Chapter 6: Tofu?!

January 12, 2009

When we last left off, I had a large man sitting across from me at the Thanksgiving table.


One day back in January of 2008 I decided to do a little experiment.  I had waited on one of the “top 5 coolest customers I’d ever had”, who happened to be a vegan.  I knew that he was a vegan because it meant I had to go back to the kitchen and try to communicate what that meant en espanol.

“no queso, no mantequila, por favor.”

“Yah, it’s Ok” answered Jose.  His response was less than comforting as his eyes had that glassy quality they acquire when he starts hitting the Tequila well before his shift is over.  So I had to sit there and watch him make it just to be sure.

Now normally this is the type of fastidious thing that bothers me about a customer, but this guy went about it in a respectful and courteous manner that left me eager to cater to his special request for our Butternut Squash Ravioli (sans parmesan).  Despite the fact that we were busy, it didn’t bother me to have to go find the box for the Zucchini Sticks to make sure there were no cheese in the filling or eggs in the breading.  Granted, I could have just taken Jose’s word on it:

“Yeah, it’s Ok man.”

My eyes stinging from the alcohol on Jose’s breath, I figured it better safe than sorry.

I had always like the idea of veganism, but was never particularly wild about the idea of practicing it.  Not only did it seem like a lot of work, but then you don’t get to eat meat, dairy, eggs or even honey.  These were all things I really enjoyed eating.  When I was five years old my parents let me order food for the first time, “ten bacons and a tea”.  But I was in need of a shakeup in my life at the time, and was inspired by my cool customer, so I decided to give it a go for one week.  If nothing else, just so I could say I tried it.  I had already been eating less meat after having a vegetarian girlfriend, but I never went more than a few days without seafood or a few weeks without red meat.

That night I ordered the veggie burger as my shift meal, which I was already a big fan of.  This time I left the cheese off, however.  It was my first intentionally vegan meal, and in no time at all experienced my first “vegan response”.

“What’re you eating?” asked my manager Jeff, a native of New Jersey with an inability to keep his hands or shoulders still while speaking.  “No cheese?” he asked.  “What’re you a fucking vegan now?  Jesus Christ”. 

Jeff finished off the sentiment with a “Fangul” hand gesture.

Eight minutes in and I already kind of wanted to quit.  Sure, the veggie burger was delicious.  In fact I was wondering why I’d never thought of adding avocado before, which I had done to fill in the void of the missing cheese.  But I found myself worriedly trying to assure Jeff from Jersey that I was not a vegan…just giving it a try is all.  “Nah dude, you’re a vegan, admit it.”

Jeff’s uncle and aunt had apparently done so much damage to their bodies with years of drinking and drug abuse that they decided to become vegan as a way of cleansing.  Jeff found it particularly irritating, because he had to eat at vegetarian restaurants from time to time. 

“I have to go to McDonald’s after I eat at those places.  Not just because I’m still hungry, but for the principle.”

My meal took a while to finish because I had to check on my tables from time to time.  Normally Jeff would look after them for me, but he was a bit preoccupied with lecturing me.  Before I could take my last bite he gave me the low-down on what to expect if I kept this up.

“You will never be able to take a normal shit again.  Ever.”

I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about, but I didn’t bother asking him to elaborate.

The next day I had my usual breakfast (vegan by default) and then went to Burritoville, my favorite joint with lots of vegetarian options.  Later that night at work I got the Butternut Squash Ravioli without the cheese, just like my cool customer the night before.

“How’s your shit doing?” Jeff asked me as I sat down for my shift meal.

It’s been almost a year now, and I haven’t noticed a significant difference in my bowel movements.  My one-week experiment kind of stuck.  I’ve had dairy a handful of times since then either by accident or because I didn’t feel like having “the conversation”.  In order to not die, I thought it would be good to read about nutrition pertaining to those that don’t consume animal products.  That ultimately led to a lot of information on the ethics of it.

A lot of times people ask me why I’m a vegan and I skirt the issue to avoid the touchy subject.  “Eh, you know, I thought it’d be funny”.  But I read something that kind of says it all for me, regardless of any facts or figures or horror stories:

“Veganism is a practical expression of the oneness of all life”

I think that’s kind of cool.  I have lots of thoughts on all of “the issues”, but they all kind of fall under that umbrella.

Now, when I have a large man ranting about tofu in front of me, or Jeff from New Jersey telling me my shit is never gonna be the same, it doesn’t really bother me.  It took a little getting used to, sure, but it’s probably my favorite response because it’s so fun and ridiculous.  A good time is had by all.

However, there is a terrible response that I encounter that makes my skin crawl every time I get it. 

The defense.

The word “defense” implies that I have attacked, and this is what bothers me.  I then have to do my best to not get baited into “the conversation”, when all I wanted was to eat my salad.

But no such conversation happened that Thanksgiving, which I was thankful for.  Just a whole lot of flabbergasted outbursts from Andy’s dad.  “I sure hope they didn’t make this pecan pie with tofu!” 

I was especially thankful to be spending the holiday with my brother, Jeff (not to be confused with Jeff form Jersey).  We went to a hockey game, saw the new Charlie Kaufman film, ate donuts and drank lots of beer.  Jeff’s been in Seattle for over five years now, and I’m the first in the family to join him on the West Coast.  It’s still a ways away, but certainly not as far as before. 

The local burger joint had a deal where if the home team scores five goals, you can redeem your ticket for a free burger.  They had four goals with two minutes remaining.

“I can’t wait to get Jesse’s burger” whispered Andy’s brother to his girlfriend.

Unfortunately they didn’t get that fifth goal, but my burger definitely would’ve been up for grabs.  The night ended with a thirty-one year old man being pushed down a Seattle sidewalk at approximately 35 mph in a shopping cart by Andy’s brother.  It was kind of like Jack Ass The Movie, except real and with drunk people.

The trip was just what I needed.  I headed back to Los Angeles feeling refreshed and ready to start at the new restaurant.  On my way home from the airport I decided to take a detour out to the beach.  It was the first time I had seen the Pacific since I’d moved!  Before I moved I had written down what I wanted to do and accomplish in Los Angeles.  I ambitiously vowed to go to the beach every day, and here I was finally making it after three weeks.

Breathing in the ocean air confirmed my belief that this was an important ritual.  I felt that relaxation that makes people start to talk like…well, beach people.   Strolling back to my car, I felt like nothing could bring me down from this natural high.

I went to unlock the passenger door.


Oh shit.  I know what that means. 


Oh jeez.  Sorry for the profanity, but my state of Zen was just toppled by the car alarm that I had previously paid to have removed.