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Willie Sawyers

The holidays, with mounds of turkey, ham, fixins and wide assortment of desserts, are certainly not the time to be under intense food pressure.

I’m not talking about the pressure that causes a person to undo a belt buckle, slip into a pair of stretchy jogging pants or reach for a dose of Prilosec after eating too much.

I’m talking about the pressure to conform to everybody’s opinion of what I should eat.

My extended family wants to buy a cow and share it at the supper table. That’s the most economical way to provide meat for a large family, they say. Buy a cow, have it slaughtered and then enjoy fresh steaks, roasts and hamburger for months.

This is not just any cow, mind you. It currently lives in Laurel County, grazing happily on a farm down in Hazel Green. Heck, it may even have a name. It’s just going about its business, unaware that hungry carnivores are plotting its demise.

But I’m having none of it. That cow has done nothing to me, so why should I eat it? I can get all the meat I want anytime down at the grocery store.

My family ridicules me for choosing trucked-in, chemically enhanced, store-bought meat instead of fresh beef grown locally. Free range meat tastes so much better, they say. There is also some Hazel Green lamb available, if I want it.

The ridicule does not sway me. I like the anonymity of store-bought meat. I’m fairly certain the hamburger steak I ate yesterday didn’t formerly reside in Laurel County.

It all goes back to my raising. I’ve told the story before about being traumatized as a 6-year-old when I came home one day from school and found my two pet pigs missing.

Mom wouldn’t tell me what happened to them at first, but then she reluctantly told me they were in the freezer.

We had fresh pork for months, but I couldn’t eat any of it. How could I eat my pets? It would be like serving up the family dog. Come to think of it, I’ve got a fat Chihuahua at home that would make a nice pot roast.

But my childhood meat trauma goes much deeper. I was drafted several times to help my papaw slaughter his own hogs. I’d cringe while watching as they were shot in the head, practically decapitated with a large knife and then hung up so they could bleed out. They’d twitch for several minutes before all the blood finally left their bodies.

My job was to carry away their innards in a large tub. Thankfully, I never had a personal relationship with those hogs.

I also may be the only country boy alive who doesn’t like chicken and dumplings. But there’s some trauma connected to that as well.

Many times, Mom would prepare them with the freshest chicken possible. She’d bring in a couple of live hens, take them out in the yard and ring their necks off. She seemed thoroughly versed in the technique, growing up on a farm with a large family herself. The headless chickens would flop around for several minutes before finally keeling over. I witnessed this violence as a young boy, all in the pursuit of fresh meat.

To maximize the meat output, Mom would put the entire chicken into the pot — dark meat, white meat, skin and bones. I found the whole mess quite unsavory. I believe that’s why I can only tolerate boneless, white meat chicken breast today.

I’m pretty close to being a vegetarian. I like my meat anonymous and sterile. No dark meat. No bones. No lamb or buffalo. And nothing that doesn’t come for a grocery store.

My family also ridicules me for not liking fish, unless it’s battered and deep-fried — and I absolutely refuse to get near sushi. I’ve got some traumatic fish stories in my past, as well.

My culinary exploits may be boring, but never again will I worry about headless chickens flopping around the yard or endangering the welfare of a Hazel Green cow.

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