.

Hey I tagged you for 3 pieces of writing advice. I'd love to see what you have to say!
Moobs said…
I am intrigued that all the nonsense NOI Cousin spouted at you seemed to resolve to you being a corrupting influence on men. What a charmer.
Tafari said…
NOI seems like he had some real issues. Although he got the results he may have wanted from you by calling you out (way over the top), him being in the NOI should have enabled him t act with more respect & compassion.

When it all boils down to it, we all have a little "devil" in us. Just look at Malcolm X.

On a meat note, I gave up beef mid Jan 08 & I am fine with it. I have not noticed that I feel better like most but probably because I have made improvements to my diet overall & feel good in general.

I do get weak for the taste of a Whopper every time I drive past a BK. The smell is so comforting but I think if I ate one now, it would make me sick.

I'm happy to hear that your school district is taking a strong social stance. Hopefully, it will cause some real change!

Ian Lidster said…
I'm predominantly a poultry and fish guy, and eat beef or other red meat rarely. I commend you for the courage of your convictions and think I'm too much of a hedonist to go that far. On the other hand, I really like cows as animals grazing in a field.
Ms Angela said…
Oh, the memories of the NOIs I have known! Your blog brought back flashbacks, Liz. Of the times I used to hang around the Turner, a NOI family of six boys and one girl. I was in high school, and when I went over to the Turners' house, I expected a sermon about Islam and the cleansing practice not eating pork. Mr. Turner used to say that there are only two types of people in the world--Muslims and poisoned animal meat eaters. Since I had a HUGE crush on one of his sons, I decided to stop eating poisoned animal meat.

My mother couldn't understand why I turned down bacon and her delicious fried pork chops until her very high blood pressure forced her off the pig, too.

Since then, I rarely ate pork. I didn't buy it all when I was raising my kids, and my daughters became vegetarians ("Meat is GROSS, Mom!) when they hit their teens. My youngest has been a vegan, although she became anemic and has added cheese and eggs back into her diet. But that's as far as she'll go. For me, it's white meat, skinless chicken and turkey, fish, beans and tofu.

I'm concerned about what they feed chickens, and the chemicals in fish. I buy antibiotic poultry and fish at the natural food co-op, but there's no way to guarantee that some of the nasty stuff has not seeped into those products. I prayers for God to bless the food before I eat, and that my system allows the food to nurture my body and gives it what it needs to do whatever God wills for my life.
the last noel said…
Yes, you are a vamp who lures black men away. I guess you're like a mermaid of the city.
Liz Dwyer said…
I definitely believe it you can't be vegan/vegetarian and also be healthy, why force it? If your body needs something different, then so be it. I have iron issues and so it makes it hard to be a vegetarian sometimes.

Ooh, writing advice! I could use some since I'm behind on what I was s'posed to write this weekend!

I think he was confusing me with the Whore of Babylon and the antichrist. Or at least that's how he'd talk to me.

I think he must have had issues with women but I have no idea what brought it all on. And I think I was just too used to being ridiculed for having a white father that I didn't think there was anything too disrespectful about NOI's opinions as far as race. I thought that was how he was supposed to think given his affiliation.

You are doing so well with the healthy eating! I'm impressed! You probably would get sick if you ate a Whopper now. My husband tries to eat a hamburger maybe once a year and he gets sick after he eats it.

And the only reason the school district is suspending the beef is that they don't want a lawsuit. Or at least that's what I think!

I used to love going on road trips as a child precisely because I wanted to see cows grazing in the fields along the highways. I never connected those cows with the hamburgers I was eating. I don't know where I thought the meat came from.

I honestly don't think eating pork can be all that good for you, especially when pigs will eat everything, including garbage. That's just gross. I have a lot of respect for the NOI for trying to get black folks to ditch foods that are full of sugar, fat and preservatives. As crazy as the cousin was sometimes, I defintely have lot of gratitude that he ended up pushing me over the edge at least that once.

Shh...don't tell but I have "Lurer of Black Men" tattooed on my back. ;)
Promontorium said…
There isn't enough meat in the world for me. I encourage anyone to become a vegan. More for me. I'll hunt the meat down myself if they stop raising animals.

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