Coming out of the Culinary Closet

What if the words you were about to read came with a consumer warning? Like the rating assigned to a movie. These letters: G, PG, PG-13, X and NC-17 are extremely helpful.

For instance, take the movie Free Willy. If walking into this show you see on the marquee the movie is rated "G" your mind might think "Hey! Let's free that big black and white whale of a thing." However, if this same movie is labeled as "X," you may think the same thought, but you know the movie on the screen will take on a completely different meaning than its "G" rated counterpart.

With that in mind the words you are about to read are rated "V." Not "V" as in violence or "V" as in venereal. It's worse, this column is rated "V" for vegetarian.

Vegetarianism, as you may know, is in vogue. Perhaps it all started when Ellen DeGeneres came out as a vegetarian. Or maybe vegetarianism has been around since the days of Oscar Wilde. But, what's well known is vegetarians are everywhere. They are on such hit TV shows as Will and Grace, Normal Ohio, Spin City and even Erica Kane's daughter on All My Children recently came out as a vegetarian. Television executives would have you think that having a token vegetable eater on their show will equal success.

Personally, it's difficult for me to weigh in on the whole plant versus meat thing, because I am and always have been a meat eater. Admittedly, there may have been that one time in college I spent the entire day eating celery sticks, avocados and chips and salsa. But please. It was Superbowl Sunday and we were glued to the TV. This was really just a potluck-pigskin supper gone horribly wrong. But that one day doesn't make me a vegan or a vegetarian, does it? It was an experiment and I didn't even get any enjoyment from that occasion. Ever since, I swear, I've eaten meat and/or fried food every single day.

The type of restaurant where I'm comfortable dining, has a large sign outside the building that says, "57 million cows killed today ... Just for you!" Other restaurants I frequent, feature brochures that state, "Eat your meat ... Not your vegetables." The inside of these pamphlets have pictures of farmers, with menacing looks, ripping ears of corn off the stalk. Potatoes, with sad eyes, awaiting their turn to get mashed. And rows and rows of severed heads of lettuce. Salad or murder? You decide.

So how did I end up eating at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant? Simple, it was on the way home. (Hey man! Newton discovered gravity because an apple fell out of a tree and bonked him on his noggin. Great ideas don't have to be complicated.)

As a meat eater it was difficult to figure out a simple menu that only consists of garden variety vegetables. My vegetable knowledge is simple: French fries go with ketchup and then I want a Big Mac. Luckily when I pulled into this "Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence" restaurant, I had a friend with me, Penny, a Pisces and a vegetarian. She was able to create her own sandwich picking and choosing vegetables, condiments and faux meat products with an authority I reserve only for those times I choose a lobster from the tanks at a seafood restaurant.

When the food arrived I figured there must have been a vegetable murder melee in the kitchen as the chef prepared the tamale I ordered, because tomatoes, onions, corn and avocados were slaughtered, sliced and diced to prepare this entree. Even worse, I imagined, was the carnage in the kitchen when, in order to make Penny's sandwich, they killed a fake turkey.

Even though the site of slain vegetables and soy turkey turned my stomach, I took a bite and discovered that vegetables could actually be the main entree and not just a side dish to meat, I was surprised. But now I'm confused. Am I now bi-culinary curious? Do I need a "Hug Trees ... Not Your Child" bumper sticker? Is the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow sticker really just a garden? Quick, someone get me the back episodes of Will and Grace, it's time to ketchup.

(Ed. Note: Vegetables were killed so you could read this story)

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