For many years I’ve felt as if I should be a vegan. It’s always seemed so virtuous – not eating anything that has a face, not being responsible for the deaths of other creatures. It seems like the seamless garment doctrine of the radical Left – so caring and compassionate.
Avoiding meat has never been a problem for me. Even when I was a kid, before I became a vegetarian, I never adored meat, with its chewy texture, its pink and gray pallor, its gristle and bone and other gross attachments. So much work was required to prepare and cook it, I became a de facto vegetarian the first time I had to take care of myself, the three months between my junior and senior years in college when I lived with very little money on a small campus with no summer cafeteria. I survived as many college students do, on pasta, which was easy to cook on the dorm stove, and takeout hamburgers when I had a little cash. T he following summer, when I finally stopped eating meat entirely, I realized that most of the meat I missed was pork – bacon and sausage – and that I craved the salt and spices more than the pig itself. Over the years, I’ve learned to cook tempeh strips with heavy doses of tamari, and stuffing with chunks of tempeh, sage and other spices used in sausage.
But giving up dairy products – that was another animal altogether. The more of a food snob I become, the less I want to be a vegan. No more ice cream made in small batches? No more cream from local jersey cows, no New York sharp cheddar, no Vermont artisanal cheese? Forget it. Bring on the butterfat.
The worst vegan food substance in the world is not, as the decades of jokes from omnivores would have it, tofu. No, it is fake cheese. Whether it’s called cheeze, chreese, or geez Louise, it’s simply a tease. The latest package I purchased, in a periodic fit of admitting that I was lactose intolerant, proved to be just like all the others I’ve had in the 24 years since I escaped the suburbs and became a vegetarian. “It stretches! It melts!” this package boasted. And I, knowing better, believed. And was disappointed once again. It sliced, it was a pleasing pastel orange, it was slightly salty. But it did not stretch or do anything cheddar does, and the pieces sat like orangy blobs on my broccoli and cauliflower, daring me to melt it. I had to admit again that I’d been taken in by globs of soy protein which, like plastic, can be disguised as just about anything, but seldom taste or behave as food should.
I still admire my vegan friends for their commitments, but I will not be joining them in this lifetime. I may exit this mortal coil with a spoon stuck into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (or better yet, Jeni’s or Mt. Tom’s), but at least I’ll leave with a smile on my face instead of a sour look that says, “Damnit, fooled again!”