Katie Johnson's Chicken-Flavored Valentine

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Chow Bella has a valentine for you. For the rest of February, we're handing out Candy Hearts -- stories of food and love from some of our favorite writers. Enjoy.

"It smells good, right?" I ladled a small portion of the chicken fettuccine alfredo out of the pan and handed it to the boy I was dating.

See also: - Chow Bella's Gift Guide for the Vegetarian - Julie Peterson on Love, Loss, What She Wore -- and What She Ate

Bryan brought the ladle to eye level and scrutinized it before relaying the utensil back to me.

"You eat it first."

He crossed his arms defensively and waited for me to take the first bite.

I couldn't blame him for being suspicious. I wasn't exactly known for my flair in the kitchen, unless you counted severed arteries and small-scale toaster fires.

Even more the culprit to his food poisoning paranoia was the fact that I hadn't eaten meat in over two years, let alone cooked with it.

When I tell people now that I once was a vegetarian, I present it as though it was a form of sexual experimentation in my early 20s. Truth be told, it was an experiment but without any real hypothesis.

I wasn't doing it because I felt bad for animals. I wasn't doing it because I thought it was a healthier lifestyle. And contrary to what my mother will tell you, I wasn't just doing it to be difficult -- though a small part of me did enjoy watching her struggle to construct a balanced meal made entirely out of side dishes.

I suppose some blame could be placed on Los Angeles, the city where dietary restrictions are born and where I just so happened to be living during the time of my meatless endeavor.

Hardly a year after moving there, I quickly realized that finding a decent guy in the city was about as likely as finding free parking during rush hour. Like plenty of other lonely singles out there, I found myself dealing with a void -- or, more specifically, a man-hole. I needed a distraction, something I could throw myself into, to keep my mind off the fact that I probably was going to die alone.

Since joining a gym was out of the question and my experience with crafting generally involved glitter in the eye or a staple through my finger, I turned to vegetarianism as a form of recreational activity.

I piled my desk with vegetarian literature, frequented all the finest faux-meat establishments, and was fascinated by the limitless possibilities of tofu.

Raw, organic, macrobiotic: My submergence into the leafy underworld of selective eating was fast, heavy, and, most notably, solo.

None of my friends were as down with Mother Nature as I was. They didn't like my restaurants, they hated soy, and there was a vague sense of discomfort any time someone ordered meat at the table. If one is the loneliest number, then green definitely is its corresponding color.

Nevertheless, I stood strongly by my vegetarian ways and continued to do so even after I started dating Bryan.

He was a soft-spoken, disheveled history major who, despite his emaciated frame, devoured meat with the enthusiasm of Hannibal Lecter. It was the juicy elephant in the room that never became a problem for us -- until the day I decided to make that man a meal. Bryan was a takeout junkie, incapable of making even the simplest of snacks, and I believed it was high time he saw how a home-cooked meal was done. In an effort to keep things simple, I proposed the idea of fettuccine alfredo. Bryan however, in an effort to be a pain in the ass, negotiated chicken into the equation.

I agreed to his terms, noting that this whole crash course in cooking was really for his benefit and that picking around the poultry would be a fairly minor challenge.

But now here I was, stuck between a cock and a hard place. With one bite I could simultaneously confirm my natural ability for producing perfectly cooked meats and completely destroy my reputation as a full-fledged herbivore.

I looked at Bryan.

Was he worth it?

I gazed down at the chicken.

Did it matter? I mean . . . What had vegetarianism really done for me?

My mind drew a blank, and my mouth began to water.

If I was going to break my two-year meat hiatus, it might as well have been with the animal I despised most. After all, eating this species' existence entirely off the food chain, was a cause I could really get behind.

Without giving it another moment's thought I popped a piece of hot poultry in my mouth and shot Bryan a satisfied smile.

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