Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Staying Out of Boxes

I had agreed to meet my wife at her office Christmas party last Friday night, at a place called "Fox & Hound."  The name had pretty much tipped me off that there would be scant options for someone who had stopped eating animals, but I was truly stunned to find not a single item on the menu that I could eat. I mean not one. This had never happened to me before. Perusing the menu was actually kind of scary. Because of the animal stuff? No, not at all. I've been cooking for a living off and on for about 30 years now, and I'm pretty much inured to all that. It was because of what I know about the food industry. If you've read "The End of Overeating," by David Kessler, you have a pretty good idea: intricate layers of fat, salt and sugar carefully designed to keep people slurping gobs of it down uncontrollably. We're talking some seriously freaky stuff--the kind no one wants to hear about at the table (and again, this is aside from the dead animals involved).

I knocked back a couple of vodka tonics and finally picked the one thing that I figured I might be able to salvage. When the waitress appeared, I said "I'll have the 'Field of Greens,' hold the chicken, bacon and cheeses." Then she began to rattle off the dressing options--Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island... I jumped ahead and asked for Italian (how bad could that be?). On the side--which turned out to be a smart move, because what arrived in an eight-ounce ramekin was a weird, light orange creamy goo that bore not even a vague resemblance to anything Italian I've ever seen. The waitress was very nice, and replaced it with a little oil and vinegar set. Whew.

Then that inevitable question came from the lady to my right. "Are you a vegan?" It wasn't condescending, she just wanted to know where to stick me in her explanation of the world. Have you ever noticed that? People tend to get uncomfortable when someone doesn't fit their standard grid. Had I just gone ahead and ordered a mountain of ribs with cheese-mashed potatoes, no one would have noticed. But here I was--an alien life-form that urgently needed pigeonholing.

I let the question hang for a beat, and replied, "No, ma'am, I'm just a human being who's paying attention." Smart-ass answer, you say? Well, it kept me label-free (which I like), and it led to a conversation that ended with me running out to the trunk of my car to bring her a copy of my book, "Speed Vegan," which she had me sign. She paid for it, too (which I also like).

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