Originally published in The Compass Magazine, May 2008:
My Beef with Vegetarians
It’s a tough life being engaged to a Vegetarian. I never thought I’d be in such a situation – waiting for my fiancée to finish ordering her “Texas Roadhouse BBQ burger with extra Cheddar cheese, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and ‘can you take out the meat and just put extra lettuce in, please?’” Potential 5-star meals drop to a measly 2-star affair when the main course protein is removed. It’s also a great feeling when the incredulous server at L.A.’s finest steakhouse looks at me in disbelief asking why I’d bring a nice vegetarian girl to a chophouse. To me, vegetarianism is a land of mashed potatoes, French fries, bread, soups and salads. Some call it Naturalist dining, others say it’s the true-Organic way; call it what you will, but there is nothing natural about soybean curd processed to look like a chicken nugget. It’s laughable the extent to which Veggie-meat manufacturers will go to produce artificial food that attempts to look, smell and taste like the real thing – at least it looks real. I suppose, “to each, his own” very readily applies to this topic, but this is not an essay on taste or preference.
In this fascinating issue about vegetarianism I’d like to raise two simple questions and let the discussions rage:
1) Why can’t vegetarians follow the rule of moderation with meat?
“Well, because they are vegetarians.” Brilliant! It is my assertion that the “Vegetarian” title leads to a nonnegotiable state of living that unfairly rejects all things un-veggie. I may be a voracious carnivore, but even still, I am vegetarian for about 22-hours-a-day; I just happen to regularly break my vegetarianism (v-ism) around 12:00 and 6:00 PM everyday. Is that so wrong? The notion of all-or-nothing v-ism is a source of great curiosity to me. In life, what role do I truly embody all-day everyday? Other than being a faithful [future] spouse, I can’t think of much else. Job titles are a 9-5 affair, church roles are relegated to weekends, and sports team affiliations are a more of a mindset than a lifestyle. It seems some are bound to the title more than the principle of healthy living and I call them out: Shallow Vegetarians come forth. Many of the “Vegetarians” I know crave meat; I know this because they tell me. Does a rabbit crave buffalo wings? Do cows dream of eating brontosaurus? I guess we’ll never know the true heart and intention behind a creature’s eating habits. I used to wonder why my Vegetarian friends frequently crave Buffalo wings. Some have gone their entire lives without the taste of animal flesh on their tongues and yet, Wings and Kalbi are probably the most common breaking points for Vegetarian “backsliders.” Curious as to why? Because they are amazingly delicious - don’t feel guilty, feel good. Indulge once in a while and resume your v-ism after dinner, I’ll still tell everyone you’re vegetarian.
2) Why do Vegetarians always feel the need to convert others to vegetarianism and why are they so excited when this happens?
I followed the doctrine of all-or-nothing vegetarianism for about 6 months when I was in middle school after being convinced by several vegetarian role models (Vege-Roles) that meat was unhealthy and evil (they are no longer my role models for several reasons, the sum of which is their beliefs about meat). The elation that poured out of their hearts upon my decision to give my life to Vegetarianism is unparalleled to this day. Nobody has ever been happier or more excited for me than my Vege-Roles the day I ate my last cheeseburger. Ironically, I backslid on a cheeseburger six months later, and have been backsliding ever since – my heels are numb at this point. But the start of my vegetarianism was like entry into an exclusive club of like-minded people, each with fascinating stories. Some had been vegetarian since birth and raised in the life, others had given up a meat-lovers diet and sacrificed many a barbecue in the name of v-ism. Oddly enough, I found myself touting the benefits of vegetarianism to my friends too. I thought I felt lighter and cleaner, more alert even ( although I soon realized I was on edge due to my frequent cravings). Nonetheless, I did my best to convert others, only to give-in to the other side just a few months later. My breaking point came after meeting a vegan, she put my shallow vegetarianism a shame: “Eggs? You eat eggs?!”. A vegetarian can never win.
It is ultimately a question of principle or preference? I lack the authority to cite our church’s well-publicized history with dietary laws and “the health message,” and so, once again, I find myself only able and willing to speak for myself. In my opinion, if I may speak on my behalf, meat is awesome.
I can say with a degree of certainty that I will probably never be a 24/7/365 vegetarian. It’s a needlessly difficult lifestyle for me, and meat is much too awesome. Veggie-meat is gag-inducing for me at times when I think of the poor soybeans getting plucked from the ground and emulsified with wheat gluten to make “Sam’s Chik’N.” As long as I am a responsible consumer and eat based on healthy, balanced principles, isn’t that good enough?
In any case, if I am what I eat, I’d rather be the real thing than a fake anyway.