Thursday, July 23, 2009

Miscellaneous Ramblings

This column isn't about anything at all. (Are they ever?) It's just a collection of miscellaneous junk that has been taking up space in my brain (limited capacity you know—something's got to go) for the longest time. There are some questions here (mostly rhetorical) and, of course, a few unenlightened observations. None of them rated a whole column, but I'll feel better getting them off my chest, so here goes.

  1. I've been annoyed for years that the dairy industry gets away with blatantly lying about the fat content of its products ("2%" milk is really about 34% calories from fat), but I'm really disappointed that the producers of plant-based milks (soy, rice almond, etc.) use the same deception. It doesn't stop there, either. I recently read the label of a "fat free" salad dressing from one of the health food companies and found that 25% of its calories were from fat. That's fat free? Can't these people make money without lying to their customers?
  2. And isn't it also annoying that for whatever reason (economies of scale, government support) we have to pay more for those plant-based milks than for cow's milk, when in reality they have to be much simpler and cheaper to produce?
  3. Speaking of finances, how come restaurants never give us vegetarians a discount when we ask them to exclude the meat and/or dairy ingredients from their meals? After all, when we order the "linguini with shrimp marinara, hold the shrimp," we're saving them big bucks. Couldn't they at least offer to throw on a few artichoke hearts?
  4. Wouldn't it be nice if there was at least one kind of universally-accepted vegan sandwich that we vegetarians could always count on? Something that we know we could find on the menu at every sandwich shop, deli or truck stop we might walk into? Is that too much to ask? It would make life much easier for us when we're looking for lunch in, say, Jersey City or the suburbs of Des Moines. We're not fussy--a black bean burger or hummus sandwich would do just fine. (No, peanut butter and jelly doesn't count!)
  5. Does the Department of Agriculture ("DOA") have an obscure regulation somewhere mandating that all prepared foods must have at least one dairy product in them somewhere, even if totally unnecessary? Does someone out there get some kind of perverse pleasure from thinking about us weird vegetarians perusing the ingredients lists on the sides of packages, knowing that we'll invariably find "whey," or "non-fat milk solids" or "caseinate" listed as the 39th item down? (Sure, it's better not to eat prepared foods anyway, but I'm not always up for baking my own crackers.)
  6. Three cheers for all the folks with lactose intolerance! They probably outnumber vegans a dozen to one, and they create most of the demand for what few truly non-dairy products we can find on our smiling grocers' shelves.
  7. What would happen if basketball players spit through the whole game the way baseball players do?
  8. It occurs to me that, despite the availability of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary in the local paper every day, most people still believe meat and dairy products are good for them (at least they believe the good stuff outweighs the bad), and that these "foods" are necessary in their diets. Consider a meat eater and a vegetarian eating side-by-side. Each of them looks over and makes a mental assessment of the other's meal...

    Meat-eater: A person can't live on that. My dinner is healthier.

    Vegetarian: This person is committing suicide. If he lives 'til dessert it will be a miracle.

  9. At the observation of the most minor health imperfection (a cough, a sniffle, a heart attack), meat eaters simply cannot resist teasing us vegetarians with the line: "If you ate a good steak once in a while you'd be healthier." I know they are being very witty, but the next time I hear this I'm going to scream. I think if I ever did "eat a good steak" I'd certainly be dead.
  10. Speaking of which, it is a terrible burden on us vegetarians to represent our minority to the rest of the world. We have to be healthy and vivacious all the time. Sometimes I just don't feel like it.
  11. Yesterday I noticed the slogan on the front of my local health-food grocery. It said: Helping you to make healthy choices. I wish it said: Helping you to make ethical choices.

    There. That's it— that's all I have to say. I feel a lot better now.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

So Much for Being a Vegetarian… It was Nice While it Lasted

I went off my vegetarian diet yesterday. Yes, it's true. I ate an animal. One that was alive—at least until I ate it. Now it's dead, and I feel bad, in more ways than one. It wasn't even tasty.

It's not that I intended to become a meat-eater again, mind you. It was just something that happened. I was in the park at the time, riding laps on my bicycle. There's one place where the road goes uphill, and I was gasping for breath, trying to keep up my speed against a stiff headwind. That was when this unfortunate creature, whatever it may have been, apparently mistook my open mouth for an inviting cave, and flew right in.

Now, you'd think that at the point the bug entered my mouth it would have realized its mistake and made a quick exit. ("Uh-oh, those stalactites and stalagmites look strangely like teeth! Mayhaps this isn't a cave after all!") But instead, he or she just compounded the problem by making a bee-line (yeah, I suppose it could have been a bee) down my throat. At that point all hope was lost.

I tried to keep from swallowing the poor thing, of course. I coughed and I spit (much to the chagrin of the other bike riders passing by), and I probably looked like I was having convulsions right there on my bicycle. But no matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of that "bug-in-the-throat" feeling. As a matter of fact, I swear I can still feel it the next day. Maybe that's the kind of psychological damage that meat-eating causes!

Before yesterday, I had been a vegetarian for almost 30 years. (Thirty years?! Is that possible? I must have been a very small child when I started.) Now all of that is history, and I feel deceitful even using the "V" word. I feel like all of those people who say they're vegetarian, but what they really mean is, "I've been vegetarian ever since I finished breakfast, and I intend to stay vegetarian right up until lunch." I used to make fun of those people, and now I am one.

If I was going to end my vegetarian diet I suppose I could have picked more pleasurable ways of doing it. I could have eaten lobster dripping in butter, or a greasy cheesesteak sub, or any one of a dozen things I loved back in my meat-eating days. But to tell you the truth, I have no desire for any of those things anymore. They probably would have grossed me out even more than eating that bug. At least the bug was small. At least I didn't get sick.

Of course it's tempting to rationalize my way out of this thing entirely. Last night my neighbor's daughter tried to cheer me up. "You don't know it was a bug," she said with the kind of optimism 14-year-olds often display. "It could have been a piece of a plant." Yeah, I thought for a second, maybe something just fell off of a tree and floated down into my mouth. Then I realized how unlikely that was. No, whatever I ate felt like it was going from point A to point B with a purpose when I got in its way. If it wasn't a bug exploring a cave, it was probably a bug intent on committing hara-kiri in the back of my throat.

So now I have to start all over again. Here's what I'm going to tell people: I'm a new vegetarian. I've been a vegetarian for almost 24 hours now, and I'm proud of myself. I intend to stay a vegetarian too. …At least until the next Oriental restaurant I eat at slips chicken broth into the sauce or hides a piece of shrimp in the "vegetable" spring roll. …At least until some well-meaning friend who doesn't read labels serves me something with gelatin in it. …At least until my next bike ride in the park.