November 2007

A pound of flesh

By Suzanne Strazza

There is a club out there of which I am not a member.

Although, so I don’t come across as sour grapes, I was a member for over 13 years and chose to leave on my own.

It’s the club of folks who have made a conscious choice in their lives to refrain from eating Flesh. You know them…

The Vegetarians.

Yes, we all know someone who is or was, or someone who knows someone who is. They have a lot of members, but it is really the only group based on food choices that I can think of that is so hierarchical.

First you have the plain old veggies, many of whom still eat fish, chicken and eggs. Often these folks are in because they want to lose weight (beware the veggie that only eats salad), or because they went off to some groovy liberal-arts college and they want to make life a living hell for their mother when they visit on Thanksgiving Day. These folks are often unable to articulate exactly why they don’t eat meat and really struggle trying to explain why some white meat is justifiable when red is not. It displays a lack of earnestness.

Next up in line are the folks who eat no meat, but still do milk, cheese and eggs (which makes one question, why are liquid chickens OK when solid ones aren’t?). These folks seem to be a bit clearer on their reasons and tend to “slip up” a bit less frequently than the first group. Although you don’t often find them asking if the base of their French Onion soup was made with meat stock.

Then there are the vegans, of which I was a proud member along with my husband. At this point in our lives, we were one of those disgusting in-love couples who only spoke in the “we” and were therefore dubbed “the Wegans.” We ate no meat and no dairy. To remain in this league takes a fair amount of commitment. No Ben and Jerry’s, movie theater popcorn or chili rellenos (which are invariably fried in boiling lard so they are a no-no on so many levels). Being a vegan often means making changes in your social life; in other words, if you want to have dinner with friends, expect to cook for yourself. We stopped being invited to friends’ because we were too difficult to feed, and going to a restaurant was completely out of the question.

Beyond vegan there are the extreme upper echelons of which I could only fantasize due to my weak nature and lack of spine. Macrobiotic, raw-foodsonly, locally-grown-organic-picked-byhand- never-touched-plastic-shippedby- biodieselonly foods. The really hardcore folks are those who won’t even wear leather shoes. You’ve gotta admire that kind of commitment. Those eaters were my idols. Although, I can proudly say that for two years, I only ate out of wooden bowls with a wooden spoon.

But the issue here is that no matter where one falls on the vegetarian scale, there is still “on the scale” and “off.”

Those of us who are “off” are faced with discrimination, judgment and ostracism. Even if a person claims that they don’t eat meat for their “own personal reasons,” that they “would never apply to anyone else,” just observe the look of horror on their face when you gnaw on that gigantic turkey leg at the Renaissance Faire, or better yet, bite into an Oscar Meyer Weiner. Then you’ll know what they are really thinking.

Seriously, is there any other food-eating or food non-eating group that is so elitist? Ever been snubbed by a person who doesn’t eat potatoes, lectured by your friend who has chosen to give up apple juice? No, it’s only the veggies.

And is any thought given to how these “pure” folks affect others? Like I said, we stopped getting dinner invitations. The novelty of freaking my mother out on Thanksgiving wore off after one turkey dinner.

Back when the Moosewood cookbook was the bible of vegetarian cuisine, I must have eaten 300 gallons of ratatouille. It was the standard, “Oh, the vegetarians are coming over, I’ll make a big pot” meal.

Now, just the word makes my burger- loving insides groan.

And it’s not just dinners, it’s all about the lifestyle: sneaking tamari-covered popcorn into the movie theaters, buying the more expensive canned beans which do not contain lard.

Traveling even becomes more difficult. We had to buy the “Tofu Tollbooth” so we could plan in advance where we could stop and find something acceptable to eat when we were on cross-country climbing trips with our friends. Imagine saying, “Oooh, good news you guys, there’s a place close by where I can get a grilled eggplant sandwich. It’s only about 170 miles off-route. You don’t mind, do you?”

But I was enthusiastically in the club and a bit holier-than-thou, until I got pregnant and it all went to hell in a hand basket. At seven months, I began my morning ritual of bacon and smoothies, which soon morphed into bacon in smoothies. And I have yet to stop my flesh feeding frenzy.

But here’s something to keep in the back of your mind, especially when you order a burrito with chorizo instead of raw carrots (who’s ever heard of a carrot burrito in Mexico?). When the waiter places your greasy plate in front of you, remember this…

Even vegetarians love bacon.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.