As if big ears, a girly voice, and a funny accent weren’t enough to make me self-conscious, a few years ago I became vegan. Due to Judeo-generational fears of ostracism and expulsion, I used to be a closeted vegan; but after learning from a student about self-compassion, I’ve decided to come out and share with the world that I’m weird and proud of it. Part of my emancipation involved notifying people who invite me for dinner that I’m vegan. I figured it would be good for my assertiveness training and it would prevent awkward moments.
With all the talk about health, diversity and what not, most hosts pretend to be sympathetic to my uniqueness, to the point of feigning some real interest in my lifestyle, often treating me like an anthropological artifact. Some will go out of their way to demonstrate their sensitivity to my culinary diversity, even if they secretly think I’m nuts. Hosts approach me to let me know that the chef has been informed I’m vegan, and the chef will often come out in person to reassure me that everything is ok.
With so much anticipation, I cannot help but salivate when I see the waiter marching towards me, only to discover he just served me whatever they give carnivores minus the meat. In most cases the leftovers happen to be white pasta or white rice, both of which spell constipation. It is bad enough they don’t give me vegetables, but they don’t give me enough food, period.
Is there a reason vegans should eat only one third of what carnivores consume? Instead of replacing the main part of the dish with some other food, you get nothing, zilch. They get a full plate, you get a third; which is usually the portion that will send you to the nearest Walgreens for laxatives. I have gotten a third of a plate in private residences, resorts, conferences, hotels, weddings, bar mitzvahs, functions, airplanes, luncheons, and brises. I call this phenomenon the misinformed host.
Recently I went to a world famous resort for three days of meetings. The folks there went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The first day I was there the chef came out to inquire about my preferences. I gave him a very long list of things I can eat, including quinoa. For the next three days and nine meals he served me quinoa.
For all the well-intentioned but misinformed hosts, here it goes: Vegans like variety and volume (V = V + V). We don’t like to starve ourselves, even if we look skinny to you; and we like tasty food, not overcooked broccoli or carrots reminiscent of flaccid organs. We like vegetables (other than white potatoes), and whole grains (not just quinoa; but also amaranth, brown rice, and spelt) and nuts and seeds and fruits and legumes (green lentils, red lentils, black lentils, yellow lentils, chickpeas, red beans, black beans, white beans), and NO, we do not eat cheese, or fish, or chicken. As for the vegetable soup with chicken stock, that is not vegan either.
Let me make it simple. Vegans do not eat anything that comes from animals. If you are going to serve us something that at some point had a mom and a dad, keep it for the carnivores. And for those of us who are healthy vegans, note that we do not eat white flour or white pasta or white bread or white rice. And please do not drench the three pieces of lettuce you serve us with ranch dressing because it has MILK and vegans do not consume dairy products and dairy means milk-based, as in coming from cows. We like flax seed oil instead of ranch. And when you do make us a salad, make it colorful with red peppers and beets and radishes and spinach and kale and seeds and broccoli and hearts of palm and artichokes and sprouts and black olives and chickpeas.
When your host is misinformed, you act graciously, exchange familiar glances with your wife, go through the well-rehearsed internal lamentation (“there you go again”), but eventually you do go home to your delicious split pea soup. What do you do though when you find yourself in a city where there is NOTHING for you to eat, like Newport News, Virginia; or all there is to eat is the same darn thing in all restaurants, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, where other than guacamole and beans all you can get is blinding sun and the color turquoise? There are 78 Mexican restaurants in a four block radius which serve exactly the same thing. Did it ever occur to them that some people may get a little tired of beans and guacamole? Somebody stands to gain a fortune by opening there a restaurant called NOT MEXICAN. Do they really think that all visitors want to eat just MEXICAN? Even Nashville had more options.
I have nothing against Albuquerque, just the meal planners. I know I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive and appreciate the unique customs of the place, but what about my diversity? Am I to bring a jar of Gerber to New Mexico? With my luck, the TSA would confiscate it and print my picture in all major newspapers.