Monday, May 12, 2008

COLUMN: Vegetarian

I will never be one of the cool kids.

Most obviously, I suppose I'm not a kid anymore, as much as I try to block the fact. But age aside, I still don't qualify for hipster status. I don't waste time cultivating any kind of image. I thoroughly enjoy some genuinely awful movies. I'm horribly, embarassingly unread.

But more than anything, there's one profound truth that will forever bar me from full acceptance to the I'm-Cooler-Than-You club: I love a good cheeseburger.

I definitely surround myself with artsy types -- it's just the clique I usually have the most in common with. My friends are authors, painters, musicians, and thinkers. Lately, though, another trend seems to be cropping up among my social circle. More and more often, I find myself surrounded by vegetarians. And for a lifelong carnivore like me, it's a learning experience.

For the most part, I'm sympathetic towards their cause. I get the vegetarian thing, I really do. I grew up in the country, and I can safely say that no cow ever did me harm. They're quite docile creatures, actually. I kinda like 'em. But it's NOT MY FAULT that I kinda like 'em with a sprinkling of garlic salt and some Heinz 57.

Just as it's not my fault that 80% of Earth's vegetables taste icky. When it comes to veggies, I'm a simple guy. Lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beans, potatoes -- all acceptable items to enter my mouth. Step outside of that comfort zone, though, and vegetables start gettin' freaky.

For a while, I tried joining one of those diet plans where they deliver a week's worth of pre-made meals to your door. I beamed with pro-active, healthy pride -- until I cracked open one of my first meals to find these strange plant critters staring back at me.

They looked like the sort of thing you'd find growing on Mars -- an alien life form seconds away from releasing an army of toxic spores. They were a sickly green color, and emitted a smell that clearly said, "Hi, Shane. We are absolutely, positively not for eating." Still, I'd thrown down a chunk of change and it wasn't going to waste.

That's how I ended up attempting to consume my first brussel sprout. The next week, I cancelled the meal plan. The smell turned out to be only a mild appetizer to the taste, which was kind of like rancid cabbage meeting rusty metal. Clearly, brussel sprouts were not designed to be a food product. At best, it is home decor, and kind of ugly decor at that.

I'm not designed for the vegetarian lifestyle, and never has that been more clear than this past weekend. The newspaper sent me out to Fairfield, IA to write a story on the Maharishi University of Management. It's an ultra-progressive school that believes one of the basic building blocks to a top education is the ancient practice of transcendental meditation. It's one of the hippest, most liberal schools in the world, and the fact that it's stuck in the middle of Iowa cornfield no-man's-land is amazing.

I had a blast in Fairfield except for one critical part of the day: lunch. As a guest of the school, we were graciously provided a huge luncheon spread, and our escort for the day had arranged for us to spend the lunch talking with the mayor of Fairfield. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the place, and I was totally psyched -- until I walked to the buffet.

That's right. It was a 100% organic vegan luncheon. There I stood, attempting to be an Important Journalist Dude with no less than the mayor of the whole darn town in tow, and I was staring at this cacophony of wholly nutritious evil. I looked for ANYTHING I thought I could stomach. Ah, a potato, sign me up. And rice -- hey, I can do rice. But no, the rice had friends - odd black and white bean-curd looking things mixed in, and did I smell curry? Eww -- I'd better take a pass. I spied some little square patties at the end of the line that looked to be some kind of bread pudding or pancake, that'd work.

I returned to my seat and the mayor was eager to talk up the town. As we listened, I absent-mindedly forked off a bite of this pancake patty and put it in my mouth. DANGER! This was no pancake. It was kinda slimy. It didn't have a taste, per se. More like an aftertaste, and not a good one at that. What WAS this stuff? As I tried to focus on the mayor, my mind kept flashing to scenes from Soylent Green. Yet I had to eat most of it. I had to be appreciative -- this was a free meal, and I bet somebody had to work hard at making these mushy, gelatinous, nausea-squares.

Eventually, the mayor excused himself and I spun to my colleague. "What the (expletive) have I been eating?" I whispered.

"Tofu," he replied. "And shut up. It's good."

THIS is tofu? This is the modern vegan's idea of a tasty protein? Are you KIDDING me? Well, cross this off my list of life experiences. I ate tofu, and despite possibly being haunted by its evil slimy grossness for the rest of time, I suppose I lived.

The cool kids can keep their tofu. And if you're a fan of the stuff, sorry if I've caused you to bristle. Look on the bright side: one day you'll likely be able to dance the Vegan Shuffle on my cholesterol-laden grave. Me? I sought solace the only place I could -- the drive-thru window of McDonalds.

1 comment:

Nikki & David Goldbeck said...

Check out "21 Reasons to Eat Like a Vegetarian" on