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“You’ve got to be kidding me.” That was my wife’s response when I told her I was going on a vegan diet plan, which is a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, dairy products and eggs.
My son, Dave, was more blunt: “You might as well turn in your man card, Dad.
It happened like this. One of my friends, who is an avid runner, mentioned that she has trouble getting adequate protein in her diet. “I’ve never had trouble eating animals that are raised and killed for food,” I commented.
It’s true. Meat was a daily menu item when I was growing up. On some rare occasion when my mom didn’t serve meat, Dad would frown and grumble, “I’ve got to have meat.” And Mom would put something together.
My attitude towards food has been close to that of Parks and Recreation TV character, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). When he was brought a dinner salad, Swanson informed the waitress: “There's been a mistake. You've accidentally given me the food that my food eats.”
But I thought about what I had said to my friend. Why did I have no trouble eating animals? What if I were invited to dine at someone’s home and they brought out the main entrée, let’s say, grilled Schnauzer. How would I respond?
Dogs are definitely in the animal family, after all. Why did I not feel the same about cows, pigs, and chickens?
And it is true that it takes much more energy to produce animal food than plants. Cattle consume 16 times as much grain as they produce for meat. And according to one study, livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. That’s more than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined.
Many vegetarians and vegans are also concerned about how animals are treated. A cartoon in The New Yorker has a waiter presenting the entrée to a couple in an upscale restaurant. They are looking sheepishly at the server who says: “Two steaks, cruelly raised and brutally slaughtered. Enjoy.”
So I took the leap. I ordered my Vegan Starter Kit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Armed with a handful of recipes I got from online sources, I sprang into my new culinary adventure.
Even though I wasn’t overweight, I dropped 8 pounds the first week. After several weeks on the plan, I actually qA getting accustomed to the vegan lifestyle.
Then Dave came home for his birthday. Each child in our family chooses what they want for their birthday meal. Dave always chooses steak.
As I was cooking the steaks, fully intending to eat seared tofu myself, the aroma of grilled meat wafted into my nose and made its way into my meat eating programmed brain.
And something strange happened. It was as if I were momentarily semi-conscious, like a monk in a meditative state of bliss. In that condition I recalled something one of my friends had shared with me about the dangers of a vegetarian diet.
Her grandson had been a vegetarian, she told me. It seems he was getting up in his sleep, going to the refrigerator and devouring meat without even knowing it. His wife caught him. One night he even got in his pick up, drove to the grocery store in his sleep and awoke to find himself standing in the store’s meat section, ogling the beef.
Was it happening to me?
The smoke from the steaks, like sweet smelling incense, mesmerized me, drawing me in, fogging my otherwise rational mind. I tried to walk away, but it was too late: I was GUI — grilling under the influence.
My steak was delicious, grilled medium rare to perfection.
I tried to soothe my conscious: My lapse from vegan grace wasn’t so bad, I told myself. After all, St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals, didn’t refuse meat when it was offered to him. And even the Dali Lama isn’t a strict vegetarian.
Tofu can be terrific; tempeh can taste tremendous. But ribeyes they aren’t.
“So what happened to you?” my daughter, Madi, asked me as I leaned back from the table, working my toothpick. “Kinda went off the vegan plan, didn’t you?”
“I’m still a vegan,” I said with confidence. “Between meals.”
David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and author of the book “Life Matters.” He can be reached at email@example.com.