Confessions of a fair-weather
I guess you could say I was destined to be a
Every morning for the first 13 years of my life,
I would breakfast as my dad prepared his lunch for that day of work. While this may seem a normal,
all-American ritual, dad’s lunch was not your standard salami and cheese. Instead, he
carefully cut thick slices of uncooked tofu and slid them onto a piece of multi-grain
For well over a decade, the ritual never
wavered. Each morning at precisely the same time, the self-described flexitarian (vegetarian with
the occasional foray into poultry and fish) would slice pieces exactly 3/4 of an inch thick off a
cake of tofu. The chunks would then be arranged precisely on the bread and squirted with yellow
Plochman’s mustard in a pattern that almost resembled the word “cheese” in
cursive. A single leaf of hearty green lettuce was placed atop the soy curd and mustard and a
matching piece of multi-grain topped the whole works.
When I explain why tofu is still the one food on
the entire global menu that I can’t stomach, my friends are curious. “What do you
mean?” they ask. “It’s totally without flavor. You can’t even smell
On the contrary, I remember the mildly tart odor
of the white, still wet slabs commingling with my bowl of whole grain cereal and skim milk. (Thank
God, soy milk hadn’t made it into the mainstream.) During my bully phase, I remember
force-feeding my kid brother a slippery piece of the white stuff. Instead of smacking his lips, he
writhed and squealed, fighting it like poison. And I remember bidding tofu adieu at age 13 and
taking a job at a working cattle ranch on the other side of the county.
There I entered the forbidden world of grain-fed
beef and the exotics like elk, venison, pheasant and goose. I dabbled in chorizos, jerkies and
varying colors of gravy. There I had my first multi-meat meal, a feast including up to three
different varieties of as well as my first red-meat before noon in the form of steak and eggs. And
while I haven’t continued with the same vigor, I’ve eaten meat ever since until a major
misstep roughly eight weeks ago.
After a day at the office, I was pushing the
pedals and cranking the bike home, when I passed a north Main Avenue eatery. A pair of long-bed
pick-ups were parked outside the restaurant’s main plate glass window and in the ultimate
surreal twist, an enormous, bloated, skinned and headless cow sat in the bed of each truck, their
stiffened legs pointing heavenward. However, the customers inside the restaurant provided the
ultimate twist as they sat there in plain view gorging on steaks and hamburgers. Forks and knives
dissecting their handy cuts and patties all neatly dressed with grill marks, they seemed
At that moment, I made a proclamation—I
was done with meat.
Unfortunately, it was easier said than done. The
following afternoon I made a trip to another local restaurant, perused the menu and was forced to
ask, “What are your vegetarian options here?”
The waiter responded, “We’ve got the
lentil soup. We make a pretty awesome veggie burger and you can get the nachos without
“I’ll take the veggie
Four days later, I was on my sixth veggie burger
and was experimenting with the subtle nuances and differences between the black bean burger, the
portabello pattie and the traditional garden burger. My not-so-subtle discovery was that they all
become palatable only when a large hunk of cheese is melted on top.
Refried beans stepped into the picture as a good
meat surrogate until I realized that their excellent flavor comes from the most sinister of all
meat products – lard. Desperate for protein, I lamely tried mixing lentils, beans, rices and
various legumes hoping for the right combination. Instead, I discovered a stomach choked with
carbohydrate and breakfast consisting of eight presses on the snooze bar.
Worst of all, I soon found that inside my new
community of meat-free acquaintances, I was a bigger failure than I’d been as a meat
“Fish and seafood!” one woman
exclaimed. “Those are living animals too. If you’re going to be a vegetarian, you
don’t eat any flesh.”
In an academic tone, another said, “I just
can’t stand the people who claim vegetarianism and then go gorging on dairy products. Have
any of them seen the inside of a dairy farm? It’s positively medieval.”
Yet another took the most radical bent of all,
informing me that honey was an animal product and could not be consumed.
Meanwhile, my pep was lagging and my bike
commute went from 20 minutes each way to a near doubling. Trying to get a protein boost out of
coffee beans, I was cruising around with low batteries.
“You want to go for a road ride?” a
friend would inquire.
“No thanks,” I’d reply.
“I’m too beat from work. I think I’ll lay low this weekend.”
“We’re going skate skiing –
you up for it?” another would ask.
“Too much to do around the house. Thanks
anyway,” I’d reply through a yawn.
Nearing total desperation, I explained my
protein dilemma to a middle-of-the-road veggie friend and she replied, “Oh that’s easy.
Just go and buy some yummy tofu.”
That advice ringing painfully in my head, I
rolled home to a pair of chicken breasts simmering over a pot of red beans and rice.
“I don’t care if you eat it,”
my wife said with an air of defiance. “I’m making myself some
Casually poking the piece of free-range flesh
with my fork, I thought, “One little bite probably won’t hurt.” After a long look
and a hefty sniff through my nose, I promptly dropped the one little bite down the chute. Five
minutes later, the chicken was gone, and a mere month after my proclamation, I’d fallen
totally off the wagon.
That night the aftermath struck, not in the form
of toilet time or a stomach twist, but in a Herculean burst of energy. Laying in bed, I could
almost feel the strength returning. My muscles seemed to be twitching as my eyes darted around the
room and my body radiated heat. After doing roughly a dozen laps around the house trying not wake
up the wife and baby, I realized I was reborn.
Now that the experiment’s over, I offer my
apologies to those two cows, a brace of chickens, a few bison and an elk or two. I gave it my best
shot and didn’t have what it takes. I guess I can blame it on the tofu.