There I was, minding my own business. It was about time to make the announcements in the Singles Sunday School class, and in she walked – the vegetarian. I didn’t know that then – I just knew she was in Sunday School, she was cute, and there was a pretty good chance she was single, given the class she had wandered into. We were off to a good start. I made some not-so-sly inquiries and collected enough basic information that when I actually did meet her, I told her all about herself. (Oops.) My sources did not give me all the data, though – this cutie was not just a vegetarian – she was a vegan.
For the uninitiated, vegans don’t just refrain from eating meat – they pretty much don’t eat anything that originates from an animal. No milk, no eggs, no nothing. But since dating in the American culture so often involves food, this set us up for some interesting moments in the early months of our relationship. I was not against the vegetarian diet, and her goal was health - not a political or religious statement - thus she was not offended by my hankering for all things porcine, either. So far, so good.
Our first date went well enough to encourage more, and this time I really thought I had found the perfect vegetarian outing: the farmer’s market restaurant. What could be better? Fresh vegetables, straight from the farm to the table. We sat down, ordered our sweet tea, and looked at the menu for the day’s options. She said, “Are all these going to be cooked with bacon?” Well, yeah, I guess so. “Then I can’t eat them.” (Oops again.) So much for my great idea. We paid for our iced tea, gave up our table to the next folks in the Sunday lunch crowd line, and headed for the Chinese buffet.
I was intrigued by it all, though – intrigued enough to try the vegan way myself. She warned me that it was tough, and required lots of label reading. Packaged foods that obviously do not contain hunks of meat may still have eggs or milk-based ingredients which have funny chemical names that don’t rhyme with milk at all. Then there are all the egg-laden baked goods. With all the reading, it took much longer to shop, but my basket wasn’t nearly as full. And shopping wasn’t the only challenge. Vegan- friendly restaurants were not always the destination of the after-church singles’ outing. It was tougher than I thought. But I knew this relationship had potential, and I stuck it out as a vegan for two weeks. Thankfully, the dating lasted longer, and I could appreciate the hard work of being vegan.
The next hurdle was meeting the parents. My folks came up for New Year’s Day, and we were trying to come up with a menu. We thought this would be a piece of cake. She could skip the pork, and dive right into the collards, black-eyed peas, and sweet potatoes. We wouldn’t even flavor the veggies with bacon, despite our upbringing. It’s all good, right? Well, she took a look at our list and said, “I won’t be eating that, that or that.” I had learned the lesson of the farmer’s market restaurant, but had forgotten something else: she wasn’t just a vegetarian, she was also a Yankee.
I hate to be a spoiler, but to tell the next part appropriately, I have to fess up now. I married the Yankee vegetarian. By this time she had given up on being a strict vegan, so she could eat the wedding cake with the butter-cream icing, but she stuck closer to the hummus at the reception. What she did avoid was the pulled pork at our rehearsal dinner, despite the fact that it had been shipped all the way from Fellowship Street in Starkville to Charlotte Street in Asheville. But that was okay – it just meant more for me.
Those of you who know her are probably thinking, “I’ve never noticed that she was a vegetarian before – didn’t I just see her eating a ham sandwich last night? And didn’t she say ‘Y’all’ in a perfectly lovely drawl?” The moment of truth came during our first pregnancy. In birthing class we learned the importance of getting enough protein - a challenge on a vegetarian diet, but not an insurmountable one. So you can imagine my shock, when about halfway through the term I learned that she had caved. The golden arches must have been acting as a protein magnet, or the breeze wafted off the griddle just as she was passing. Whatever the pull, her little Honda was drawn to the drive-through. She says those were the best McNuggets she ever had.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .