Something remarkable has happened within the last couple of decades. Vegetarianism, which had once been considered a fringe activity and a sign of personal weirdness, has caught on within mainstream culture. Many Hollywood celebrities have come out of the closet as unabashed vegetarians. It used to be that if you went into a restaurant and asked for a vegetarian dish, the waiter (and all your friends you went to lunch with) would laugh at you and maybe, if you were lucky, he'd throw a plate of bean sprouts in your direction. Today, many restaurants routinely print up a dedicated vegetarian menu, and there are even a few restaurants that serve only vegetarian food.
Vegetarians have overcome the ridicule and the prejudice and the pressure to change to a mainstream diet, to the point where they are now completely within their rights to be offended if someone makes fun of them.
But us vegephobes? They still treat us like you'd expect 'em to treat openly gay men in rural 1930s Arkansas.
I don't know how many times I've seen the looks of wide-eyed disbelief on the face of a waiter (and on the faces of my lunch compatriots) at a Chinese restaurant when I order fried rice and ask for it "with no vegetables." Occasionally, some "well-meaning" friends or coworkers will try to "sneak" a vegetable or two into some food they're asking me to try, to see if I'll "notice." If I see through their ruse before I take a bite, they'll accuse me of being "childish" or not "open minded" enough. If I fall for it, they'll all have a nice hearty laugh at my expense after I innocently swallow a bite. On those all-too-common occasions where I can taste the vegetables in what they give me — it isn't that hard, guys — they'll say that I'm being "too picky" when I turn around to spit it out.
Try doing the same thing to a vegetarian some time, and see if you get away with it to the same extent that these jokers get away with tricking a vegephobe. Sneak some red meat into a dish you want them to try, and assure them that it's meat-free. Then see how funny they think it is when you tell them you've tricked them. And be sure to tell them how childish and closed-minded they're being if they refuse, and how "picky" they are if they spit it out. Better yet: try sneaking some pork into an Orthodox Jew's or Muslim's food. Hah hah, it's a real laugh riot for everybody, isn't it?
No. It isn't. It's disrespectful, it's cruel, and it's downright dirty. If you pulled such a thing today, you would quite rightly trigger the wrath of a Jewish or Muslim or Vegetarians' rights advocacy group. Even deriding a religious person's or a Vegetarian's dietary choice, or suggesting they change it for their own good, is considered very poor taste. But where are the rights advocacy groups for the vegephobic? They're nowhere to be found. They don't exist. We're considered too much of a "fringe" to worry about. In 1976, my 5th grade teacher hounded me for not eating any food from the Vegetable Food Group. Fast food hamburgers still come with vegetables (in the form of pickle slices and ketchup) by default. (And, yes, ketchup is a vegetable. Ronald Reagan said so.) When I went through Weight Watchers in 1990 to try and drop down to a healthy weight, they required me to eat at least 5 exchanges of vegetables every day. My pleas of vegephobia fell on deaf ears. No, it's only the big minorities that win the respect and walking-on-eggs sensitivity of the Political Correctness crowd. The little minorities like us vegephobes are still acceptable targets for public scorn and ridicule.
Some of the instinctive intolerance toward dietary preferences different from ones own may be a holdover from prehistoric times, as a way to tell your fellow tribesmen from outsiders. The other cavemen in your tribe typically all grew up eating the same food as one another, while the members of a rival tribe would have grown up eating whatever food was the staple of their tribe. Witness how immediate your reaction is when you hear that someone else likes to eat something you hate. It's an immediate, gut-wrenching "Yuck!", isn't it? You can't imagine why that guy you're talking to would want to put marmalade on his Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. He suddenly seems completely alien. Instinctively, even without being aware of it, you're categorizing him as one of "them" instead of one of "us." In prehistoric times, when resources were scarce and your survival hung by a thread, the mere presence of people from rival tribes could have meant extinction for you and your fellow tribesmen. Even in the modern industrialized world, where starvation is no longer an issue, that ancient instinct to weed out those weird foreign food eaters from rival tribes is still there and still rears its ugly head.
So, how do you respond when faced with this kind of prejudice? That all depends on your mood, and whether you're willing to risk alienating your abusers.
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