The Ultimate Difficulty
It's not what you think; it's not going almost 6 weeks without dairy or meat or sugar. I don't have that much difficulty eye balling that package of bacon every time I open my freezer. I don't have to choke down soy milk anymore (in fact I barely register that there's something "weird" in my cereal, nowadays). The smell of roasting meat, I will admit, seems sharper than usual and I do have to close my eyes and remind myself that soon I can partake.
The hardest part of Lent is having to tell people that I'm out to dinner with, that I can't try their flank steak or flourless chocolate cake, and believe me; I really do want to try that cake. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what constitutes fasting or Lent or even Meat. For the first time in my life, I have a modicum of sympathy for vegans and vegetarians.
Being such a carnivore, and deriving so much pleasure from food, I always thought of people who steadfastly deny themselves this pleasure as kind of weird. Having gained a little bit knowledge and experience of the world, I know now that they're not necessarily weird because of their diet choices, but that is a symptom. You've got to admit there are some really annoying and insufferable vegans and vegetarians out there. I'm talking about the people who rattle off to you how inhumanely the pig/cow/baby lamb was treated before you currently enjoyed it with great relish. Or they wrinkle their nose with disgust because you're savouring a glass of milk (but can you say anything about the clouds of b.o. emanating from them because they refuse to wear deodorant? Don't even think about it). The food that gives them pleasure looks and tastes like soggy cardboard and, I'm sorry, that is just weird. Zealots, fanatics, fundamentalists, extremists, have a disturbing, almost crazy passion for whatever they're into and they tend to ruin it for anyone else that has a slight interest in the same area.
Like your run-of-the-mill, not-so-crazy-militant vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans. The people who quietly avoid the meat and dairy, or modestly choose the fish option, and do it for reasons that they are not trying to force on the rest of us. One friend of mine from college was a vegetarian for health reasons. My boyfriend is a vegetarian because he does not like the agro-industry model of raising livestock on an assembly line basis. But when you ask them about it, they sigh and look slightly uncomfortable or embarrassed; definitely weary of the question.
Because, and this is the big secret, what they're doing is not weird or crazy. It's actually sensible. Is it nonsensical to eat meat? Well, I personally don't think so, and I hold that opinion for health reasons as well as personal enjoyment. I'm anemic and there's only so much spinach I can eat before I turn green. However, anyone who thinks it is completely normal to eat meat 7 days a week in all three meals is living in a delusional fairy tale. Sure, you may point me to historical references of when people did exactly just that and thus assume you proved me wrong. Those people also thought the Earth was flat, that the sun revolved around us and lived to be about 55 years old.
We were not meant to eat animals as much as we do. To begin with, we shouldn't be able to afford it, but we also simply don't need it. There are so many other sources of protein, vitamins and minerals that you can grow on your windowsill or purchase so cheaply you may think it's a miracle.
For now however, I am in the minority and I won't even stay there much longer (Easter is only a week and change away!). But in the past few days I've had to experience some uncomfortable situations, like wondering whether I should tell my Aunt that I was on a vegan diet when I went to her house for lunch, or telling the volunteer that thinks I need fattening up that I can't eat any of the goodies she's brought in for me. When I was speaking on the phone with my sister she asked me what my aunt served and made some comment about other's perceptions of vegetarianism: "It wasn't chicken, was it? Some people don't think that counts as meat." Actually, Aunt Toni made salmon (and it was delicious) with green beans and rice. But Kirsty speaks from experience of when she was a vegetarian visiting our grandmother in Spain.
I'm sure everyone has seen that cute scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where Tula's aunt shows how inconceivable it is to her that someone should choose not to eat meat. She responds that she has the perfect solution: she'll make lamb.
My vegetarian friends and family members are not inconvenient people. They are sweethearts with good heads on their shoulders and quick to the draw. I think Kirsty's biggest fear is that she'll be an inconvenience to someone.
I am such a huge chicken, too. Deep rooted insecurities make me reluctant to spoil anyone's fun to the point of panic attacks. When I called my Aunt to tell her I was coming to lunch my hands were sweating and shaking as I debated telling her there was a vast variety of food I couldn't eat. The other metaphorical bramble patch I got stuck in was at dinner on Friday night friends all of whom wanted me to try their chocolate laden deserts. I didn't want to be rude, and I just didn't want to talk about why I could not lick that ribbon of chocolate syrup from the fork. Because, this blog to the contrary, I don't like talking about myself.
Perhaps my friends and family are rolling their eyes right now, perhaps they've spit out their tea in shock and hilarity, but seriously, this is the thought process going on inside my head when I talk about myself: ohmygodtheyregonnathinkimsoselfcenteredandconceitedandbigheadedandimprobablytotallyboringthemtotearsrightnowandtheyrenevergonnainvitemeanywhereagainandimhoggingtheconversationstoptalkingaboutyourselfstoptalkingaboutyourselfnoonecaresnoonecaresnooncaresyouarethemostboringpersonintheworldshutupshutupshutupshutup!
Childhood stories, a book I just finished reading, some place I went, a memory that involves whoever I'm hanging out with; these are acceptable things to talk about. Myself not so much. So to avoid that topic, I did try the deserts. God please forgive me.
(it didn't even work, because when I tried to surreptitiously cross myself and therefore lessen the severity of the sin, my friend finally caught on and said, "I thought it was only meat you couldn't eat," and I had to explain the nature of a Lenten Fast in 10 words or less before I burst with discomfort)
Radical idea: From now on, when I have a dinner guest, I'm going to assume they are vegetarian instead of the other way round.