Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Life as a Vegetarian

I used to be a vegetarian. I started dabbling in it when I was in high school, and then got really into in college. I even lived in a vegetarian cooperative house my senior year. That was actually a very funny experience. I was a semi-practicing Christian. I wore leather shoes and I only dated men. Let's just say I wasn't exactly in the majority. I loved what one of my housemates said to me--'It's great that you're here, Stephanie. You make us diverse!'

I still laugh out loud when I think of that.

The terms of the co-op were pretty simple. We didn't eat meat. The year I lived there, however, there was a omnivore among us.


She signed on to the co-op because she wanted to save money. Indeed, the co-op was cheap and chipper. We paid $300 a semester for food, which was waaaayyy cheaper than the college food plan. We did all our own planning, shopping and cooking. We belonged to an area food share and supplemented that with weekly trips to the market. It came out in our first house meeting that Cavegirl ate meat. She said, "Wait a minute--you're vegetarians??!"

"Why yes, Cavegirl, we are. You didn't know this??"

"NO! I'm just here to save a buck! You mean I can't eat meat here?"

And so we gathered together and decided Cavegirl could eat meat if she was willing to cloister herself in her room. Occasionally she would exercise this option. The smell of burger take-out would waft it's way up the stairs and into her room. We'd all cluck with disapproval, but man... it smelled good.

Honestly, we were tempted to chuck Cavegirl out onto the street. One of my housemates said, 'there are vegans starving in the college houses and Cavegirl is taking up a coveted spot in the Veg house?!' (Side note: we don't call them 'dorms' at Smith.) We were filled with righteous indignation. But no, we didn't kick Cavegirl out. The semester was already underway. Where would she go? No. She had to stay. We were compassionate. We were vegetarians.

We had a chore wheel and worked with partners. Somehow I got stuck with Cavegirl. She was actually kind of a fun person, but a really bad work partner. Cavegirl was very flaky. Obviously. How did she not know we were a vegetarian co-op? We were hardly secretive about it. By the way, we didn't call her 'Cavegirl.' We called her by her name, but I can't remember it now.

Anyway, every week you and your partner had a job--shopping, breakfast, making dinner, doing dinner dishes, that sort of thing. Dinner dishes was generally regarded as the worst job and you were really psyched when your washing week was up. I mentioned this to one of my housemates as she was slaving over our big, industrial sink. She said, "Oh yes, but it's so much better here than my work-study job in the college house--having to wash up after those yucky meaty dinners!"

Meals could include eggs or dairy, but if you used them, you had to provide a vegan alternative. So we made tempeh and used soy cheese. You want to talk about yucky? Soy cheese. YUCK. This is where I formed my opinion that if you can't eat the real thing, don't bother trying to come up with a substitute. Just find something else to eat.

Even with the soy cheese, I am really thankful for my experience in the veg house. I learned a lot about cooking and budgeting and how bad I was at resolving conflict. Like many young people with high ideals, I was positively nauseating to be around during this season of my life. I'm kind of shocked when I think back that some of the people who knew me then have stuck with me and actually read my blog. (Hi Tracy! Hi Dad!)

After I graduated, I kept up the veg thing. I moved to New York City where I subsisted on a minuscule paycheck. The vegetarian cookbooks I collected at the veg house came in handy--I lived on the carrot soup from the Moosewood Cookbook until payday--33 cents a serving with carrots from the corner bodega!
The vestiges of my veg days... and I still use them!

But the veg thing started to fall away little by little. You see, it was like a religion. We had creeds and dogma and moral outrage... and that no longer seemed relevant as I started loving Jesus more and more. Sweet Jesus, who cuts through dogma and moral outrage with grace and mercy. Jesus, who freed us from the laws, dietary and otherwise. Jesus, who, like an animal, gave His life so we could live.

Jesus wouldn't have kicked Cavegirl out onto the street. He also wouldn't have talked smack about her behind her back. But I don't look at Jesus as a role model. I look to Him for forgiveness--Oh Sweet Jesus, forgive my hypocrisy and nastiness to Cavegirl... and he gives it. He gives it freely, from his abundant stores of mercy. And he remembers Cavegirl's name... whatever it was...

I moved on to Scotland. It's easy to be a veg in Britain. All those Hindu immigrants, and let's face it--the food's not that good anyway.

It's the French who got me to throw off vegetarianism for good. Oh the French. They seriously do not understand why someone will not eat something that is just... yummy. 'Comment? Tu ne veux pas la belle viande?! POURQUOI?!?' I no longer had a good answer for why I didn't want the beautiful meat. So I ate la belle viande....

And I eat it still.


  1. What? You lived in Scotland and didn't eat Haggis? tsk tsk....
    Beautiful post, Stephanie. And funny too, as usual.
    I was a vegetarian for eight years and I was a royal pain to have over for dinner. Not because of some self-righteousness, but because people didn't know what to prepare for me or went to great lengths to make something meatless, just for me, and expected me to eat ALL of it.

    1. I ate vegetarian haggis! In fact, I went to a Burns night supper and the hostess served it. I don't think it was just for me. Anyway, you are so right about the guest situation. I was always content to just eat around the meat, but I remember hostesses being very anxious about feeding me, would it be enough, etc. It helped that I was lacto-ovo, but I always felt badly that they were so worked up about it! This is why not matter how healthy we eat at home, we are delighted to eat whatever we are served when we're invited to someone's home! Unless someone develops a severe reaction to something, we will joyfully receive any offers of hospitality.