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7/12/04 -- Veggie Tails.

last week I was having lunch at a local Thai restaurant (Thai Kitchen over on M Street, should you be in the vicinity and also in the mood for decent, reasonably priced and very speedy Thai food). From the next table, I overheard the kind of conversation I remember all too well from my days as a vegetarian:

Random Coworker #1: "So, I hear you're a vegetarian?" (Spoken in the same tone one might use to say "So ... I hear you were born with a tail?")

Random Coworker #2: "That's right." (Spoken in the tone of "Oh Christ. Not again.")

#1: "Huh. So you don't eat any meat at all? You eat any chicken?"

#2: "No. No meat."

#1: "Cause I know this guy who says he's a vegetarian, but he eats chicken. And fish. Seems kinda weird to me. 'Course, not eating meat seems kinda weird to me too. Haw haw. Is that watch leather? You won't eat meat but you'll wear it?" The conversation went on in this vein until the food arrived.

I used to get cross-examined this way a lot. I also used to get blamed a lot. God help me if the questioner used to have some fanatic vegan roommate who carried on about how yogurt was murder but still wore leather sandals; obviously that person and I were two peas in a very hypocritical pod and the shrill lectures were clearly all my fault.

Something I still don't get after all these years: What the hell is the big deal? If I were sitting there lecturing everyone about slaughterhouses and reciting passages from "The Jungle" while they were eating their sausages, I'd get the hostility. I'd probably encourage the hostility; self-righteous prats of any stripe deserve to get smacked down hard. But I was always a nice vegetarian. I didn't nag; I didn't point at people's plates and make retching sounds. I didn't even complain the time our boss took us all to a steakhouse for lunch; I had a baked potato and a salad and enjoyed myself. People in the Big Company's cafeteria don't think twice about ordering the Scummed-Over Meat Surprise Special from the steam table(*), but if I ordered a Gardenburger I'd get at least one "Ew! Gross!" glare from someone.

And ever since I started learning how to cook and began reading books by all kinds of food writers, I've been astonished by the burning, seething hostility just about every food writer likes to spew at vegetarians. Hatin' on the herbivores appears to be how one earns one's Cool Kid stripes with other food writers. Yes, there's no denying that some vegetarian cookbooks come up with some fairly dreary, leaden, tasteless concoctions, and some fanatic vegetarians can be total assholes. But that assumes that every meat dish is a work of fine art and every meat-eater is perfectly easygoing-- I know better.

I don't get some of these people. Eating paté bites wrapped up in cotton candy: Good. (I'm not making that up; that was an honest-to-god appetizer mentioned in a Washington Post restaurant review last year that raved about the chef's innovation. Someone is still having a good old belly laugh over that one, I suspect.) Eschewing meat: Bad. And evil. And stupid.

I don't have any pithy conclusion to this other than "Calm down, people" or maybe "Lighten up." Look at it this way: it's more meat for you.

(*)That was actually a pretty unfair characterization of the cafeteria's cooking; I was just being snotty. They offer plenty of selections for both carnivores and vegetarians; the food is pretty decent and the owner seems to take a lot of pride in what they serve up. He's been known to stop me outside the building at the end of a day and ask me how I liked whatever I ordered for lunch (somehow, he always remembers what I got). It's actually quite charming.

I also feel compelled to point out that I used "Tails" rather than "Tales" in the title because I don't want unsuspecting people searching for information on the Christian-themed children's movies to wind up here with me and my foul mouth. Google is getting a little too powerful for its own good these days.