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Excuse me waiter, there's a squid in my salad.

(post, Trista Cornelius)


primary-image, l

I really love my job.  I teach English at a community college, and my students never fail to entertain me.  Sometimes challenging, sometimes inspiring, and I'm pretty sure that a few times in every class meeting we end up laughing. It's not like I'm teaching funny material, take your pick between comma splices or TC Boyle's "Tooth and Claw."  It's that they're funny.  My students have a good sense of humor.  

I don't even know how to explain how we got where we did yesterday.  After reading an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, a meandering essay that started with football and weaved its way to mating habits of pup fish and octopi, my students start telling me how much they like calamari, encouraging me to try it as if I've never had it before.  They don't know I'm vegan; I try to stay neutral in clas so everyone feels comfortable speaking their opinion.  Instead, it was an honest eagerness to share their experience with squid, to educate me about something.   

I managed not to let myself get too far off the day's topic of essay writing and thesis statements, so I didn't share the memory that flashed at me when calamari was mentioned the first time.  

I've been almost vegan for a few years now, four, I think, or maybe five.  A little over a year ago, during a lunch meeting, others at the table shared a plate of calamari.  Fine with me.  One woman dropped some pieces into her green salad and stirred them in.  I found myself staring at a tiny, whole, fried squid perched atop her lettuce.  It fascinated me.  Why?  Before veg life, I'd eaten calamari, had both squid and octopus prepared different ways (octopus in Greece, lucky me).  It wasn't gross or offensive or anything like that.  

Finally, I recognized the feeling.  I felt the urge to pick it out of her salad, to warn her, "There's an animal in your lettuce."  You know, like the fly in the soup, something unwanted, something that doesn't belong.  Isn't that weird?  The fried squid registered not as food but as debris.

When I worked briefly at a restaurant, a woman returned her salad to me because a huge, velvety, beautiful, live moth nestled in among the lettuce.  I asked her if she wanted another salad.  Pale, puckering her mouth as if she could barely avoid vomitting, she loathingly told me "No!"  

Okay, so the moth was alive and fluttering a bit; I'm sure it was a shock, but a velvety moth or a fried sea animal with tentacles...why is one gross and shocking and the other tasty?  

I know, it's how we're raised, our culture, our society, etc.  Still, now that I've stepped away from animal products for a while, much of it strikes me as surprising food.  I mean, who first saw a squid and thought, "Let me take a bite out of that"?