Advocate: How to Dine with Carnivores Without Throwing Up
By Jack Vegetarianberger
Some years ago Rani, my vegetarian wife, and I
visited Boston and stayed at the home of another married couple, the
wife of which, Tobey, has been a good friend of Ranis ever since
they attended high school together. Tobey and her husband, Tim, are
a nice couple, despite their social behavior at election time (theyre
Republicans). Well aware that Rani and I are vegetarians, Tobey had
selected a California-style health food restaurant as a
suitable venue for our evening meal. Once wed arrived at the restaurant,
sat down, and began examining our menus, Tobey asked us, Will
it bother you if we order meat?
Keep in mind that this was the first time the four of us, as married
couples, had dined together; Rani and I were overnight guests at their
new home; and Tobey and Tim are not only (sigh) Republicans but rather
dedicated carnivores, so we told them that it didnt matter to
us if they ordered meat. We wanted to preserve the social equilibrium.
But Rani and I have regretted our dishonest reply ever since.
As far as Im concerned, the only negative thing about being a
vegetarian is that other people arent. I dont like dining
with nonvegetarians. First, I have to listen to them read the menu out
loud. (Sample dialogue: Should I have the chicken dish?
No, dear, why dont you order the panda bear stuffed with
mushrooms instead? Id like to try a bite.) Then I have to
listen to them quiz the waiter before ordering. (About the 96-ounce
steak platter: was the cow killed this morning?) And every time
Rani and I eat at an Indian restaurant, which is quite frequent, at
least one carnivore nearby orders a sizzling meat dish so we have little
choice but to smell the burning flesh of a dead animal.
Is it impolite of carnivores to eat animal flesh when they dine with
vegetarians? I think so. Just as it is becoming less socially acceptable
in the U.S. for people who are slowly killing themselves with cigarettes
to smoke in the presence of nonsmokers, I believe vegetarians should
make their feelings about meat-contaminated mealtimes known to nonvegetarians.
While social circumstances always differ, being able to enjoy a meat-free
meal while dining with carnivores generally means you must do some pre-meal
planning. The socially uncomfortable aspect of asking someone to not
eat animal flesh at mealtime is that your message implies that their
dietary lifestyle is offensive. My advice:
Strike first. When you know that you are going to eat with one or more
carnivores, suggest that the meal take place at your home or at a vegetarian
restaurant, a place where you can control what food is (and isnt)
If you cant dine at your home or a vegetarian restaurant, tell
all of the nonvegetarians that you would very much appreciate it if
everyone ordered a vegetarian meal. And dont wait until you arrive
at your guests home or the restaurant before making your desire
known. In the case of Tobey and Tim, this tactic might have succeeded
if Rani had first spoken privately with Tobey.
If we are going to change the publics perception of vegetarianism
and nonvegetarianism, we must make our feelings about animal flesh known.
We must create a social climate in which carnivores are well aware that
many vegetarians, particularly ethical vegetarians, dont like
to sit down at a meal and watch others tear into animal flesh. Asking
a carnivore to order vegetarian food is a starting point, and then (or
later) following that up with a conversation about vegetarianism: the
health, environmental, and ethical aspects of meat eating; and your
personal decision to go vegetarian.
My experience with carnivores is that when talking with them about vegetarianism,
its best to use a gentle, humor-filled approach. Being factual
about the grim reality of the mass slaughter of farmed animals works
best, it seems, with young persons; their hearts are still open.
Your advice and suggestions are always welcome.
Chef Anthony Bourdain Dies of Mad Carnivores
In light of chef and author Anthony Bourdains recent death from
Mad Carnivores Disease, a debilitating disease in which the victim
is reduced to deliriously muttering or shouting Meat! Meat! Meat!,
Id like to comment on the attitude of Bourdainwho is actually
physically alive but appears to be spiritually deadtoward vegetarians
and other nonhuman animals.
As anyone whos read Bourdains best-selling Kitchen Confidential:
Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Ecco Press, 2001) knows, Bourdain
hated vegetarians. On the fifth page of Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain
bragged about his naked contempt for vegetarians, sauce-on-siders,
the lactose-intolerant and the cooking of Ewok-like Emeril
Lagasse... Why Bourdain hated persons who, through no fault of
their own, developed the inability to digest lactose is beyond my understanding.
Elsewhere in Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain railed against chefs who
are some cheese-eating, surrender specialist Froggie, the
old-school Euro-geezers at the Culinary Institute of America,
and cooks who are probably not even American.
Did someone say xenophobic?
To discover why Bourdain despised vegetarians, I had to wade through
paragraph after paragraph of mean-spirited, self-loathing composition
until I reached the summit on page 70: Vegetarians, and their
Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant
to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat,
sausage, organ meat, demiglace, or even stinky cheese is a life not
worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent
in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment
of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should
not be polluted by animal protein. Its healthier, they insist,
though every vegetarian waiter Ive worked with is brought down
by any rumor of a cold.
This passage tells us a lot about Bourdain and almost nothing about
vegetarianism. To write that vegetarians are the enemy of everything
good and decent in the human spirit is quite a sweeping statement.
When I think of, for instance, well-known living vegetarians, the type
of persons who come to mind are people like Jane Goodall and Paul McCartney,
who are first-class humanitarians. As for vegetarianism being an
affront to the pure enjoyment of food, Bourdain clearly
never had the pleasure of dining at, say, the Angelica Kitchen in New
York City. And his characterization of vegetarians as being solely health
conscious the body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple
that should not be polluted by animal proteinconveniently
ignores the fact that many persons who are vegetarians are so for environmental
and ethical reasons. As for the vegetarian waiters who are allegedly
brought down by even the rumor of a cold, well, if theres
a literary society somewhere that hands out awards for the most ridiculous
writing, I hope it bestows an award upon Bourdain. He clearly deserves