Thursday, May 22, 2008

Veggie Might: That’s What I Was Going to Say

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

This past weekend, my cute doggie, Snack, and I participated in a bike ride to promote pet adoption. Here’s a cute photo of Snack and a link to Rational Animal rescue collective. Adopt a pet and love forever!

Even before Kris asked me to write for CHG, I’d been thinking about what my Veggie Manifesto might say. It would not try to convert omnivores to the fold (though you may think otherwise from my first post—really, I was just making a correlation to our current eco/enviro situation); but it would respond to the same old questions and frequent (and unprovoked) defensiveness I encounter from meat eaters.

Then someone wrote it for me—my Veggie Manifesto—almost word for word. Almost.

In the Slate article, Meatless Like Me, Taylor Clark tells omnivores everything they’ve ever wanted to know about veggies, with a sense of humor and a dose of reality. I heard the podcast version while walking home from work one rainy evening last week. With every new point, I smiled and gave a little “amen, brother!” from under my umbrella.

Point one: We are regular people. Clark explains, “Imagine a completely normal person with completely normal food cravings, someone who has a broad range of friends, enjoys a good time, is carbon-based, and so on. Now remove from this person’s diet anything that once had eyes, and, wham!, you have yourself a vegetarian.”

We’re just like you, but with a plant-based diet. Not necessarily health-nuts, not necessarily activists, just people who choose not to eat meat, just as you might choose not to eat shellfish or horseradish.

I was beginning to feel liberated.

Point two: We want decent food in restaurants. Clark implores, “We really appreciate that you included a vegetarian option on your menu (and if you didn’t, is our money not green?), but it may interest you to know that most of us are not salad freaks on a grim slog for nourishment. We actually enjoy food, especially the kind that tastes good.”

Preach it!

Though, in New York City, I have little to complain about, it can still be tricky to eat out. When dining with my omni friends, I’m accustomed to making meals of sides, appetizers, and parts of entrees to the annoyance of many a waiter and chef to be sure. But I’m used to it. When I go to a vegetarian restaurant, it takes me hours to order; it’s such a novelty—and sometimes a burden—being able to choose from everything on the menu.

Point three: We don’t care what you eat. Clark reassures, “As you’re enjoying that pork loin next to me, I am not silently judging you.” That’s right, omnis. Go ahead and enjoy your osso buco. Savor that porterhouse. As long as I don’t have to eat it (or cook it for you), it doesn’t bother me. I grew up eating meat; I’ve served meat in restaurants (Who had the lamb shank?); I’ve only ever dated meat eaters. The people who attempt to make you feel guilty about your life choices are just, well, obnoxious. And if you feel guilty eating chicken Marsala on a date with your new vegan boyfriend, let me assure you, it’s your issue, not his.

There is one thing I would add or change in my version of the Veggie Manifesto. For me it goes beyond diet, into lifestyle territory.

While Clark is comfortable wearing leather as he shuns a roast beef sandwich, I find that contradiction hard to stomach. He challenges the reader to find a pair of nonleather dress shoes. May I kindly point you here, here, and here? And Portland, where Clark resides, is the home of the first vegan mini mall, which can probably help him find local vegan shoe options.

But his point is well taken. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to be the perfect vegetarian or vegan. (And if you eat fish or chicken sometimes, you’re neither.) We have to set boundaries we can live with. After that, we are only accountable to our own consciences.

So why do meat eaters become so defensive in the presence of vegetarians? Clark doesn’t really ask this question, but I’m curious. I’m not referring to a discussion of the lifestyle between willing participants. I’m talking about unsolicited attacks on the wisdom of my food choices based on presumed lack of dietary merits, ethical differences, or just plain antagonism. Does the perceived deprivation of the vegetarian lifestyle make people uncomfortable? Make them feel like they should be doing something they’re not?

If that’s it, then everyone can relax. I am not deprived. I don’t starve (which you could tell if you could see me), and I enjoy the food I eat. I don’t even miss the meat. Sometimes I get a little wistful when I think of crab cakes or smell fried chicken, but it doesn’t last. I savor the memories and enjoy the vegetarian bounty before me.


(Shoe photo courtesy of Flickr member shoe la la.)


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