“And, with a wave of her magic wand, the fairy returned peace to the world and everyone lived happily ever after. The end.” Those words, crowned with a goodnight kiss and the ceremonial switching on of the Little Mermaid nightlight, were always enough to make me fall asleep as a child. While I still believed in them, everything had a fairy. There was one for teeth and quarters, one for sweet dreams, one for presents, and one for each respective food group: the dairy fairy gave me strong bones, the vegetable fairy helped my organs, the bread fairy gave me energy, and the meat fairy made sure my McDonald’s fish fillets were extra crispy.
With a breaded halo around her head and a chunk of Indian style tandoori chicken at the end of her wand, the meat fairy was my favorite. There was a time when my father would draw me a picture of her with every meal and use it as a singing and dancing puppet to entice me to eat what he declared “the most important food group”.
I never questioned the fairies’ existence because I never had any reason to. Mommy and daddy say they’re there, I thought, so they must be. Unfortunately, though, childhood naïveté is just that: childhood naiveté and, like all other aspects of that blissful time, it can’t last forever.
“Mommy,” I said to my mother one day as she spooned a scoop of chunky rice and rich-smelling chicken curry into my plate, “don’t you like the meat fairy?”
“Of course, honey.”
“Then why don’t you eat what she makes?”
My mother looked at my father with the sort of classic look that only the parent of a six-year-old child can give. “Well,” my mother gave me another scoop of chicken curry, “the meat fairy works extra hard so children can grow strong. Mommy’s already strong.”
“Oh.” I began shoveling the food into my mouth, but the seed of doubt was already there. Why didn’t my mother eat the meat fairy’s delicacies? I pushed the thought to the back of my mind, but it came back the next year on a school trip to the farm, when the “meat fairy’s” secret identity was revealed.
“This way!” my teacher bellowed to the group of boisterous second graders. “Time to go learn about meat!” She plastered a mock smile on her face and gave us a sardonic “thumbs up”. While my other female peers lingered at the stables, I galloped obediently after my teacher. “Learn about meat.” I heard her mumble. “Ha! What’s there to learn? Cut the head off and kill the poor things.”
“Mrs. Jo,” I tugged on her backpack strap, “will we get to see the meat fairy?”
“The meat fairy?”
I shook my head up and down with such vigor that my Little Mermaid hairclip came loose. “She makes meat!” I smiled, giddy with the anticipation of finally meeting my crispy-haloed idol.
Mrs. Jo shook her head. “Is that what they’re telling you kids these days?” She sighed and opened the door to the chicken coop, where we were greeted by several screeching chickens and one obese person dressed as a chicken. “Welcome to the chicken coop,” the hefty chicken-man said in a monotone. “I’m Chester the Chicken and I’m going to be telling you about the food chain today.”
“Excuse me.” I pulled at Chester’s abnormally large tail feathers. “When will we get to see the meat fairy?” He didn’t answer, but, instead, nudged me into a seat and, pulling out a diagram, explained to my peers and I that the meat fairy’s real name was “butcher”.
My childhood fantasy lost, I began to bawl. “You mean I’ve been eating these!” I patted one of the chickens on its squawking head. “I always thought ‘chicken’ was a joke! Like when Julie called me a chicken because I wouldn’t go on the monkey bars!”
To this day, I haven’t touched a piece of meat, much less eaten one and, if anyone tells me there’s a soy fairy who makes my veggie burgers taste “extra yummy,” I’m going to call her private line and make sure she doesn’t have any other names I should know about.