Wednesday, January 6, 2016

tell me what you want, what you really really want

Nearly ten years ago, I became a vegetarian. Not because I have any great love for animals (I don't), or any commitment to healthy eating (I don't). I actually have one of the dumbest reasons for becoming a vegetarian: my favorite meat-serving restaurant closed. I pride myself on being true to my word and keeping promises — even promises to myself. I once said if that restaurant ever closed, I would become a vegetarian. Of course, I never expected them to close. When I made that proclamation, they were a thriving operation and had been in business for over fifty years. But, they did indeed close. (You can read the entire stupid account here.) In the meantime, I haven't eaten meat since 2006 and I seem to be doing just fine.

It's everyone else that seems to have a problem.

Sometimes in restaurants, if I ask a waitresses if certain menu items contain meat, I have received replies like: "Well, it's cooked with meat, but we strain it out before it's served." or "It's got a little bit of meat in it" — as though "a little bit" is okay. If you eat a little bit of strychnine, it's still gonna kill you.

I have had people apologize to me for talking about meat meals they have eaten. "We ate at that Brazilian steakhouse last night. Oh, I'm sorry. I know you don't eat meat." I'm not offended by meat. I acknowledge the existence of meat. For goodness sake, my father was a butcher! I don't have a dog, but you can talk about dog food, if you like. I don't eat that either. Hell, you can talk about cauliflower, too. As a vegetarian, I know I'm probably required to eat cauliflower, but I don't like it. But I'm not offended by it.

I'm not militant or angry or demanding about being a vegetarian. I don't require that my eating habits be accommodated. I realize it is my choice to be a vegetarian and I don't want to make it your problem. I can usually find something to eat at a restaurant or at a party. Potato chips, salad, pickles, bread. And if I can't find anything, I'll refrain and I'll eat something when I get home. I don't want to inconvenience anyone or have anyone put themselves out on my account. If a host does make special preparations on my behalf, I will express my gratitude and appreciation for the extra — albeit unnecessary — effort.

However, sometimes, telling someone "I'm a vegetarian," I get a look like I have six heads. Just this past week, my employer offered its annual office holiday lunch for its employees. A caterer is contracted and, on the designated day, a full, lunchtime spread is set out in our office in a large conference area. A menu is distributed prior to the event and it usually includes at least one vegetarian friendly entree, usually there is plenty for us non-meat eaters. So, around noon, a co-worker (a fellow vegetarian) and I set out for the 38th floor to check out this year's offerings. We grabbed a disposable plate and plastic utensil and queued up for lunch. One of the servers on the other side of the table, a young lady, grabbed a large serving spoon and removed the big silver lid from the first chafing dish. When the huge steam cloud dissipated, it revealed a trough-load of penne pasta covered in a light red sauce.

I spoke up. "Which items don't have meat?," I asked with a smile. She pointed at the pasta with her spoon and barked, "This don't." I extended my plate and she deposited a golfball-sized serving of pasta - approximately nine noodles. I kept my plate in its "please serve me some more" position and she shoved the spoon back into the pasta and replaced the lid. Then she turned to another young lady stationed further down the line, manning several more chafing dishes, and snarled "He don't want no meat.," cocking a thumb in my direction. Then she stared me down, defiantly, not attempting to offer me anything from the concealed meat dishes and certainly no more pasta. The next server dotted my plate with a small portion of mashed potatoes and four slices of grilled yellow squash. Not five. Four. 

Luckily, the salad was self-serve. I ate what I was given and didn't dare return for seconds, fearing another round of herbivore shaming.

It's not easy eating green. If only the carnivores could understand why.

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