Not every vegetarian has an a-ha moment, but I did: It struck me halfway through a bowl of Campbell’s Manhattan Clam Chowder. In fact, it struck me smack in the middle of trying my darndest to masticate one of those rubbery little clam-like things, trying to break it down enough to where I could swallow without it being a choking hazard.
(I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted a bowl of Campbell’s Manhattan Clam Chowder, but the above is not an easy task.)
The self-realization came while I was standing at the kitchen counter, eating the too-hot soup out of a too-small bowl; the tomato-flavored liquid threatened to escape if I wasn’t careful. It was a dish I’d eaten for dinner every night for nearly two weeks, and at first I really appreciated the stubborn texture of the clams—especially in contrast to the starchy crumbiness of the cubed potatoes, and the baby-food mush of tiny carrot half-moons.
I was 13 years old and in the eighth grade, finally feeling myself something of an adult. Largely, that adultiness was due to the fact that I had become responsible for my own dinners, my mother working full-time daytime hours and holding down an evening job as an adjunct Ready Level 1 professor at a local community college.
My older brother’s nightly routine was to make himself three servings of Stove Top Stuffing and call it dinner, and he always forgot it long enough to burn bits black and hard to the bottom of the pan; it took a lot of knuckle-down effort to scrape them off of a night, even after soaking.
I could be trusted at the very least to dilute and heat up a can of condensed soup, and so I had a stash any bomb-shelter interior decorator would envy: An entire shelf of the pantry lined with those perfect red-and-white cans, all the same flavor (on account of a 4-for-$1 sale at the local A&P), and all for me.
Chicken Noodle didn’t cause a moment’s stir, and neither did Beef Barley. Even New England Clam Chowder had been acceptable, though I got sick of it very quickly.
That Manhattan Clam Chowder, though. That’s what pushed me over the veg edge.