Write of Passage

Willett's Baltimore Transitions / Expressions

Willett .

Willett .
Baltimore, Maryland,
June 15
Write of Passage, Inc.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc., a 501(C)(3) communications, training, and publishing organization formed in 2010 to assist underserved artists and writers. She is also a freelance writer, writing in and about Baltimore. She recently relocated to the neighborhood of Greenmount, where the exterior shots of the HBO series, The Wire were filmed. She's pleased to report any rumored resemblances to the television series are greatly exaggerated. *** Like us at Facebook ;-) http://www.facebook.com/WriteofPassage

Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 25, 2010 9:05AM

Thoroughly Mod Peggy Lipton Says– Want a man? Eat meat!

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The first time I became a vegetarian lasted sixteen hours.  My mother had come home from work and announced that she was tired and we kids were to fend for ourselves. The meat that was in the refrigerator included two hundred Murry’s Italian meatballs for 1.99, and an empty box of Steakums that someone, I suspected my mother, had finished off, which meant she ate the last two because you needed at least two of the rectangle wafers to make one good faux steak sandwich.

I instead had an OLT (onion, lettuce, tomato), and mayo sandwich.  I can’t remember what my brother had, probably Corn Flakes. My sister being too industrious for an eight year old and for her own good, probably bummed a meal from one of the neighbor’s claiming, as she often did, that someone in our small clan was treating her with unreasonable cruelty, which was only half true, because there was always a reason.  Sixteen hours later, back at school, I was standing first in a line of three, ready to wolf down two loaded half smokes from one of those “ice cream” trucks that park in front of schools expressly for teens (like the one I had been) who refuse to start the day without having a good breakfast.

Years later, in my twenties and on my own, I was playing with the idea of becoming a nonmeat eater as opposed to a strict vegetarian.  I was open to taking this more moderate stance, although my good friend Kayla had become a full throttle vegetarian and seemed hell bent on getting me to do the same. I was having none of it.  When and if I chose to become a vegetarian, it would be my decision, and mine alone.  And, all her haranguing about chickens: what chickens ate, where chickens slept, everything I never wanted to know about the chicken life cycle, the True Untold Purdue Story, fell on profoundly deaf ears.

She even attempted to coerce me by having me over to view a bootlegged film on the tyrannical chicken industry, what she initially described as a small “get together” of friends, who she claimed could not wait to meet me. “I’ve been telling them all about you, and they’re dying to meet you, girl,” she went on. She knew that if she had been upfront, told me that these were people I should meet: forward thinking, hardcore vegetarians out to make the world a better place for every living thing, large and small, it wouldn’t have worked. At 22, I was already fortunate to know all the people I ever wanted to know – all five, one of which at that time doing his part to make the world better by completing 200 hours of court ordered community service.

Ever since her conversion, when she met 6'3, 160 pounds, Steven, three years before, all her friends were vegetarian, all except for me. She also let me know as I snooped around the kitchen looking for something to nosh that there would be a short presentation. I understood. Kayla and I had been friends since high school; we met working the front (me) and drive thru (her) registers at Wendy’s. I knew what she was capable of.  I had seen her chow down on too many triple cheese burgers to count, and had no problem regaling her guests on the many ways she could do a triple cheese: triple cheese topped with Wendy’s chili, triple cheese with fried onions, green peppers and mushrooms, and triple cheese the healthy way, with just pickles and mustard, if it came down to this, I'd tell it all.

The guests, three couples, didn’t seem to know me from the nearest rice cake, which I noticed they scarfed down as if they were some great life altering treat instead of biodegradable coasters.  After dinner, an au gratin medley of assorted root vegetables topped with bread crumbs and something Kayla swore was just like cheese, we adjourned to do what everyone except for me was there for: the indoctrination. Kayla did PETA proud. By the time the VCR stopped, and someone had the great idea of hitting rewind so it could be watched one more time, I was already up, coat in hand, swearing to everyone that I’d never eat another eyed creature again, and had to leave in order to wrap my mind around all I had taken in, that thoroughly disgusted, I now needed time alone to properly digest all I had seen.

I meant this too.  Right up until I walked into McDonald’s and hurriedly scanned the menu board for their salad selections. I meant it still as I ordered a Big Mac, and then as I opened the container and lifted the bun, and even as I picked up the beef patty to strategically center it, assuring that I’d get a mouthful of meat in each delicious bite.  My one regret?  I would have preferred a Whooper and wished Burger King had been the closer of the two meateries. 

I did eventually go meatless a year later, but not because of any coercion that night at Kayla’s.  The absence of meat in my diet was due solely to economics.  I was young, had a small studio apartment in Dupont Circle in D.C. and wouldn’t have possibly had any money for fun if I hadn't tightened my belt. And seeing how rice and beans net so many more meals than the same amount of money spent on bacon, meatless was the way to go. 

This lasted for several years. I was happy and, in my mother’s opinion, dangerously thin. Then I experienced what Peggy Lipton says she went monstersandcritics.comthrough with meeting Quincy Jones. In her autobiography “Breathing Out” Lipton recounts how Quincy cooked lamb chops for her on their first date. Lipton hadn’t eaten meat for six years, and she said she knew with that first dinner that it was “going to be a truly carnivorous event,” that all her dietary decisions up to that point were about to go out the door. "I fell madly in love," she said in a People magazine interview. "I saw him cooking meat and thought, 'If I'm going to be with him, I'm going to have to change.'    

I remember reading this in my twenties after the demise of their marriage and thinking, ‘Poor Peggy, she was Julie from the Mod Squad, the girl every guy wanted, and she had to change who she was to be with a man. How sad, so sad. Poor Peggy.’  How was I to know that seven years later, I would be doing my own version of carnivorous conversion?  Like Peggy, I, too, knew the first time I saw mister man. I knew he was someone I wanted to know better. I also knew a body like his wasn’t maintained by eating sprouts or downing wheatgrass shots.  And if it was, then those sprouts were probably topped with a 20 oz steak and the wheatgrass definitely came with a Hennessey chaser.

I was like a closet smoker who meets the nonsmoker of her dreams. At every meeting, there was the lie told for not eating meat:  “Oh, I had bacon and sausage for breakfast,” or “I’m so bloated, I’m eating light today.” I would have said this and more not to admit the truth to him, that I didn’t eat meat.  Or not to have to come to terms with what was becoming very clear: If I wanted to be with this man, I was going to have to Peggy Lipton it -- I was going to have to start eating meat. 

We had a good run. Two years filled with lots of drama (the calm kind), lots of laughs, and lots of meat. After several tries at dissolution, it finally stuck. I stood in my dining room as the last two years of my life unfurled before my eyes.  A simple request on my part about ponying up his share for a trip to Jamaica, a trip I had already asked him about several times, with him finally agreeing, “Yeah, we can do that,” ends with him saying three weeks before departure, “Yeah, let me get back to you on it.  Money’s tight right now.”  I watched him pick up the fork to begin eating the lasagna I had prepared, packed with meat, the way he liked it. 

“I can’t do this.”

He put down the fork, food untouched. “Can’t do what, babe?”

“This.” I said.  And, it was over. 

No, “I’ll put that in some Tupperware, so you can take it with you,” from me.

No, “Well, I know you’re upset. Perhaps, I can get this in a container, call you tomorrow, and we can talk then,” from him.

Instead, he walked to the door.  This time, I held the door open.  

Since parting, I’ve been playing with the veggy thing again, this time around with more emphasis on leading a healthier life. There’s my anemia to consider. But I've been told this can be remedied just as easily with iron supplements rather than eating red meat. Then, too, there’s always the economics of eating meat. Pound for pound, cost wise, beans and rice, beat steak every time. Or, I could just do what millions of people do every day: eat what I want, when I want, remembering the cardinal rule for most things in life: moderation.

It’s not like being a vegetarian has to be a sociopolitical, lifestyle or entertainment choice. For me, it can simply be that thing needed to see me through, keep me moving forward.



©2010 Willett Thomas

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I am in and I am out in the veggie lifestyle.
I prefer being a vegetarian though.
Great story and I never knew that about Peggy Lipton.
Rated with hugs
They say Hannibal Lector wouldn't eat anything without a face. Me, I eat anything. I'm from the south. You don't eat meat, they tar and feather you and throw you on a north-bound train!
Nicely written piece, RW. I'd have gone straight from the brainwashing film to the nearest golden arches myself, and appreciated both your own story and Peggy Lipton's interwoven here.
My husband and I have had some semi-contentious debates about my choice to eat only fins and feathers. He's not into restrictions, and since he does all the cooking...but he has adjusted. I've never been faced with a similar Peggy Lipton moment, I but think that if she had stood her ground, and he really liked her, he would have adjusted. Then again, I only really started dating in the 90's, so what do I know about her life.

Great piece!
Not too much meat but lots of spice. Enjoyed this.
So well written and true. You nailed it about Peggy Lipton moments. Im glad you had two good years. Sometimes that is just enough.
I've been a vegetarian for 22 years. I have never felt the need to "convert" other people to vegetarianism and the militancy of your friend is perplexing to me. It's a personal choice, and I've never felt inclined to concern myself with other people's choice to eat or not eat meat. I will say that, from time to time, I've taken some flack for being vegetarian. I don't understand why it matters to people.
@Katy-- I also don't get the pressure about the choice to eat or not eat meat. I'm leaning toward the veggy route again, just because I did feel healthier, though this might just be a trick of the mind. Thanks for reading.
@kateasley -- I always wanted to be Julie/Peggy. She was too cool, plus she had that minor criminal offense thing going on, which got her assigned to the Mod Squad unit in the first place. Nothing like a reformed bad girl.
"It’s not like being a vegetarian has to be a sociopolitical, lifestyle or entertainment choice. For me, it can simply be that thing needed to see me through, keep me moving forward. "
I liked this part. Simply stated, and it gets your point across. Nice post.
Interesting angle on this issue. I think eating similarly is more important in a couple than gets talked about much. Meals are a big part of daily life, and a way we share our days, and our pleasures. it's not impossible to have a "mixed marriage" of diets, but I think it is difficult and changes things. I wonder, though, how often men change their diet for women?

And...I grew up watching The Mod Squad and adored Lipton!
Awesome. Especially "didn’t seem to know me from the nearest rice cake, which I noticed they scarfed down as if they were some great life altering treat instead of biodegradable coasters."
Such great prose was with you from jump and ps i love meat too much to try r.
@Nelle-- It was very hard when I finally "came out" about not eating meat to this guy. As a couple sharing a meal is one of those things that often can be very sensual. I remember the movie Tom Jones with Albert Finney and Faye Dunaway?, with all that mad meat dismemberment. I just knew with this particular nice guy that he wasn't about to change for me. So I caved. I don't think (hope) I'd to the same today.
For Peggy Lipton, I would have given up meat... when I was around her.
I loved this. I'm a moderation girl myself and can't imagine ever saying 'I'm a vege- or lacto- or pesco-ovo...' under any circumstances. I just eat what I like, and let other folks do the same. Why does it have to be a 'stance'? if I push meat to the edge, whose business is it? If I order the veggie plate, do I have to make a speech?
@Gabby Abby -- I like to think we're all open to giving each other space to evolve and in my case, revolve when it comes to this meat/veggy thing. Some things really should be only your business.
Loved your personal account.
Best Wishes,
ALWAYS wanted to be Peggy Lipton. Wanted to run down that street arm and arm with the two guys. She seemed to be such a strong woman (might have been the fake gun). I may have to "peggy lipton-it" tonight.
Love it, lady! Peggy Lipton rules! She has brains and beauty. And look at the kids she and Quincy had! They are completely gorgeous.

Meat. It does a body good! (R)
The way you weave your story with Lipton's . . . brilliant . . . and your conclusion . . . perfect.
Great essay! Although I do eat meat, I'm a very finicky eater - which is considered unattractive on "dates".
You are so right. Live life as it comes, hopefully with flair. I just draw the line at veal and venison. No, no, no.
Brava! I loved it.
"If I'm going to be with him, I'm going to have to change..."

THUD. thud thud thud.
I adored this post for your funny, pithy and full-of-attitude and wisdom. I just finished snacking on some "biodegradable coasters" a little while ago and am toying with going vegetarian again. But you had to throw lamb chops in there, didn't you..... Well done! Rated.
This is such a good piece. And really, was there any couple cooler than Peggy and Quincy? Of course she ate the lamb chops. I always wanted to look *exactly* like her. ~r
Interesting reflections here... I'd be curious, though, seeing 'feminism' in your author tags, to hear more about the assumption that we have to eat meat if we're with men (or want to be with men) who eat meat. I mean, I was struck very strangley by that decision of Peggy Lipton's. Why not just tell Quincy, "Go on and enjoy your steak, I'm a vegetarian?" I suppose in that era that's how we (w0men) had to be, but these days it seems very strange to see that kind of idea persisting.
I admit it. My grown daughter convinced me to give Veganism a try. And since the first of the year I have been 99% faithful to the discipline. The reasons I elected to keep Vegan were health, ecological and moral, in that order.

To my great delight, the options available are amazingly varied and taste-intense. We tend to favor Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Mid-Eastern and simple American fare. There are some "meat substitutes" available - veggie burgers and sausages. I have found some to be superior to their meat-offal originals.

Our strategy has developed into substituting intense and interesting taste for the hard-wired appreciation of dead animal. When I crave a steak, I can generally assuage the need with a first rate vegan Indian buffet and some a decent beer.

Am I meeting my health goals? A little bit. Ecological goals? That is a very long term proposition. Moral goals? The enourmous egg recall should shed light on the abhorent conditions hens endure in factory farms. I have already encountered cattle and pig farming operations which make me ashamed to be human.

I love the taste of meat. Pork carnitas and a prime rib are among my favorite experiences...in moderation.

So if I could procure meat, dairy and eggs which do not involve the mistreatment or premature death of living creatures, I'm there.

My farmer Aunt and Uncle used to look to their "egg money" to purchase those little things that made their life more enjoyable. And those chickens were treated like birds that laid golden eggs. They were.

Maybe we can benefit from a roll-back to simpler times - smaller, family farms, local to market systems. At first glance this may appear to cost more. But what really is the cost of the mass produced, factory farmed, highly processed food we purchase now?

My testimony is this: You don't have to betray your ethics or planet to enjoy a diet of really satisfying and nutritious foods. You can even remain overweight as a vegan. And for every factory farm that goes "belly up" because of rampant veganism, there will be a hundred family farms to fill the void and provide healthy and humane food for those of us who care.
two years and the guy just walked out silently after you said, "I cant do this"??? are we talking about a human or a robot here???? geez louise.
I guess it was 2 years too much. you're way better off Im sure.
@Minerva -- I don't think feminism is a static thing. The tag is there because all my thoughts lead with women, girl being the best humans we can be, but I acknowledge that I stumble about trying to find my way, and I feel free to forgive myself when I do. I'm still finding my way on a lot of things. In this instance this includes both food and men.
@vnz -- Of course, that was that night. There were so many other incidents such as that one -- How's the song go, "Break up to make up, that's all we do, first you love, then you hate, it's a game for fools..." This time it stuck. And, yes we spoke after that, we just didn't get back together the way we had in the past.
I have my moments meatless eating but then the Persian lamb shank will call me come hither looks or I will have serious fantasies about my Ghanian son in law's spicy goat stew--and it's over.
Such a sensible discussion of a topic which generally (at least in Southern Calif) triggers lots of shrill shrieking. I , too, went veg for several years, for "him". i knew nothing of food-combining. I got fat, had no energy, and my periods stopped (i was 30).when i almost blacked out behind the wheel, midday, i pointed the car toward the nearest Gelson's, bought the biggest T-bone i could find, took it home, barely warmed it in a cast iron skillet, and have never looked back. one look at Ricky Gervais' gleefully pointy incisors (who needs vampire movies?) and i know that our species does not live by bread alone. much less tofu.
I've tried going veggie, and I couldn't do it. It's all I can do to leave the treyf (pork & shellfish) alone. Some of us are wired to eat meat, even if beans and rice are cheaper.

I love the way you connect various hungers in this article: the hunger for a particular lover, the hunger for a hunk o'meat, the hunger simply to be let be. Whatever you choose to eat, bon appetit!
Peggy Lipton attend Gurumayi's birthday intensive in 1992. I was there. I believe I saw Linda Ellerbee there, too, under a spiritual name. James Brolin spoke in South Fallsburg, N.Y. at that time as well. Phylicia Rashad a well known follower of Siddha Yoga hosted the 10 day event.
Peggy would have had a hard time finding meat there or fish and eggs I believe, if you don't count them in the animal category.
I understand the feeling the writer speaks of in this article. I had been a vegetarian for many years. It had created conflicts in me. When I began in college, I competed with my peers on who was eating meat and who wasn't. I couldn't excel some of the girls I knew, one of which I "loved." It was quite disappointing to not make the grade, "veggie wise" that is. I lived at home with my mother and father and mom was always making great things, i.e. Mexican Cornbread which had ground beef in it and Freshly Caught Deep Fried Bass. She also prepared a lot of liver which my father liked. It was better for him than steak and cheaper, too. So, that was where I fell behind my girlfriends whom, as far as I knew, were the perfect vegetarians. When we completely separated, not even seeing the same people anymore, I fell into eating meat again, thinking this was what was missing from life. I still lived with mom and dad and I was eating egg noodles and kidney beans while the old man was having turkey and gravy. I found the turkey and gravy was not really so hot when I broke from the veggy-ism to try dad's diet.
I returned to vegetarianism in 1991, about the same time I quit smoking and just a year before my father died. It seemed I couldn't have this very important "Intensive" that I had heard of in Siddha Yoga without quitting the meat & the smokes. I didn't drink or smoke dope for years by then. The last pot party I went to was in 1977. The end of drinking followed soon thereafter.
I needed help getting off of the meat and so I went to Hare Krsna Sunday Feasts. I loved their food. I was very happy to be off the meat. I thought it was attractive to girls/women. I did also have some spiritual leanings that had started back in the 70's. Yay, as far back as the Woodstock Festival when Swami Satchidananda gave the blessings for it and a fellow in the movie taught a group of kids how to awaken their Kundalini.
So, I went back to vegetarianism and went to many, many Intensives including the one in N.Y. for Gurumayi's birthday and somehow it kind of fell apart. I went back to school to learn computer programming and actually got in a little trouble there with a teacher who never even taught a class I had and then I went out to look for work and there was none. G.W. Bush had been elected, the towers had fallen and years of nothingness followed. I recalled how earnest I was in being a vegetarian as a college student and I thought "why was I so hard on myself? I didn't eat that much meat. Why couldn't I call myself a vegetarian anyway?" Meanwhile the newspapers were coming up with new expressions like "practically vegetarian." I wondered did that mean almost vegetarian, or vegetarian where it mattered? Vegetarian so you don't offend? Vegetarian to the extent that it kept the cholesterol down? What exactly did it mean?
I developed diabetes type 2 in the late 90's. I think maybe eating so much. Not only did I eat at the Sunday Feast but I had a special dish that Siddha Yoga offered and whose recipe I obtained called at the time Sour Cereal. Nowadays it is called Savory Cereal. It is made of oatmeal, tomatoes, onions, jalapena peppers, cayenne, coconut, fenugreek, cumin seed and ginger. I hope I didn't leave anything out I'm planning on making it this weekend.
Although oatmeal is know to lower the cholesterol my doctor actually advised me against eating sour cereal because oatmeal would put weight on me.
I developed heart problems later. I had a heart attack in 2004.
I'm trying very hard to stay with the vegetarianism but I sometimes do wonder as important people in my life are meat eaters, just like Quincy Jones and Peggy Liption. I read that Jesus was a vegetarian but that he would eat meat if the house he was staying at only had that to offer him. Of course Jesus and fish is a famous connection.
So, I have wondered into tuna fish and then into my big brother's turkey at Thanksgiving and on to some cold cuts. When mom was alive I even delved into hot dogs. We loved to watch Yankee baseball.
Mom who also participated in vegetarianism, died in 2007 of a stroke. I pray it wasn't those hot dogs that caused the blood clot that went to her brain.
@ Eddie -- Thanks for commenting. I'm in that mode again of turning toward veggy hood. I recently discovered I have a gluten allergy, therefore, my choices are somewhat limited. Oh well, I've lost fifteen unwanted pounds and do feel better doing without the wheat and meat. Also, as for your mom and her aneurysm, I almost sure the hot dogs had nothing to do with it. My secret craving includes the half smoke. So I certainly hope so. Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C. is known for theirs. Happy Holidays!
I'm always so damn serious.
I'm surprised Lipton didn't become a tea bagger.

Omnivorously yours, X