Salad Days: Becoming A Vegetarian To Remember Grandma

Oct. 23, 2012 / By


By Andrew LamNew America Media

SAN FRANCISCO — For a period of a month sometime ago I became a vegetarian. Some people won’t eat meat because they think it’s cruel to animals, or because of health concerns. My reason is a little different: it is love.I simply wanted to honor my grandmother’s memory by not eating meat. A devout Buddhist, grandma spent a large part of her life as a vegetarian, and some of my fondest childhood memories in Vietnam were sharing a meal with her.

In fact, as a child, I learned how to appreciate food not from fancy dishes my mother regularly whipped up, but from the simple meals my grandmother prepared. In her presence a piece of crunchy green pickled eggplant was incredibly delicious, and fried tofu dipped in sweetened soy sauce delectable.  Often dinner with grandma would come with ghost stories and fairy tales she knew from her childhood in rural North Vietnam. And considering that grandma was the matriarch of our large clan with 42 grandchildren, I had felt extraordinarily privileged to dine alone with her.

After dinner, it would be time for prayers. I would help her light incense and candles and put up plates of fruits for offerings to Buddha and our ancestors. For an hour or so, she would chant and beat on a wooden fish, a percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block originally used by Buddhist priests to beat rhythm when chanting scriptures.

Grandma passed away more than a decade ago. Now I am an adult living in cosmopolitan San Francisco, and incense smoke, wooden fish, vegetarian suppers and ghost stories are the rituals of a distant past.

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New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a Pen American “Beyond the Margins” award and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His next book, “Birds of Paradise Lost”  a collection of short stories, is due out in 2013. He has lectured widely at many universities.

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New America Media

New America Media is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 3,000 ethnic news organizations. Over 57 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries and to America through 3000+ ethnic media outlets, the fastest growing sector of American journalism. Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with offices in New York and Washington D.C., and partnerships with journalism schools to grow local associations of ethnic media.