Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Abortion: One Vegetarian’s View

[Editor's Note: As a person who has never been accused of having an intelligent idea about anything, Mr. Reinhardt is constantly requested not to write about serious and/or controversial issues. Sometimes, though, he loses control of himself. Since we get this column cheap, we feel obliged to occasionally humor him. Our apologies in advance for offending you all.]

I'm a vegetarian, so naturally I'm pro-life. I'm also pro-choice. Needless to say, that combination leaves me feeling uncomfortably off-balance—kind of like a fish on horseback.

In the controversy over abortion, the positions of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" have become extremely politicized, and the emotional rhetoric may have moved both sides so far into the trees that they've lost sight of the forest. I'm not sure just where we vegetarians fit. If our track record is one of reverence for life and an unwillingness to conform our beliefs to what may be politically correct, then we just may not have a place in either one of these traditional camps.

By the time a typical abortion is performed the aborted fetus has a heartbeat, measurable brain waves, and its own circulatory system. The pro-life folks say that's enough to make abortion an act of killing babies. The pro-choice people disagree, claiming that the beginning of life can't be measured scientifically, and is therefore a philosophical and/or religious question to be answered by a woman and her doctor.

Nonsense. To my mind the pro-choice argument here represents the kind of collective guilty-conscience rationalization that would do even the meat industry proud. A fetus is obviously alive and obviously human. In an abortion it is violently killed. To argue otherwise is contrary to common sense. It is, in the popular vernacular, a large crock of peanut butter, and as a vegetarian who's opposed to killing, I'm not going to buy into it.

So, that puts me squarely in the pro-life camp, right? Well, not exactly. Even though I can empathize with the fervency they feel for their cause, these folks have some credibility problems of their own. First, while they claim to be "pro-life," for the majority that commitment ends at the doors to Planned Parenthood. There does not seem to be any concern, for example, over our nation's military activities, or over the state-sponsored killing of human beings in electric chairs or gas chambers. (Certainly there's no overriding concern with the quality of life—particularly for young women who find themselves unintentionally pregnant and want to reassert control over their own bodies.) Similarly, the commitment to end abortion itself seems to be limited to shutting the doors of the clinics and legislating morality. There's no movement to educate young people on family planning or to solve any of the social problems we all know underlie the abortion issue. Perhaps "pro-life" should more appropriately read "pro-life, as long as it agrees with my views of what's politically correct."

Another concern I have with the pro-life folks is in their "killing babies" argument. If they really believe abortion is killing babies (I think they do, and, as I say, I can't argue with them), then why don't they advocate treating it as murder? The reason, of course, is that such advocacy would be political suicide for their cause. If abortion is murder then exceptions in any anti-abortion law for rape, incest, and the health (as opposed to the life) of the mother make no sense. If abortion is murder, women who have them and their doctors ought to be tried and punished as murderers. The political system isn't ready to make these difficult choices. The pro-life people know that, and they're perfectly willing to ignore such troubling issues in promoting their cause. While they claim to want rights for the unborn, they really want only those particular rights that promote their political objectives, not the ones that might impede them.

I really get angry about the abortion issue whenever I hear the "silent scream" arguments. The pro-life people often make a point of describing how well developed the fingers and toes of the aborted fetus are, how it feels pain during the abortion, how its heart is stopped, etc. I don't disagree with what they are saying, or want to discount or suppress this information in any way. But as a vegetarian, I always want to ask the people making these arguments what they had for dinner the night before. A fetus may be a human "baby," but by any objective standard (intelligence, development of its nervous system, mobility, viability, etc.) it is a much lower life form than the cows, pigs, chickens and fish that the pro-life people legally kill for their food every day. (No, these animals don't have the "potential" to become a viable human being the way a fetus does. But if "potential" is the issue, we should outlaw every form of birth control, including abstention.)

We will always have a special concern for issues affecting the lives of our own species, I guess. Perhaps to some extent that may be natural and proper. Abortion, though, is merely part of a much larger web of interconnected issues concerning human life and, more universally, animal life on our planet. On these larger issues the political movement that calls itself "pro-life" isn't really pro-life at all. It isn't even a player.

Even though I abhor abortion, I must believe that it should remain legal and available. It is a huge tragedy every time an unwanted child is brought into this world. All too often it perpetuates a cycle of poverty, lack of self-respect, and child abuse that ultimately begets more abortions. Maybe I'm just naive, but I strongly believe that a program of educating young people before they are sexually active, making birth control widely available, and addressing underlying social problems will prevent many more abortions than the "pro-life" plan of relegating the procedure to the underworld and trying to universally impose moral values that may be contrary to human nature.

However it is viewed, though, abortion is violent and destructive. Every time it is implemented as a solution to a problem, it is an indication that the essential functions of our society have somehow failed. I can't imagine that all reasonable people wouldn't welcome an end to this practice. As vegetarians concerned with the rights of all living beings, we should strive toward that goal.

Is it possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice, without buying into the arguments of either of the political groups that claim those terms? I don't know, but I guess I'll have to give it a try.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Oh, The Disadvantages

Years ago, in the dark days of my youth, cigarette companies (gasp!) were actually allowed to advertise on television. Today we're more enlightened. Tune in for more than 5 minutes now and you'll see several fast food companies trying to hook kids on hamburgers with promises of free toys. Such progress. (What's that, you say? Something about products that kill when used as intended???)

Anyway, one of those early cigarette ads pointed out all the disadvantages of the sponsor's new, longer cigarettes, showing how they could get caught in elevator doors, make you late for your own wedding, etc. Of course by pointing out these minor disadvantages, their real purpose was to show the significant advantages of their product (more tobacco, longer smoking times, faster lung cancer).

We can play the same game with vegetarianism. Try these, for example:

Disadvantage: "No hamburgers off the grill for me."

Advantage: "I just saved 8 trees in the rain forest."

Disadvantage: "There's nothing on this menu I can eat."

Advantage: "I didn't feel stuffed [sick/guilty/poor/etc.] after eating lunch."

Disadvantage/Advantage: "Oh gosh, all my friends are going into the hospital for bypass surgery, but I wasn't invited."

You get the idea. The primary plusses and minuses of vegetarianism should be obvious to everyone—everyone except meat-eaters I guess. Sometime when you're really bored, though (like when you're reading this column, or when one of those fast food commercials comes on during your favorite show), think of some of the more subtle ways your diet/lifestyle preference has made your life both miserable and wonderful. Here are a few ideas from your fellow vegetarians to get you started:

Disadvantage: "I ordered the 'veggie special' pizza, hold the cheese please, and they charged me the full menu price. You'd think by eliminating the most expensive ingredient they could shave a few bucks off the tab."

Disadvantage: "My dinner came with soup and salad, but I couldn't eat the soup because it had a beef broth. Did they give me a discount? No way!"

Advantage: There is no restaurant in the world where the "Oysters Rockefeller" is priced less than the "garden salad."

Disadvantage: "There have been times when I've been trapped in some of the most primitive places on earth (LaGuardia Airport in New York City, for example), where civilized dining is impossible. Once, when I was eating my dinner of Burger King French fries, I looked over at the people next to me eating chicken salad. It suddenly occurred to me that this was one night when I might possibly be eating healthier if I wasn't a vegetarian!"

Disadvantage/Advantage: The only desserts the restaurant had were loaded with cows' milk and chickens' eggs. Those things seemed gross to me, so it took no willpower at all to go for the berries. I saved a thousand calories' worth of saturated fat and felt good about myself for days."

Disadvantage: "My diet's so alien to them, my friends never invite me to dinner anymore. Heck, they're a bunch of stiffs anyway."

Advantage: "When charities hit me up for money I ask: 'Will my donation be used for animal testing? Will my money be used to buy meat?' If they don't slink quickly away (they usually do), at least I know my donation will go to a good cause."

Disadvantage: "Why does soy milk have to cost more than cows' milk when, all things considered, it's much cheaper to produce?"

Disadvantage/Advantage: "When I became a vegetarian I had to learn to cook for myself. It saved me a fortune and gave me a new hobby."

Disadvantage: "I didn't want to eat butter anymore, so I switched to olive oil. It's really lousy on pancakes."

Advantage: "It's great on everything else."

Advantage: "It doesn't bother me that federal meat inspection is so shoddy."

Disadvantage/Advantage: "I ordered the vegetarian meal on my last airline flight. Not only was it vegetarian, but the margarine was salt-free, the salad dressing was oil-free, and the roll was taste-free. It was still better than what they served the meat eaters."

If you play the disadvantage/advantage game with vegetarianism long enough, a couple of things become obvious. First, whatever disadvantages you might think up aren't problems inherent in vegetarianism at all, but are merely products of our minority status in society and lack of action on the part of meat-eaters. Second, the disadvantages of vegetarianism seem trivial when compared to the advantages.

Of course they do. That's why we're vegetarians.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The True Meaning Of Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving, or so they say, was the fourth Thursday in November, 1620. It being a legal holiday, Irving Schwartz had the day off from his job as an account manager at Plymouth Bank and Trust and was bumming around the woods with his muzzle-loader. He came upon a wild turkey (not the whiskey, but the bird) with a broken wing and, without thinking, blasted the poor beast into the next life. Now it happened that this turkey was the largest and most beautiful bird Irving had ever seen, much less shot. (Actually it was the only bird Irving had ever shot—having been a tailor in London until a few months before.) He ran home trailing the carcass behind him and shouting
triumphantly, but his wife Mabel (people were really named that back then) stopped him at the door. "Clean that bloody thing outside," she said. "I just did the floors."

That afternoon the Indians were in town for a doubleheader. A potluck was scheduled between games and Irving proudly brought his turkey. "Want some?" he asked Rich Garcia, captain of the Indians.

"No thanks, kid, I never touch the stuff," Garcia responded as he stuffed beans into a corn tortilla.

A little dejected, Irving took the platter with the turkey on it over to his cousin Bernie at the other end of the table. "Try some of my turkey. It's real good," he said. As if to demonstrate he took a bite out of a drumstick and broke his front tooth on a piece of shot.

"Nah," Bernie responded. "I can't handle the cholesterol. I'm sticking with the salad."

And so it went all afternoon on that first Thanksgiving—neither Irving nor his turkey had a very good time amongst the early vegetarians of the New World. Of course in time the simple way of life of those early settlers was lost, and we all know the ensuing years have not been kind to our feathered friends. No longer do most people crave the bean enchilada or salad. No, ask Americans what they like best about Thanksgiving and you'll get the same answer from all of them: football.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Food Rut (or, “I’ve sunk so low I have to reach up to scratch the belly of a snake”)

Witness these facts: I've got a Cuisinart, two pasta makers, and duplicate sets of fancy French and German cooking knives. I've got 72 (or at least it seems like that many) vegetarian cookbooks, and a thick file with thousands of other recipes. I'm constantly pontificating on the endless variety and excitement of a vegetarian diet. I make fun of boring meat eaters who insist on eating the same four animals two or three times a day, every single day of their lives.

Mr. Big-Shot vegetarian, huh? Yeah, well it's easy to talk a big game. But if the truth be known, when the peanut butter hits the fan (the salad hits the colander, so to speak), I'm a fraud.

Yes, it's true. While I smile and extol the virtues of vegetarianism to everyone I meet, inside I'm tortured by a bitter reality—I haven't had a creative food idea in years. I'm in a food rut.

When I think about it, maybe it's always been this way. After all, there was that time when I survived for the better part of two years on nachos and beer (or was it Scotch?). But I was young and foolish then, and things like that had some appeal. What's my excuse now? There's no time to shop? No time to cook? Have I gotten lazy in my old age, or is my right brain just on vacation in Fiji?

I swear I've tried to break out of this rut. I've gone through every kind of bean I can find, but they all seem to taste the same. Ditto for greens. I bought a bottle of pickled watermelon rinds the other day, hoping for something different. But there they sit in the back of my refrigerator. I even bought a can of tomato aspic, the only food I hated as a kid, willing to give it one more try. I still hate it.

Everybody probably gets into food ruts now and then, but you'd never know it talking to my friends. The meat eaters I hang around with are either bragging about the new Tasmanian restaurants they've found, or tossing the names of rare mushrooms and snooty French wines into casual conversation. They don't seem to lack for excitement at the dinner table.

The vegetarians I know are even worse. They're all so upbeat about their diets. Take my friend Melissa, for example. When she hosts a dinner party she makes twenty (count 'em!) exciting new dishes—all vegan! Why can't I cook like that?

Next weekend I'm going to beat this thing. I'll dig out one of those 72 cookbooks and find something really unique to fix. Time, trouble, and hard-to-find ingredients will be no obstacle. I'm throwing out my motto that if it takes longer to cook than to eat, it isn't worth it. I'm determined to blaze gastronomic trails.

With my luck I'll like whatever it is. I'll like it so much, it will be on my dinner table every night for the next 6 months.


You know you're in a food rut when...

1. You've memorized your grocery list, and you carry exact change to the store.

2. Your cat "Bushwacker" no longer shows any interest in the sound of an opening can.

3. Your freeloading cousin Bernie turns down a dinner invitation.

4. You start to cook before you decide what you're making.

5. You go shopping for a microwave oven with a "memory" function.

6. Your kids decide to move into their own apartment...and the oldest one is only 13!

7. Your husband comes home and says, "I ate at the office."

8. You learn to perfectly synchronize your lunch preparation with the commercials on Oprah.

9. Your dog "Wrecks" begs to go out at dinnertime.

10. Your child surprises you by learning the word "barf" in 27 languages.

11. You find yourself wearing one of those cutesy aprons that says: "I'm only filling in while the cook gets treated for the plague."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Fair Lady-2—The Sequel

Last time, in this very same space, we met Anita, a delightful woman whom I cruelly singled out for attention for only one reason: Anita has one of the world's worst diets. It is a diet consisting almost entirely of animal-based foods, and dishes made with them. Indeed, the only strictly vegan food that Anita consumes on a regular basis is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Even there you can't be too sure—what with all those horror stories you hear about rodent hairs getting into peanut butter.)

Anyway, after learning about Anita's diet I, in a demonstration of typical vegan patronization, decided to play Prof. Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle, and teach her about the joys of vegetarianism. (This all seemed appropriate, given that My Fair Lady is based on a play written by a noted vegetarian.) So, for the past two months I've been bringing assorted samples of odd vegetarian foods for her to try out. And, of course, I promised to report the results back to you.

So, did everything work out just like I hoped? Was Anita amazed at the wonderful bounty of tasty vegetarian foods? Did I have her eating out of my hand (ha!—just a little joke to see if you're still paying attention) in no time? Did she decide to give up the pepperoni and pineapple pizzas (say it three times fast) she loves so much? Is she a vegetarian now? Vegan even? Did she quit her job to sell food dehydrators on late-night television?

It may shock you, but the answer to each of these questions is no. What did happen is considerably less dramatic. Anita learned about some new foods, and perhaps expanded her horizons a little bit. I learned some things too. Here are the highlights...

February 5: I bring Anita some of the curried tempeh salad I'd made over the weekend. Needless to say, she's never seen tempeh before. She's never eaten any kind of curry either. "Not too bad," she says, cautiously tasting it. "Spicy... Crunchy... I could eat that again ...but not every day. I'd rather have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." An hour later she has her lunch—pepperoni and pineapple pizza with a candy bar.

February 9: I offer Anita some grapefruit from my folks' tree in Florida. She won't try it. "Too sour!"

February 12: I bring Anita some carry-out from the Chinese joint around the corner. Eggplant with hot garlic sauce and moo shu vegetables, hold the egg please. It is still early, and after her breakfast of Pop-Tarts I wonder if she'll be hungry. "It looks disgusting," she says immediately, "What's this stuff?" I tell her that it's eggplant, and she pokes at it disdainfully with her fork. "I've had eggplant, but it's been awhile," she says. "Can I just eat the rice and carrots?" Finally, after more coaxing, she decides to humor me, and guess what? She likes it! Except for the plum sauce, that is. It's too tangy for her. ("Maybe just regular barbecue sauce would be better.") I ask her about the tofu. "It's not bad," she says, "I thought it was squash." I consider this acceptance of tofu to be a major step in Anita's conversion. But that triumph is quickly followed by the inevitable setback. She's reluctant to try a piece of red pepper. After I assure her that it isn't hot she takes a tiny taste and isn't impressed. "There's nothing to it, and I don't like the skin on it. No, I'd pass on the pepper."

February 23: I bring Anita some killer chocolate pie. I figure she'll love it, and then I'll spring on her the fact that it's made with tofu. She hates it. "Too strong," she says. "I really don't like chocolate."

March 7: "Today's your lucky day," I say, putting a bowl of miso soup in front of Anita. "I'm hungry for something," she responds, "...but I don't think that's it." She takes a sip and makes a face. "It hits the buds! That soy sauce is kind of salty—you have to have a beverage beside you." I ask her about the tofu, which, by this time, is nothing new to her. "It doesn't look real appetizing, but it doesn't taste bad," she says. "It looks like compressed puke to me." The peapods get a less favorable reception. She tastes one and looks like she's going to die on the spot. "The peas has got to go!" she screams. "Those peas has got to go!"

By the end of March I was starting to detect a pattern in Anita's reactions to foods. She clearly preferred the bland to the spicy, with as little texture as possible. That figures, I thought. Most meat and dairy products are mild tasting, and have nothing in them that remotely resembles fiber. They just kind of slide down the throat on a slick of grease. Once folks get used to eating that stuff, even something like a peapod could be a challenge. Maybe the simple facts that most vegetarian foods have distinct flavors and textures are huge factors inhibiting their popularity. Sadly, these are the very things we vegetarians love.

This is a depressing thought. The more tasty we make our vegetarian food, the more unappealing it might be to meat eaters. Maybe vegetarians and meat eaters will just have to "agree to disagree" about the majority of foods, and settle for whatever common ground they can find. ("How about that peanut butter and jelly, huh?" "Yeah, how about that peanut butter and jelly!")

One day, when I was feeling especially depressed by all of this, Anita dropped by. "You'd be proud of me," she beamed. "We took some raw vegetables, and we steamed them! Sure, we had to put just a little bit of cheese on them, but let me tell you, it was deeeelicious! I said to my husband Jeff, 'We should have this more often.' Of course we did have chicken for the main course, but you've got to start somewhere."

I couldn't hide a big smile. Yeah, I was thinking, you've got to start somewhere.


Anita reacts to your favorite foods...

  • Orange Juice: Only if it is canned or frozen. She doesn't like the fresh stuff because the pulp sticks to her teeth.
  • Tofu: "Nasty... Slimy... Reminds me of something someone who didn't have any teeth would eat."
  • Chinese: "I've eaten sweet and sour pork."
  • Spices: Absolutely none, other than pepper. Except garlic bread is okay.
  • Fried pork rinds: "I have to be in the mood, and one's enough."
  • Onions: "Ugh!"
  • Brussel Sprouts: "Oh, my god!"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Fair Lady

When I tell people I don't eat either meat or dairy products they screw up their faces in disbelief and say, "What's left???" I can't get a decent meal at the vast majority of the restaurants in the United States. I don't dare go to a neighborhood potluck unless I eat beforehand.

All of this is distressing, to be sure. But it has also left me with an interesting thought: I bet there are people in this world, probably right here in River City, State of Confusion, USA, who have diets so different from mine that the two don't overlap at all. Let me say it another way: If there are vegans who don't eat any animal products, there are probably other people who never eat anything that doesn't contain animal products. Wow, just like Mr. and Mrs. Sprat! It's a sobering thought.

I must say that I've had a morbid fascination with this for the last few years. The idea that someone out there is eating at the totally opposite end of the spectrum from me has increased my awareness of the diets of people around me. I haven't actually found anyone who's food choices meet my criteria of "nothing without animal products passes these lips," but I have found some folks out there who come darned close. People with really horrible diets.

(Before going on I should explain that when I use terms like "really horrible" and "gag me with a pipe wrench," my comments are totally subjective, and do not necessarily make any value judgments. Indeed, as a guy who has in the past defined the four food groups as "sugar, chocolate, alcohol and nicotine," folks might well be healthier if they stay away from my dietary suggestions.)

It's been quite an experience to discover people who's diets seem as strange to me as mine must seem to them, and over the past couple of years I've found some doozies. First there's my friend Blake who washes everything down with a quart of cow's milk. Then there is Greg, who won't eat anything all day but pastries and candy. Just when I thought I'd seen everything though, just when I thought it was safe to go back in the supermarket, I met someone really, really special. We'll call her "Anita," since that's her real name.

Some background information is probably in order. Anita is an attractive, thin, 27 year-old blonde who is both intelligent and charming. She grew up in rural Indiana, (no doubt with parents like mine, who believe vegetarians are communists), married a man with a background similar to hers, and is now enjoying a normal, happy lifestyle. Normal, at least, with the exception of her food choices.

Anita admits to being a "fussy" eater, a trait that apparently started at an early age. "I definitely ate fatty, fatty in high school," she says, referring to her daily lunch of four candy bars and a pop. Since then her diet has become more varied, but not by much. She obsesses on her two favorite foods, macaroni and cheese and pizza, and it is as a topping on the latter that she consumes the only fruit that she'll eat: canned pineapple. Anita won't eat fresh pineapple because it isn't as sweet, and the texture reminds her of (god forbid!) an apple. If Anita had been in the Garden of Eden humankind would never have fallen from grace.

Anita is just as discriminating with her vegetables. The only ones she'll eat are corn and potatoes. (The spuds are instant, from a box. "We have real potatoes about every 4 months.") Cauliflower and broccoli are okay, but only if there's dip available.

Four years ago Anita took a major step forward in her dietary progress. That was when she ate her first salad. Now she doesn't mind them, as long as they're limited to iceberg lettuce, carrots and croutons, with French or ranch dressing. "I've gotten very experimental in the last four years," she says.

Anita's meats of choice are hamburger and pot roast and chicken breasts. She also likes "Rice Krispie treats," which are apparently snacks made out of cereal and marshmallows. Strangely, though, she claims no interest in other creations of American culture such as marshmallow cream, Cheez-Whiz, and Spam.

Many of Anita's dietary intentions are admirable. She worries about fat now because of cholesterol problems in her family, so she buys only skim milk and "93%" hamburger (apparently that's the "low fat" stuff). She even likes "wheat" bread better than white. Unfortunately, her favorite sandwich is "mayonnaise." Mmmm.

When Anita gave me the details of her diet, my immediate reaction was: "I can enlighten this misguided soul!" (Yeah right, as if I could enlighten anybody!) For a fleeting moment I envisioned myself as a Rex Harrison type (a fair comparison I think—after all, we both have gray hair and speak English) meeting an Eliza Doolittle type. She'd be a real challenge, but if I could get Anita to like vegetarian foods, that would prove that it's possible to convert (or at least influence) any meat eater.

If I could cook for this woman for three months, I thought, I might have a chance of saving her. That, of course, wouldn't be practical. I did, however, promise to bring her samples of the foods I eat. In return, she didn't exactly promise to eat any of these foods, but I am pretty sure she'll at least look at them.

That's a start anyway. In the meantime, I'm already making progress. I've already found that we actually have one food in common. Both Anita and I like peanut butter and jelly.

(Next time: Mark sings "The Rain in Spain..." and reports back on how the conversion process is going.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Meat World 2100—A Fantasy?

I should have been more careful. I was fooling around with the electrical circuit breaker panel behind my house, and as soon as I poked the screwdriver in underneath the switch I knew I'd done the wrong thing. There was a loud cracking sound, and then everything went black and I felt my body floating in air. "Whew!" I said to myself, "It sure smells like something's burning."

The next thing I knew I was in a long tunnel, walking toward a bright light. A kindly gentleman who looked like Jimmy Carter greeted me and led me into a lavish office. "Mr. Reinhardt, we've been waiting for you," he said, bringing my picture and vital statistics up on a giant computer screen hanging on the wall and offering me his hand. "My name's Rodney. Rodney St. Peter. I see that you're a vegetarian..."

"Is this heaven?" I asked.

Rodney laughed. "Not yet—but the next best thing, you lucky guy. Your next reincarnation is going to be in Meat World 2100—the perfect future on Earth as created by the joint efforts of the American Meat Institute and the American Dairy Association!"

He must have seen the terror in my face. "Oh, don't worry," Rodney said immediately. "You're going to loooovvve it! Look, your guides are here now for your orientation."

I spun around and saw a stocky man and a blonde woman in western suits and cowboy boots. They introduced themselves as "Mr. Bertram" and "Jan," and no sooner had one of them said "come along with us" than we were climbing into a flashy car with the softest leather upholstery imaginable.

"I think you'll find that Meat World 2100 addresses every concern you vegetarians may once have had," Mr. Bertram said as he swiveled the front seat of the car around to face me. "Here, have one of our official pins."

Before I could object Mr. Bertram had pinned a tiny holographic picture of a smiling cow to my shirt. He was beaming with pride at the man-made environment around us. We were on an elevated, computer-guided highway, cruising through a landscape of skyscrapers and "Super-Mega Wal-Mart" stores.

"You vegetarians were right in pointing out the problems with eating animal products... we can admit that now," Jan elaborated. "But by the end of the twenty-first century, when Meat World 2100 was being planned, we'd already addressed most of those concerns. We developed pills to counter the effects of cholesterol and fat in the body, and other pills to simulate the effects of anti-oxidants and quistines in fruits and vegetables."


"Oh, they didn't know about them in your time—but they're very good for you. Anyway, we can do it all synthetically now, with petrochemicals. So eating steaks and hot fudge sundaes is every bit as good for you as the plant foods that humans once consumed. Would you believe it, our school lunches now consist of hamburgers and ice cream, with lots of milk!"

"They did in my day too," I answered.

Jan and Mr. Bertram took me to one of their "food processing facilities" for a tour. It was a sixty-story building that went on for blocks. Across from the entrance was a McDonald's restaurant, still with the ugly golden arches. The sign read: "More billions served than even we can imagine!"

Our first stop was the chicken processing line where square blocks of featherless birds stretched as far as the eye could see. "These chickens are genetically engineered to be 95% breast meat," Mr. Bertram told me. "See how we've been able to shrink the wings and head down to almost nothing? And we make them square so they take up less space."

"What are the tubes going into them?" I asked.

"Life support systems. All their food, water and oxygen flow in through those tubes, and the animals' waste flows out for recycling. Genetic engineering pushes the limits of living systems, you know—these birds couldn't live for a second in the ambient environment."

"Removing the tubes is our method of humane slaughter!" Jan chimed in proudly.

My two hosts took me to see the dairy cows (which looked like small tanker trucks on hooves) and the "all prime tenderloin" steers before we went back to the training room for a debriefing. I was starting to feel sick by that time, but Jan still wanted to talk about science. "Isn't genetics wonderful?" she asked. "Within the next five years all babies born in Meat World 2100 will have blonde hair, perfect teeth, and noses like Shirley MacLaine."

Out in the hall behind my hosts I caught sight of a small man jumping up and down and waving wildly to get my attention.

"I think I need to use your rest room," I said suddenly.

"Down the hall to your right," Mr. Bertram pointed. "Take it easy with the high suction tubes, though. If you aren't used to them they can turn you inside out."

When I got out the door the little man grabbed my arm and pulled me into an elevator. "I'm Eddie," he said excitedly. "Thank goodness I found you."

"Where are we going?" I asked as he hit the down button.

"Veggie World 2100, of course!" He handed me the small holographic picture of an eggplant. "Here, have one of our official pins."

Eddie's car looked like a 1987 Honda I once owned, but magically, a second after Eddie put it in gear, we were traveling over a landscape of forested hillsides and valleys thick with grasses. "Is this Veggie World?" I asked.

"That's right," Eddie said. "And I'm taking you to meet the number one, big honcho veggie himself—he goes by the name of Rumim."

We found Rumim sitting by himself in a comfortable apartment on the outskirts of a small town. He had a bald head and a white robe, and he sat cross-legged on the floor with a serene look on his face. Somehow he must have been expecting me, because he greeted me warmly, and then tried to address the questions I had.

"Veggie World 2100 may appear similar to the world you once lived in, but there are overwhelming improvements." He motioned for me to sit down, and then went on. "You see, at the end of the twenty-first century we decided to form a society based on a very simple principle—reverence for all life. No one could have imagined what a difference it would make! War was eliminated overnight, as was virtually all crime. Of course, disease went way down and the quality of our environment improved dramatically. Now we spend the money that used to go to warplanes and hospitals and jails on education, music, art and Tofumatics."


"They're advertised on our late-night TV," Eddie explained. "For $79.95 you can make tofu at home—in twelve exciting flavors."

"We've fared a lot better than our counterparts who took the other course and started Meat World 2100," Rumim went on. He shook his head sadly. "They've been plagued by disease, environmental contamination, and the continual unrest brought on by the struggle for domination over other creatures—non-human and human. They live in poverty now, and their numbers have almost died out..."

"But that's not true!" I said. "I just visited Meat World 2100. It was creepy, but it certainly seemed successful."

Rumim and Eddie laughed hysterically at that, and it was several seconds before they calmed down enough that I could ask what the joke was.

"That wasn't the real Meat World 2100," Rumim explained. "What you saw was their virtual reality cyberspace demo. They just made that to lure in new members!"

"Wow..." I thought about what might have been my fate. Thank goodness Eddie rescued me. "Well, I know I'm going to like living in Veggie World 2100," I said. I was already thinking about getting one of those Tofumatics.

Rumim shook his head.


"You can't stay here," he told me. "You have to go back to your life at the turn of the twenty-first century. The work all you vegetarians did then was necessary in laying the groundwork for Veggie World 2100. ...I'm sorry, but we still need you there."

"But what can I do? I'm just a bozo!"
I protested.

Rumim nodded. "We know. But everyone counts."

When I awoke I was flat on my back. "What a vivid dream!" I thought. Then I saw the two holographs pinned to my chest, and I sat up in a bolt. So, maybe it wasn't just a dream.

Suddenly I felt as though I had a lot of work to do, although I wasn't sure exactly what it was I should be doing. I've got to get started, I said to myself. After all, it's up to us—bozos included—to assure the great vegetarian future.