My adult niece, who has been staying with us for a few days, attached an interesting label to me today. She called me a vegan.
Immediately, my wife sought confirmation. “Are you a vegan now?” she called out to me from the next room.
I paused for a few beats before answering this one. Have I really crossed that line?
“Semi-vegan,” I called out in response.
“He’ll eat an egg once in a while,” she explained to my niece.
I don’t really eat eggs anymore (I love the way the girl responding to Andrew Jones in Violet’s Veg*n e-comics refers to them as “things that come out of chickens’ butts”), but I must be honest and admit that I did eat an omelette to avoid looking totally foolish that time my boss took me out to lunch at a place that never heard of vegetarians, much less vegans. Funny how I don’t mind sharing my vegan tendencies with all the world in this forum, but I did not feel comfortable explaining to my boss about the humane treatment of animals and what meat processing is doing to our environment. Hmm, perhaps I should have discussed the debeaking of hens or maybe I could have gotten graphic about how male chicks are often ground up into pet food while they are still alive. I’ll hazard a guess that she might have lost her appetite at that point.
Now that I am unemployed and have time to click around the blogosphere, I accidentally discovered that Tuesday was World Vegetarian Day. I hadn’t a clue. So perhaps this is as auspicious a time as any to “come out.”
Yes, I am a vegan. Sort of.
I shop carefully and am fairly rigorous about what I eat at home. Having grown up kosher, I am no stranger to reading product labels. And I am slowly learning that many products touted as “vegetarian” or that have “veggie” in their cutesy names are not even close to being vegan.
For my protein needs, I am most grateful for those of Boca’s burgers and “chicken” patties and Yves’ textured vegetable protein (TVP) products (particularly their “deli slices”) that are vegan. My wife humors me and regularly prepares some of my favorite meals, such as beefless stew, roasted vegetables, tofu with fried onions, and a zillion different potato dishes. Thanks to her keen eye in the supermarket, I recently discovered tempeh and have found that I enjoy it despite its decidedly funky flavor.
Like most of my choices in life, however, I try to remain as low-key as possible about my conversion to veganism. If my wife surprises me with one of those tiny sugar-free blueberry pies, or if I am offered a slice of cake at a family birthday party, I don’t say no even though those items certainly contain dairy products. And when my mother makes potato lakes for Hanukkah next month, I am not going to turn up my nose even though I know that an egg went into the batter. I figure that if I stand for kindness to animals, the least I can do is manage kindness toward the humans whom I love.
We dine out often, which I am finding comes with certain challenges. Let’s face it: You don’t really know what restaurants put in your food. You certainly can ask, but you’re not likely to obtain very accurate answers from a clueless server or a cook that uses a lot of pre-packaged ingredients. Just because the restaurant doesn’t add any meat or dairy products to the dish you are thinking about ordering doesn’t mean that none of the prepared ingredients are similarly endowed.
When we are on the road, I will often settle for a veggie burger dressed up with as much produce as possible at chains like Denny’s, Chili’s, Applebee’s or even Burger King. Of those mentioned, only Applebee’s has a veggie burger that is vegan, and even then only if you substitute a Boca burger. There is always the plain salad and plain baked potato option, but that can get boring after a while if you travel a lot. Even the bread or rolls that the restaurant brings to your table — almost certainly made with dairy products. The only way around it all is to bring your own food in an ice chest. Again, not too much fun, and guaranteed to peg you as a party pooper and an insufferable bore.
So I suppose “semi-vegan” really is the best label to describe my eating habits. I’m vegan for the most part, but I’m definitely not ascetic about it. I’m as vegan as I wanna be.