Saying the Wrong Thing (Vegan Edition)

My 19 year old niece recently spent a month trying on vegetarianism for size.  She even flirted with vegan meals a bit, as she shares my opposition to the murder of animals for our gustatory pleasure.

I took the opportunity to chat with her about nutrition and menus when we both attended a family event several weeks ago.  On that occasion, I shared a vegan “cheeseburger” with her (Boca burger with melted soy cheese) and left her with the remainder of my package of fake cheese.  My intent was to convey the message that one can enjoy many tasty dishes that do not include the rotting flesh of dead animals.  But I tried not to sugarcoat things.  Vegans do need to ensure that they are consuming sufficient protein rather than succumbing to the temptation to carbo-load all the time.  I also explained about the importance of including yellow and orange vegetables in one’s diet for Vitamin A, as well as citrus fruits for Vitamin C and leafy greens for iron.  I shared that I have a tendency to keep lists in my phone, both to ensure that the right items are purchased during our trips to the grocery store and to monitor my dietary balance.

I find it fairly easy to discuss the cruelty of factory farms, the horrors inflicted on chickens and the way that bulls are killed and butchered.  I have no problem holding forth on vegan food options, nutrition and menus.  But there are other things that I have a much more difficult time talking about.  I refer to the “social” aspects of veganism.  The truth is that, even at my age, I still have a lot to learn about human relations.  How should I say this?  Manners have never been my strong point; I tend to put things bluntly to the point that many find me inconsiderate and even downright rude.  I don’t believe that my coarse demeanor quite rises to the level of, say, Donald Trump, but I have had my moments.  I have been compelled to issue many apologies in the course of my life.  So when I became a vegan nearly three years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that the dangers of social gaffes lurk around every corner.

How do I refuse a cookie?  You’d think “no, thank you” would be sufficient, but some folks won’t let it alone.  Others think you’re just being a snob.  Yes, I know you’ve seen me eating cookies, but mine don’t contain animal products.

How do you tell someone that you are unable to eat a single thing that is being served?  Possible responses include:

  • “It looks lovely, but I’m really full. I just ate a little while ago.”
  • “I’m diabetic, so I have to be really careful. I’ve already maxed out my starches and fats for the day.”
  • Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t know that I’m kosher. I’d really enjoy a cup of tea, though.”

I find that successful vegan eating away from home is all in the planning.  You can check restaurant menus online in advance.  You can warn your hosts well before showing up at their homes.  You can make sure to eat before you go or after you leave, or you can prepare your own food and bring it along.  This last option, as convenient as it is, can be problematic as well.  I have learned through painful experience that some take offense when you show up with a Gladware container of tofu and broccoli and ask to use the microwave.  It’s a minefield even for the socially savvy.  For someone like myself, however, eating with others is clearly a losing proposition.  What I must do is try to keep my mouth shut, and not just because of the food being served.  I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that whatever I say is likely to be the wrong thing.  And no matter how disgusting I find the food being consumed by others, I am nearly always better off keeping my opinions to myself.

Vegans remain a tiny minority in the United States, a situation that is not likely to change for the foreseeable future.  My dad, now in his 80s, admits that he never heard the word “vegan” until about ten years ago.  Fortunately, awareness of the vegan movement is increasing.  While this is, overall, a positive development, it has also given rise to an increase in deprecatory comments.  For example, my wife recently showed me a meme on Facebook that asked whether the mouth-watering sensation one gets upon smelling steak on the grill is similar to the sensation experienced by vegans upon smelling a freshly mowed lawn.  So excuse me for a moment while I head outside to graze.

Okay, I’m back.  Baaaa.  I mean, “yummy!”

I have no clue how to fairly address this conundrum with my niece.  I do want her to know what to expect, but I don’t want her to run away screaming.  She’s already experienced a bit of vegan social woe when she clearly expressed her expectation that her family provide her with vegetarian meals. Umm…

I hate to say this, dear one, but this is not how to ingratiate yourself to those closest to you.  It’s a cruel, hard world and it’s every vegan for herself.  You have a job, you draw a paycheck, so you can get what you need when you visit the grocery store.  Make lists.  Plan menus.  It’s really not that hard.

For such things to come out of my mouth is very much in keeping with the rudeness that seems to have become my personal hallmark.  I need to heed the adage about not judging until I walk a mile in another’s moccasins.  It’s easy to say “take care of your own needs and don’t expect anything of others” when you earn a good salary and have a wife who is willing to do the shopping.  It’s not so easy when you work part-time making FA wages and have a three year old to take care of.  Not to mention the fact that, when you’re 19, you want to eat fast food like the rest of your friends do and you don’t want to have to think about your upcoming meals.  You want to enjoy the convenience of eating what’s readily available, what’s cheap, what everyone else is eating.  You don’t want to have to explain your food choices and your philosophy to anyone.  You want to fit in.

The other day my wife told me about a phone call she received from my niece.  “I did a bad thing,” my niece prefaced her remarks, before admitting that she was unable to resist an egg sandwich at Starbucks.  My kind, gentle wife very patiently explained that it’s not the end of the world and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating an egg once in a while.  “Yes, but there was bacon on top of it,” my niece added.

I had to laugh.  If I’m to be honest, I have to admit that I was more relieved than disappointed.  Being a vegan is a tough row to hoe, and all the more so when you’ve been raised eating meat at almost every meal.  I had a head start in that I grew up with a mother who kept kosher and have never tasted bacon.  Kosher meat is expensive and it just wasn’t a big thing with us.  So when I stopped eating meat 26 years ago, it wasn’t the type of sea change that it would be for my niece.

A few nights ago, my niece and her little one were visiting us in our tiny rented house at dinnertime.  I was chopping onions and tomatoes to prepare vegan nachos while everyone else was enjoying microwaved pepperoni Hot Pockets.

“I didn’t like the way eating vegetarian made me feel,” my niece told me as she was heading home.

“It’s not about eating meat,” I reminded her.  “It’s about getting enough protein.”

Leave it to me to say the wrong thing again.  It’s the story of my life.

 

Losing the Game of Body Poker

My aging body has upped the ante lately, and this is one pot that I may not be able to win. I like this metaphor because, some days, it really does feel like a high-stakes game of poker. I get the feeling that this time my body may not be bluffing.

I am hobbling around with a nasty infection in my foot, gobbling antibiotics like candy and praying this disgusting thing resolves itself sometime soon. I try to stay off the foot as much as possible, which has given me a new appreciation for the importance of being able to walk. Meanwhile, my nightmares are populated with scenes of losing the foot, dying during surgery, being relegated to life in a wheelchair, being fitted with a prosthesis.

I thank God that I have been blessed with a wonderful wife who puts up with me even in bad times. She runs around taking care of everything while I try not to act like a cripple (which I have not done very successfully).

I have lost trust in my new Kaiser doctor, as she diagnosed athlete’s foot when I first came in to the office with this problem. I tried to tell her that I’ve had plenty of athlete’s foot and this definitely is not it. She disagreed and prescribed some ointment that, of course, did nothing to help a bacterial problem. Two weeks later, I show up in her office again to demand answers. My foot looks like a picture in a medical textbook. I remember seeing a photo that looked just like this back in the days when I worked for a drug company. I recall being grossed out then, and now it is me! I cannot shake this dread feeling that I am going to end up in the hospital and that this will all come to a bad end.

As if that weren’t enough, the doctor looked at my blood tests and diagnosed me with celiac disease. This means I am now on a gluten-free diet. Okay, stop for a minute and imagine a vegan on a gluten-free diet. This is a disaster!

As it turns out, nearly all my vegan convenience food (Boca burgers, veggie dogs, bean burritos, “deli slices”) are full of wheat gluten. This pretty much limits my protein sources to tofu and beans.

I really don’t know that I can hack it. Sure, if you look around online, you can find gluten-free vegan recipes. I even found one for scrumptious looking cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting. But the recipe requires me to start by roasting some beets!! Um, I don’t cook and I don’t plan to start now. This is not going to work for me.

So what are the alternatives? I can stick to mostly vegetables, supplementing them with tofu and canned beans. Or I can abandon veganism entirely and revert to my ovo-lacto vegetarian ways. As tempting as the latter course of action may be, I will start by trying the former. Like everything else in life, I will have to figure it out as I go along.

Now if only this damned foot would heal!

The Protein Question

The Vegan Files

One of my coworkers, the most friendly, helpful guy you could hope to know (and a computer whiz, to boot), recently mentioned that he is on insulin but is still having difficulty keeping his Type 2 diabetes under control.  I was a bit surprised, as he is tall, exercises (not only goes to the gym but also has a job that keeps him running around our building like a banshee all day) and is not morbidly obese like me.  I related that I’ve had reasonable success at controlling my blood sugar since I went vegan a little more than two years ago.

He seemed busy, but I spent a minute or two explaining about the vegan diet before he had to run off to put out the next fire at work.  Funny thing is that there is no one “vegan diet.”  Every vegan eats differently.  The baseline that most of us have common is that we do not eat animal products.  This includes a ban on meat, fish and seafood, dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.), eggs or honey.

As most Type 2 diabetics know, the finest foods in life are starches.  I knew that even in my carnivore days.  When you have to watch your carbs, it is easy to dream about bread, potatoes, bread, pasta, bread, cereal, bread, bagels, croissants and tortillas.  Did I mention bread?

Most of these beloved starches are vegan (although you always have to watch the ingredients on the labels of commercially prepared products).  But those of us who are both vegan and diabetic are faced with a double challenge.  It is easy for vegans who eat on the run to overdo it on the starches, a disaster if you’re a Type 2 diabetic.

So I’m not surprised that among the most common questions that I’m asked about my vegan diet is how I get my protein.  “You don’t even eat eggs?” my coworker asked me.  I know where he’s coming from.  As I’ve been blessed with naturally low cholesterol, I used to eat a lot of eggs.  If I had a boiled egg (or two) for a snack, at least I didn’t have to add it to the carbohydrate tally for the day on my diabetic diet.  A single egg gives you 6 grams of protein, so egg lovers who go vegan will likely need to search for a replacement source of protein.

Then again, maybe not.

Don’t ask me how much protein you should consume each day.  I have no idea.  For one thing, it’s an individualized thing in that it supposedly depends on your body weight and how much you exercise.  For another, there appears to be little consensus among the medical community regarding how much protein we need.  Lots of folks out there wag their fingers at meat-loving Americans, warning that we’re getting too much protein and that this can cause us to gain unhealthy amounts of weight and even result in kidney disease.  Then there are others who believe that we don’t get enough protein and would, in fact, do better to indulge in more as a replacement for a lot of the refined sugars and starches that Americans are so enamored with.  All in all, however, I believe we’re probably better off dumping the excess carbs and replacing them with vegetables (both the green and orange varieties).

Starch does have its place, however, even for vegan Type 2s.  It’s a matter of achieving balance, which I grant is not the easiest thing when you spend your life running hither and yon.  I am definitely not a good role model in the area of balance, as I seem to have developed a potato fetish on a scale that would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  As far as I’m concerned, a day without potatoes is like a day without sunshine.  If I don’t have my baked potato, I get positively grumpy.  But you know what?  A baked potato (if it’s not a giant one) tends to have about 90 to 110 calories.  You could do worse.  And starches do fill you up, which can leave you less hungry for the junk food that is forever calling my name.

So I let my coworker know that, while carnivores may have concerns about eating too much protein, vegans (particularly diabetics) have to be concerned about eating too much starch.  Making a point to eat protein at one meal each day is quite sufficient for many of us.  I ticked off a list of some common vegan protein sources:

  • tofu
  • seitan
  • beans and legumes (including hummus)
  • nuts
  • soy milk
  • commercially prepared vegan products

In this last category I include items such as vegan burger patties (Boca burgers, for example) and veggie dogs, vegan “lunch meat” (my favorites are Yves “bologna” and Tofurky’s “oven roasted turkey”) and vegan frozen items (my favorites are Gardein’s “fish,“ “chicken” and “meatballs” and Amy’s bean burritos).  These convenience foods are probably not as healthful as whole foods such as beans and legumes, but they taste great and I never have to worry about a quick protein source to throw in my bag.  A few minutes in the microwave at work and lunch is served!

Of course, protein choices have to be modified to personal preferences.  For example, I happen to detest seitan (sprouted soy), which, at least to me, tastes like dirt.  I rarely drink soy milk, as I prefer almond milk, which has very little protein (but is wonderful in a cup of hot Earl Grey).  I do, however, enjoy tofu and beans, particularly chick peas (which here in California are popularly known as garbanzos).  Everyone has to come up with the mix that works for them.  It’s particularly tough for those transitioning from a meat-eating lifestyle, because many of these products may be totally foreign to them.

It’s also worthwhile to bear in mind that many foods that you already eat contain protein that you might not be aware of.  A packet of instant oatmeal, for example, which I always think of as a starch, typically contains 3 grams of protein.  If you throw two of those in a bowl with some hot water in the morning, you have the same amount of protein as there is in an egg.

The bottom line is that protein is not at all difficult for vegans to come by, particularly with all the commercial products available on supermarket shelves these days.

I just hope that my coworker decides to give it a try.

 

Type 2 Vegan

The Vegan Files

My octogenarian mother is appalled at my strange eating habits, which is how she characterizes my vegan diet.  More times than I can count she has asked me why I feel I have to “do this.”

“It can’t be for your health,” she’ll offer, a reference to the fact that I am obese and have been so since childhood.  The implication is that, if I wanted to improve my health, I’d lose weight, not go vegan.

The truth, however, is that my health has improved since I went vegan a bit over two years ago.  You see, like a few million of us out there, I have Type 2 diabetes.  While this is an equal opportunity malady, it hits particularly hard on those of us with major weight problems.

It has now been almost exactly 30 years since I was first diagnosed.  Initially, I ignored the problem and, surprise, surprise, it did not go away.  Eventually, I ended up with a nasty case of cellulitis in one of my gigantic legs.  As we’ve nothing better to do, let’s spend some time at the local hospital, shall we?

That’s when I was told “you’re in big trouble, buddy.”  I have been on a series of glucose lowering medications ever since, in addition to more pills to try to keep my blood pressure within reason.

My visit with the nutritionist at the hospital was not pretty.  If you want to see a grown man cry, just show him the proper portion size of, um, anything.

You mean I can only eat that tiny piece of cheese and that’s a serving of protein??!!  I blubbered like an infant.  This was truly the end of the world.

“How can this be happening to me?” I thought.  After all, my diet is nowhere near as bad as some people’s.  True, I have a penchant for ice cream and chocolate, but I don’t chow down on chips and pretzels and Ho-Hos in front of the computer.  Not only that, but I had been a pescatarian for the past seven years.  That means that I ate fish, but no meat or poultry.  So you can imagine how I felt when a doctor tried to make me feel better by telling me “Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you can’t go have a cheeseburger once in a while.”  It’s a good thing I’m not a violent person.

I started out counting my starches, my proteins, my fruit, my milk.  No more than six starches a day.  That was the hardest part of all.  Every morning, my first thought when I woke up was “What can I eat today?”

Vegetables were essentially “free” in that I could eat as many as I wanted, within reason.  Of course, starchy vegetables (the only kind I really liked) didn’t count.  I’d eat a few ounces of tuna and a slice of bread with a salad in the morning (I never cared for cereal and thought it was a waste of my starch allocation).  I’d take a sandwich and another salad to work along with a piece of fruit.  For a while, I was as good as gold, and I even lost a bit of weight.  But I didn’t like to exercise and I figured out creative ways of “cheating” on my prescribed diet and convincing myself that it was okay.

But it wasn’t okay, and my blood sugar got way out of control in just a few years.  The doctors started discussing having me inject insulin, but were afraid that I’d only end up gaining more weight.  I ended up taking more and more oral medication, felt depressed about it and used the only method I knew of making myself feel better — eating even more.

Then, at the age of ten, one of my nieces may have accidentally saved my life.  She asked me why I still ate fish if I truly believed that all animals had the same right to a full life that we humans do.  She had called my bluff.

I knew immediately that she was right, and all the more after I read about what the atrocities committed by commercial fishermen.  I knew I’d have to go vegan one way or other.  But it wasn’t the prospect of giving up my beloved fish that bothered me half as much as the thought of no longer having eggs, cheese and milk.  As I already did not eat meat, I indulged in a great deal of dairy products.

First, I tried going vegan for three days just to see what it would be like.  It was rough.  No cheese sticks.  No canned tuna.  No fried egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches.  When the three days were up, I knew I’d have to think about this some more.

A few months later, I decided to try again.  I had been reading about how dairy cows are kept pregnant for as many years as possible so that they continue to produce milk.  When they “go dry,” I learned, they are slaughtered.  What is wrong with this picture?  Such cruelty just for money?

This time, I went from three days all the way to three months.  The problem was that my blood sugar levels did not improve at all and I felt like crap much of the time.  The problem, I knew, was that without my fish, cheese and milk, I wasn’t getting much protein.  Instead, I was eating way, way more starch than I should.  As every Type 2 knows, A1C don’t lie.

I told myself that going back to eating fish and dairy was an act of self-preservation.  After all, I didn’t want to end up in the hospital or worse, did I?

After a few months, however, I tried being a bit more honest with myself.  I knew there are plenty of vegetable based protein sources, if only I’d avail myself of them.  I’d tried veggie burgers and soy-based deli slices many times, and found them to be decent.  So when I was laid off at work and we ended up moving 600 miles to the opposite end of California, I decided the time was right to do this once and for all.

I haven’t looked back since.

And a funny thing happened.  Without even trying, I lost 70 pounds.  Could this have something to do with all the milkfat I no longer consumed?  Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I rarely ate anything fried anymore.  Could be related to the fact that I no longer went out for all-you-can-eat fish dinners on Friday nights and stacks of pancakes at Denny’s on Sunday mornings.  It may also have had something to do with the fact that I ate a lot more salads, rediscovered the joy of carrots and broccoli and stayed away from most of my favorite baked products because they contained dairy.

My blood sugar level miraculously went right back down to where it was supposed to be.  And I was able to feel good about what I knew was the right thing to save our planet and care for our fellow creatures.

It may not have been my initial intention, but yes, Mom, you would be correct to say that I “do this” for my health.

 

Eggplant

eggplant

The Vegan Files

My mother told me a lot of stories when I was growing up.  Some made me roll my eyes with the morals they were meant to convey and others I just plain couldn’t believe.  But then there were some that I never got tired of hearing no matter how many times she repeated them.  Most of these had something to do with Yiddish words or with the intricacies of observance in the Jewish faith.

One of my favorites went something like this:  A boy raised in an observant Jewish home married a nice Jewish girl whose parents didn’t keep kosher.  However, she was determined to learn kosher cooking.  While an inexperienced cook, she did her best to please her new husband.  He related many times how much he loved lamb chops, and she was glad to oblige.  To the kosher butcher shop she went, intent on picking out the finest lamb chops ever cut from a young ovine.  At dinner that evening, the young bride burst into tears when her husband offered his critique: “It’s okay, but it’s not like Mama made it.”  Not one to give up easily, the wife tried again and again and again, asking the butcher for recommendations and trying out various types of lamb chops, consulting cookbooks and trying different preparation techniques, spices and garnishes.  Alas, it was all to no avail.  Each time, she would be deflated when her husband reported “It’s just not like Mama made it.”  In desperation, she finally gave up on lamb chops from the kosher butcher and prepared the kind of dinner that she grew up with.  Apparently, this kosher thing just wasn’t working out, so she might as well cook what she knew and loved.  She went to the local supermarket and bought pork chops, which she prepared using her mother’s time-tested recipe.  To her surprise, her husband’s face lit up with the very first bite.  “Finally!” he cried, “Just like Mama used to make!”

This wonderful story came to mind while working on my memoir recently, when I got to the part where I was describing my dislike for the lunches that were served at the yeshiva (Orthodox Jewish school) that I attended in my elementary years.  Most days, I brought a sandwich from home, which suited me just fine.  Thinking about the school lunches, I remember how heavily breaded the dry fish cakes were.  But most of all, I remember how much I disliked the tomato soup that was often served.

“What’s wrong with the tomato soup?” my mother would ask.  “Is it too sweet?  Too salty?”  At the age of eight, I couldn’t come up with a coherent explanation.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  The bottom line was that it just wasn’t like the tomato soup that my mother served at home.

Years later, I came to realize that the school’s awful tomato soup was homemade, while my mother’s delicious soup was Campbell’s out of a can.  My mother bought Campbell’s because her mother did.  Both of them kept kosher.  Neither had any idea that the “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients include meat juices left over from processing dead cows and pigs.

Like the young husband in my mother’s story, I had no idea that my “kosher” food at home was anything but.

I experienced a similar situation when it came to cheese, which was once among my favorite foods.  I mainly grew up on processed American “cheese,” packaged Swiss cheese and cottage cheese.  My father loved to indulge in tiny bricks of “smoky cheese,” which he particularly enjoyed on apple pie.  I would taste it and fail to understand how anyone could stomach the stuff.  As an adult, I branched out and learned to love feta, bleu cheeses, Brie, cheddar, gouda and provolone.  Over the years, my parents became more adventurous as well, and they now regularly enjoy Muenster and Havarti.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, I got schooled once again, this time courtesy of Trader Joe’s.  About five or six years ago, I was shocked to discover that, right there on the label of some of TJ’s most delicious cheeses, the ingredient “animal rennet” was listed.  Now I understood why the Orthodox Jewish friends of my childhood would only eat Miller’s kosher cheese.  After my lesson from Trader Joe’s, I gave Miller’s a try and found the taste to be disgusting.  Apparently, you had to use the scrapings from the stomachs of cows and sheep to get the enzymes that made cheese taste so delicious.  It was Campbell’s tomato soup all over again!  I related this sad information to my parents, to no effect.  As far as my mother is concerned, cheese is dairy and therefore kosher.  Oy.

When it comes to flavor, it seems that most of the time non-kosher wins.

After I became a vegan, I learned that excellent minestrone soup can be made using vegetarian tomato sauce and fresh vegetables.  My wife is a master at this.  I also learned that bland food can easily be flavored with any number of spices, no meat juices needed.  My go-to spices are black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano.  I also use mustard (both yellow and Dijon), lemon juice, green salsa (I don’t much care for the red), pepperoncini and jalapeños.  For baked yams, cinnamon is a must.  And then there is vegan margarine, olive oil, vinegar and soy cheese to flavor vegetables.  Even tofu, which many won’t eat due to its bland nature, is delightful when doused liberally with spices and baked.

My favorite vegetable remains the eggplant, which I learned to love as a teenager when my father would take me out to little Italian joints for eggplant parmigiana.  My wife still prepares this for me regularly.  She slices the eggplant, I douse the slices with canned tomato sauce and spices, and in the oven it goes.  About 40 minutes later, I apply slices of soy cheese to get nice and melty.

Just as in the case of tofu, many won’t eat eggplant because it is bland.  Believe me, it’s not bland at all when I get done with it.  Garlic rules!

Years ago, I learned that eggplant, like tomatoes, are nightshades; for a very long time, both were thought to be poisonous.  But what I didn’t know (until we saw it on the Cooking Channel the other day) is that eggplant is, of all things, a berry!  How can something as large and lovely as an eggplant be compared to a little strawberry or blackberry?  Strange how nature works.

Even worse, however, I learned this week from Jeff Guo’s Wonkblog entry in The Washington Post that the eggplant emoji is suddenly enjoying a spate of popularity.  Initially, I was delighted.  I had no idea that my favorite vegetable, er, berry, had, in all its purple glory, found its way into the land of text messaging.  That’s when I learned that (gulp) the beautiful eggplant emoji has, uh, a sexual meaning.  Now why would anyone go ruin a thing of beauty by smutting it up like that?

Gutter minds notwithstanding, the eggplant emoji will continue to bring a smile to my face.  Please feel free to send it to me anytime.  But only if it means you’re inviting me to dinner.

I’ll bring the soy cheese.

 

The Haircut

FRESNO

My father keeps telling me about how much he likes the work his barber does.  Now, Dad has very little hair left at this point, so it’s not as if I expected his barber to be a corn row connoisseur or a faux hawk aficionado.  But when he told me that his barber charges only four dollars (plus tip), I was sold.  I decided to put up with my sideburns for a couple of months in order to get my ears lowered both competently and cheaply when I headed south to visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, my wife and I drove from my parents’ house out in the country to “the big city” of Fresno to get coiffed.  (Well, really so my wife could use her computer to get some work done, since there is no high-speed internet connection or wi-fi out on the rangeland where my parents call home).  My father warned me that his barber might have the day off, but that “one of the girls” would take me.

When we arrived at the shop, we were greeted with a CLOSED sign on the door.  My wife told me this would happen!

Fortunately, we had just passed an open barber shop a few blocks away.  Inside, three barbers were working away on customers while another family waited their turn.  I sat down patiently and waited about 20 minutes to be called.  This was definitely not a discount hair establishment like the place my father patronized.  A sign advertised that a regular haircut would set you back $12.  But I was there already and I just wanted to get this itchy stuff off my ears and face.  I was not about to drive around looking for someplace less expensive.

The last time that I had my hair cut back home, I told a young woman at a salon that I wanted a “3.”  For at least 20 years, I’ve been familiar with the numbering system that many barbers use.  Before I was married, I used to get a “one,” which is basically your Marine special.  Just a bit of fuzz on top.  My wife says that this style makes me “look like an escaped mental patient,” so I began leaving some hair on my noggin. I am now used to having the sideburns removed and keeping a reasonable amount of hair north of that.  Still, I thought the “3” was a bit too short.  Therefore, this time around I requested a “4.”  “You know what a 4 is, right?” the barber asked.  Yes, I assured him, I know what it is.  Upon which I blinded myself by removing my eyeglasses and hoped for the best.

The barber was a young guy who insisted that I used to be a tutor at his high school (I have never taught), urged me to get a lump on my head checked out (I explained how I obtained it forty years ago) and griped about how Heald College closed down when he had almost completed his associate’s degree and how Fresno City College wouldn’t transfer any of the credits.

I should have told him that he missed his calling.  He should have been a bartender.  I wished I had the nerve to tell him to shut up and pay attention to what he was doing.

At that point, the barber requested the details of my Thanksgiving.  “Whad you grub on?” he inquired.  I explained that my mother prepared the traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and potatoes, but that I very much enjoyed my eggplant and tofu, thank you.

“You a vegetarian?” he asked, incredulous.  I answered in the affirmative, in no mood to explain the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan.  Then he asked when was the last time I ate meat.  “About 25 years ago,” I responded, upon which he wanted to know what my last meat meal consisted of.  “I really don’t remember,” I admitted.  “It was a long time ago.”

“If it was my last time eating meat, I’d remember,” he remonstrated.  “I’d have a triple cheeseburger.  But I could never stop eating meat.”

About this time, the barber offered me my eyeglasses and I glanced in the mirror to check out the new me with a “4.”

Welcome to the Marines, son.

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logo    nanopoblano2015dark

 

Dentistry as Destiny

Raised on vegetarian diet

It seems that every time I visit with my parents, there has to be at least one conversation about veganism.  It’s not that they have anything against vegans, but why, oh why, of all people, would their son have to become involved with such a thing?  At least that appears to be the subtext behind their words.

With my mother, it’s always the same thing.  Although she is not a dentist, she seems to believe that destiny lies in the teeth.  “The kind of teeth you have tell you what you’re supposed to be,” she tells me.  What she means is that humans have canine teeth designed for ripping and tearing flesh.  I had a similar go-‘round on this subject with a coworker some months ago.

Mom spent years as a science teacher, which explains her point of view.  Her error, I attempt to gently relate, is that biology must be tempered with anthropology and geography.  I patiently tell her that, since she believes in the theory of evolution (as a God-fearing man, I harbor more than a dollop of skepticism), she must be aware that the apes and monkeys from which humans supposedly arose are vegetarians.  As they spread out from the jungles of Africa to more temperate climates where fruit and juicy vegetation were not available during the winter months, they learned to be hunters to survive and, over the eons, evolved canine teeth to better chew the bloody carcasses.

I thought I’d have better luck with this than I ever do in advancing ethical and Biblical arguments for vegetarianism, but alas, no dice.  Mom is going to believe what she wants to believe.  Just like everyone, right?

My father offered that he had never heard the word “vegan” until my sister used it several years ago, explaining that vegans are “an extreme form of vegetarian.”

What once may have been regarded as extreme, I reminded him, is now commonplace, or at least well-known.  As for calling one’s self a “vegetarian,” I told Dad that it can mean almost anything.  Heck, back in my fish-eating days I referred to myself as a vegetarian because I didn’t eat land-based animals.  The word “vegan,” I added, is rather specific.  It refers to someone who eats no animal products.

The only “variety” of vegan that I have heard of to date is the raw vegan.  I’m sure there are many others with which I am not familiar.

I suppose I should call myself a “convenience food vegan,” since I rely on so many soy-based substitutes for animal products, such as vegan “deli slices” from Yves and Tofurky and frozen entrées from Gardein.

Despite the fact that vegans comprise a tiny minority here in the United States, I have noticed that more accommodations are being made for us as the years go by.  For example, it is encouraging that one is able to order a vegan meal on a cross-country flight.  Even the labor union at my place of employment offers a vegan option for its monthly lunch meetings.

Of course, it’s encouraging to see the expanding variety of vegan products available at the supermarket.  They may be considerably more expensive than animal products, but at least they’re on the shelves.  And I know they wouldn’t be if no one were buying them.  Where there’s money to be made, the goods will make their way to the marketplace.

During a visit to Whole Foods Market today, to pick up my favorite vegan cheese and a vegan donut for dessert, I couldn’t help but notice how the store attempts to make shoppers feel better about eating meat.

“Five step animal welfare rating,” reads one of the signs at Whole Foods.  “Your way of knowing how our meat animals were raised.”  Mean animals?  For real?  I suppose I have to count myself among them, as I, too, was composed of meat the last time I checked.  Obviously, our fellow creatures receive no respect whatever.  Just a moment’s thought will lead to the realization that our pets are made of meat, too.  In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy was way ahead of her time in 1939 when she referred to Toto as “a meat dog.”

“Raised on a vegetarian diet” screams another sign.  Really?  Me, too!  I only hope I escape the fate of the animals whose hacked-up body parts filled that particular refrigerated case.  I couldn’t help but notice that, tucked away on the bottom shelf, were packages of pig’s feet.

Whatever you may think of the ethics of ending the lives of members of the other species with whom we share this planet for the pleasure of our palates, even if you believe that dentistry is destiny, you have to admit that the blood, guts, body parts and gore that is meat is pretty disgusting.