Let's make a deal
I rarely shopped at Wild Oats, but after Whole Foods bought the chain out, I've been finding new reasons to fall in love with the new store with each and every shopping trip. Lower prices tops the list, but it's their hot and cold bars that make me swoon. My husband and I are vegetarian, but we're bad vegetarians. I am not down with tofu; I am not seitan savvy; I cannot make brilliant bulgar-based meals; I do not even know how to pronounce quinoa. And my inability to follow even the most simplest of directions precludes any possibility of following recipes for such fabulous meals. I also do not keep track if I am getting enough protein or calcium or any of those other nutrients my mother still anxiously asks when I politely decline her breakfast casserole surprise.
I say this to preface why it is seeing vegan General Tso's chicken on Whole Foods' deli bar sent me squealing in delight, dropping my bags and speed dialing my husband.
General Tso's chicken was my dish before I went vegetarian and I haven't had anything like it since. Until now. The texture of Whole Foods' faux brand was a bit off, but overall it's pretty tasty and as close to the real thing as I'm going to get, unless, of course, my appetite ever triumphs over my morals. Whole Foods also has an awesome vegetarian meatloaf and vegan dal and a stellar curry tofu chicken salad. (And no, I am not a paid shill for Whole Foods nor have they promised me my body weight in their vegan General Tso's chicken for extolling all the ways in which I love the chain - but on the chance any Whole Foods execs are reading, let's talk).
My husband, the avid Slate reader, sent me a link to one of the most hilarious stories I've read in a good long while, "Meatless like me" by Taylor Clark. The story is a must read for anyone who's vegetarian/vegan and those meat-eaters who know and love 'em anyway. For those of you who happen to think us all to be a collective mass of tree-hugging, Kum ba ya-singing, hand-holding, Peta fanatics, think again. Vegetarians like food as much as any meat-eating foodies and some of us even like and miss the taste of meat; we just now don't eat foods that once had a face. I'm talking to you, Max & Erma's, and your burgers that come with fries while the charred frisbee you call a veggie burger is served with a side of limp lettuce.
Imagine a completely normal person with completely normal food cravings, someone who has a broad range of friends, enjoys a good time, is carbon-based, and so on. Now remove from this person's diet anything that once had eyes, and, wham!, you have yourself a vegetarian. Normal person, no previously ocular food, end of story.
It might surprise you, meat-eaters, that many veggies, including myself, find Peta to be as obnoxious as you do. Perhaps the antics of Peta radicals is why, whenever I offer up my vegetarianism as simple fact, I have apologetic carnivores falling all over their leather shoes disqualifying their dietary choices. Clark articulates it much better than I, though:
Which leads me to a vital point for friendly omnivore-herbivore relations. As you're enjoying that pork loin next to me, I am not silently judging you. I realize that anyone who has encountered the breed of smug vegetarian who says things like, "I can hear your lunch screaming," will find this tough to believe, but I'm honestly not out to convert you.
I've met my share of arrogant vegetarian evangelicals at the veggie potlucks I used to attend years ago and trust me, I 'm not one of them. Nope, not even close. There were the pure raw foodists, who looked disdainfully on the vegans for molesting potatoes to a sad, mushy pulp. The vegans, in turn, looked down on the vegetarians, as if we drank milk right off the cow's teat and like Rumpelstiltskin, stole the first-born eggs of every poor mother hen. You could always spot the vegetarians in this crowd, especially the recently converted: We were the ones standing about looking a bit bewildered, wondering where to set our macaroni salad with eggs and mayonnaise among the melee of raw, vegan, lacto-ovo, and ovo marked tables.
Stereotypes and misunderstandings will continue to be par for the course between herbivores and carnivores, but I just ask that we all follow the golden rule of dietary cuisine: I won't inform you in gory detail on how exactly that factory-farmed bovine you're biting into died or speculate if it might contain Mad Cow Disease, if you won't make jokes on how I can go pick my dinner from the flower bed or lecture me on how humans have naturally and genetically evolved to dine on flesh.