Where's the Beef?

The author might have forgotten why she's a vegetarian—but don't ask her to quit now

In my lame defense, it's very hard to be a girl and say you won't eat something. Refuse one plate of bacon-wrapped pork rinds and you're an anorexic. Accept them and you're on Atkins. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and you're bulimic. Best to keep perfectly still and bring an IV of fluids with you to dinner.

I tell other vegetarians that I started eating sushi because I developed an iron deficiency. This is a total lie. But it's a lie that works. Contrary to popular belief, vegetarians aren't holistic Nazis or New Yorker cartoons. They will accept medical betrayal. What they won't accept is that I got lazy, that I decided fish were yummy and didn't have nervous systems complex enough to register pain, that Edward Furlong is a freak for trying to free the lobsters and David Foster Wallace thinks too hard about our acquaintances of the sea.

So what's to become of me now? Like anything that begins on the fringe, vegetarianism is dominated by older adherents who will kick you out of the veggie club faster than you can say "grilled vegetable terrine." With raw and organic food available in every zip code, we have it easy compared to them. Back in their day they had to walk five miles, uphill both ways, until their Birkenstocks were bloody, just to get a slice of polenta. They are quick to judge and would rather break bread with a veal eater than a nouveau fad vegetarian. I eat with the fishes so life is easy for me all of a sudden. Thus I have kept my mouth shut about my dirty sushi secret until now.

'I tell other vegetarians that I started eating sushi because I developed an iron deficiency. This is a total lie.'
photo: Staci Schwartz
'I tell other vegetarians that I started eating sushi because I developed an iron deficiency. This is a total lie.'

The truth is I'm not particularly sure why I don't eat meat anymore. Any well-educated carnivore could easily thrash me in a debate on the subject—but not dissuade me. Meat (cows, pigs, Bambi) is the final frontier and I can't bring myself to cross it. Alas, I will continue to attend weddings where I have to politely pull the waiter aside and explain my situation. Without fail the exact same plate returns 10 minutes later—a couple of string beans rolling in the juicy outline of a steak. Yes, my proclivity for the chickpea has staying power. And why? Habit. Habit and a penchant for snarky anti-carnivore comebacks.

Except now I have to be careful not to make them in the company of hardcore vegetarians. I still consider myself a vegetarian, but after this little confession the tofu mafia will cast me out. It's more acceptable to tailor your own religion (see this first-date classic: "I don't believe in God, but I do believe in something bigger than 'us' ") than it is to tailor your own vegetarianism. My one hope is that if vegetarianism really is some urban faith, this is me throwing my hearts and my palms together and renewing my vows to vegetables. The words are secondary to the sentiment. Praise be to wheatgrass. Artichoke me with okra and baptize me in beet juice. Juices saves.

That's what counts, right? It better be . . . or else my fellow vegetarians will eat me alive for it.

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