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!"