We carnivores have all been there: that moment when one of your meat-eating brethren announce they’ve come out of the closet — the one that’s full of veggies and ancient grains and vitamin shakes and tofu and fake sausage.
Admittedly, it’s not easy for the newly-turned veg either. My best friend joked he felt more marginalized by his new eating regimen than he did as a Jewish gay man.
While my first thought was: why? My second thought was: no.
Though I wanted to be happy for his perceived new health kick, there were a lot of reasons why I mourned his change in lifestyle. For starters, I had to listen to him talk about how much better his skin and hair felt. How much fresher his breath. Would we no longer share moisturizer recommendations I wondered? Would his curly, wiry hair suddenly behave smoothly while I struggled to tame my frizzy locks? Was our social connectedness in danger of coming unraveled?
I thought of all the time we spent together and how much meat played a part. There were greasy, late-night slices of pizza after a party where we’d dish on everyone, cracking each other up as we fought for more than our share of pepperonis. And what about the Sunday afternoon burgers in a dark corner dive, hung-over, one of us feeling emotionally bruised by a lover, not wanting to face the sun? What of the chicken pad Thai on afternoons when we both were starting out as freelancers, more time on our hands than we’d care to admit?
The conspiratorial outings for BBQ, where he would forget for that hour that his Jewish heritage didn’t look kindly on pork. There were steak frites dinners (the best we could afford back then) after free tickets to the ballet that one of us had managed to snag from a better-off boss or, were we feeling particularly grand, steak tartare. And there was always, it seemed, a steady supply of meat-bulging burritos when we just felt like hanging out on a warm, sunny day in the park.
If I were to go back to that time, how would all of those scenarios have played out over pizza with cheese-substitute, veggie burgers and burritos, a protein powder shake? I shuddered at the thought of it. Our shared history was one of meaty intensity.
All that said, I’d been eating more healthy myself lately. Though I wasn’t anywhere close to giving up meat, I’d been eating far less of it. I started having a steak once every two weeks instead of every week, began covering more than half of my plate with salad, and bought a cupboard full of quinoa and quick-cooking lentils. I embraced wild mushrooms, left the sausage out of homemade tomato sauce. There were so many wonderful restaurants around me serving delicious vegetarian food that didn’t feel punitive. I couldn’t help but be romanced by it, especially living in the Pacific Northwest, with our incredible growing season and abundance of seductive fruits and vegetables.
And so I forgave my friend. We were truly adults now, it was a new day.
Then, a couple weeks later he called to say he was down and out sick, a seriously bad case of the flu that set him on a Z-pak course. Apparently, he bemoaned, his new vegetarian diet hadn’t worked the miracles on his immune system he’s expected. I, too, came down with a case of the flu but, I texted him, I’d bounced back fast and didn’t need antibiotics.
If he’d intuited a tad tone of smugness to be read in that pronouncement, I wouldn’t have been able to deny it. Sometimes we carnivores just don’t want to hear – or believe – that our bodies aren’t functioning as optimally as vegetarians. There’s a lot of great things about a plant-based diet, but for those of who don’t choose one, it’s not necessarily the antithesis of perfect health.
At any rate, all was not lost. At least my friend hadn’t turned vegan—yet.
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