While visiting my parents in California’s verdant Central Valley this past weekend, my mother griped about the fact that each of her three children have strange dietary habits and that I, in particular, am difficult to feed.
My mother, who will be 81 years old next month, does not really understand why I am a vegan, regardless of the number of times that I’ve tried to explain it to her. Nor does she understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to such torture. She seems to have finally resigned herself (with a heavy sigh) to the fact that I do not eat animal products.
On this occasion, I explained that, when you come right down to it, I am very easy to feed. It took me a while to figure out how to feed myself effectively on the road, but now when I travel, I figure out what I am going to eat in advance and bring my food with me. Admittedly, it’s not as fun as the adventures of “who knows what little restaurant we’ll end up in and what unknown culinary treasures await our discovery?” However, it is a lot more fun than unleashing a stream of invective because we have ended up in a place where we can find nothing for me to eat and I am faced with potato chips and soda from a gas station or convenience store. It is hard to forget our trip to Whidbey Island in Washington State for a job interview last summer. It took a lot longer to get there than we had anticipated, and we were lucky that a Safeway was open late. I ended up eating French bread dipped in hummus in our hotel room. Not exactly a four-star dining experience, but it beats chips and soda any day. Then there was another more recent trip that involved asking the hotel night clerk to lend me a can opener so that I could open cans of spinach and garbanzos for dinner. Again, not what I had planned, but goodness gracious, was I ever glad to have them on hand. “What are you going to do with that?” my wife asked me once I had opened the cans. I held up a plastic fork from the hotel lobby by way of explanation. A lot of people can’t believe that I can make a meal out of cold veggies from a can. It works just fine in a pinch. And if you’re hungry enough, it starts to look positively gourmet.
I suppose Exhibit A would be our experience on Friday night. For weeks, we had anticipated dinner at DiCicco’s, one of our favorite Italian restaurants. It is conveniently located in the community in which my parents reside. When we arrived, we found the place packed and a charming accordion player entertaining the crowd with classics and Italian melodies (think “Volaré” and “Funiculi, Funiculà”). Unfortunately, we soon learned that the eggplant with mushrooms and peppers that I so enjoyed last time was not available. “But, but, we ordered it last time!” I sputtered to the waitress. “When was that?” she sneered. “I’ve been here ten years and that’s never been on the menu.” I offered that perhaps it was only available at lunch. She shook her head to disagree. “Maybe it was some kind of lunch special,” she suggested. I ended up ordering spaghetti with mushrooms, which, I am sorry to relate, was awful. Not only was the sauce so spicy that even jalapeño-loving Uncle Guacamole couldn’t stand it, but I had to pick out the cheese that was added without warning. My wife said her calzone wasn’t much better. We each ended up eating about three bites, paying the bill and leaving. We didn’t think complaining would have gotten us anywhere. Sometimes you just have to write things off. Too many people think vegans are just plain weirdoes.
Once again, hummus and bread saved me from going hungry. I truly appreciated that Save Mart stays open late. Not only that, but I felt as if I had hit the jackpot when 99-cent cartons of garlic flavored hummus were on display. They expired that day and the store wanted to get rid of them. Very happy to oblige, Save Mart.
Like mothers everywhere, mine feels a discomforting sense of defeat when she is unable to feed me properly. When I walk in and load up her refrigerator with almond milk, Earth Balance margarine, soy yogurt, Tofurky deli slices and yes, hummus, I think Mom feels that she has somehow failed.
On Saturday night, we all went out to dinner at a place where I knew I could obtain salad (no cheese, no croutons, no dressing) and vegetarian soup. My wife retired early, while I stayed up to watch movies with Mom. I am glad that I was able to keep her company for a few hours. I think she’s lonely. And where was my father, you may ask? Watching gory movies about murders on the little TV in the bedroom that they turned into an office. My father prizes solitude, seemingly above all else. I suppose my mother could join him, but I know that I wouldn’t, considering the visual fare that he considers appetizing. Is this what married life is like for octogenarians? Feeling like a widow even though your spouse lives with you? Perhaps I should be grateful that my state of health leaves me very little chance of reaching that age.
Later, I had a cup of tea and brought out my hummus and bread again. I bring my own bread because the types that my parents buy are nearly always dairy, and half the time it has been frozen for some time and then defrosted. My mother immediately began to fret again about feeding me. “How about some hash browned potatoes?” she offered. “Your sister brought some and left them in the freezer.” My mother produced the package. “There’s nothing in them,” she assured me. I removed my eyeglasses to peruse the ingredients listed in tiny printing. “Contains milk,” consumers are informed in bold type. No, thanks.
My sister, who is not a vegan, nevertheless shares my “have food, will travel” lifestyle. And boy howdy, does she travel. As a traveling sonographer, she spends about six to ten weeks at a hospital before moving on. She just returned to California from her second stint in Ohio. Sis had bariatric surgery a number of years ago and now has severe digestive problems. She is quite limited on what she feels she can eat, and she can’t eat much of it. This weekend, my mother related the story of Sis’ Valentine’s Day dinner. Apparently, her date took her to an upscale restaurant, where she proceeded to annoy the bejabbers out of him by asking the wait staff dozens of questions about the composition of food. She was particularly insistent that her food be prepared without bacon. After having to excuse herself three times to vomit, she discovered that her meal had, in fact, been prepared with bacon.
Despite striking out on the hash browns, my mother wasn’t about to give up her efforts to provide me with a late night meal. “How about some eggplant?” she asked. Now, eggplant is one of my staples, but my mother claims that she only knows one way to prepare it: Dredge it in bread crumbs and egg and fry it. If I want to eat eggplant in her home, either my wife or I have to prepare it (baked in the oven with tomato sauce, mushrooms and garlic — delicious!). “Are you going to bread it with egg?” I asked her. “No, thanks.”
“How about some canned corn?”
“No, thanks. I probably shouldn’t have more starch today.” As a Type II diabetic, I have to watch the starch, which our bodies so inconveniently turn directly into sugar.
I do feel sorry for my mother when she attempts to feed me. Perhaps one day she will learn that I plan my meals in advance, bring along the food I want, and eat it.
It’s really not that difficult. Particularly when the alternatives are potato chips, soda and cold vegetables out of cans.
A little lower, please… Just to the left… Ahhhh! (We spied this bovine using a rock as a scratching post out in the country near my parents’ home. Notice that this bull has been branded. Beef cattle are big business out on the rangeland. Go vegan!)