The Viva Vine: vol #3, no #4: September / October 1994
Wings and blue cheese by Eddy Bikales

I'm not one of those vegetarians who doesn't like the taste of meat. In fact, I envy those sorts. I was once a carnivore in a big way.

I write this four years to the day after my last taste of the stuff. The scene was the popular "all-you-can-eat chicken wings night" at The Ground Round in South Burlington, Vermont. I can say honestly that before that night I'd never entertained the slightest thought of giving up meat. Vegetarians? An odd, self-depriving lot, driven by mysterious motives, which I certainly didn't care to find out about. Me? Only an occasional cream or buttered vegetable would interrupt my chuck steaks and whole roasted chickens. When I got too fat--every couple of months or so--I'd fast until my weight reached its high school-level target. Fasting was no major endeavor, it was just part of the routine.

Well, that night my friend and I were each presented with a basket of twenty chicken wings, which we devoured as fast as we could lop-on the dripping blue-cheese sauce. As was my custom at all-you-can-eat anything, I aimed to bankrupt the restaurant by eating many times the value of the price I paid. Between mouthfuls, I noticed eight large, raucous men, elbow-to-elbow at another table piled high with baskets of chicken bones. The waitress was placing down several more fresh baskets. One of the eight was a fellow I knew but hadn't seen for over a year--then he had actually been quite trim. No longer.

I sauntered over and said hello. Rick, his mouth brimming, was surprised and glad to see me. I was witnessing a chicken wing eating contest, Rick told me. I surveyed the large, greasy-fingered men and tried to estimate who was ahead from the piles of chicken bones and mounds of gooey napkins in front of them. "I'm winning!" Rick suddenly roared. "Number ninety-two right here!" he exalted, shoving an entire wing into his mouth.

My stomach clenched. At that moment, age 29, I felt a type of revulsion I'd never felt before.

I returned to my table to find a fresh basket of twenty wings. I eyed it suspiciously. Something was happening to me. Still, trying to be nonchalant, I ate a few wings anyway and resumed some forced conversation. Soon we were onto our third basket each.

Suddenly, cheers from across the room. I meandered over to find Rick, standing with both fists clenched high in victory. He had edged out his buddy by eating wing number 126. His buddy was in the bathroom, puking.

I stumbled back to my table, now very confused. I could no longer maintain eye contact with my friend. Now, I stared at the pile of chicken bones...Chicken bones...

Chicken bones!

For the first time I wholly grasped that these wings were, in fact, really wings. Wings of real breathing, strutting, living creatures. Wings. These were wings. This was flesh. Twenty-two living birds, killed so that I could eat 44 wings one afternoon. I remembered a bird I had, a beloved parakeet, which I cherished for nearly ten years. I was devastated when it died before my eyes. Now, dead bird wings rested in a basket in front of me, piping hot and ready to eat. My stomach was already stuffed with them. And they were killed for me. At that moment I became a vegetarian.

Four years later my weight holds steady at my high school level without fasting. I feel healthier, more alert, more full of energy, yet I wonder: was I destined to become a vegetarian? If those events had not coincided four years ago, would I still be grilling steak?

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