A Side Salad

It has been a bitch being a vegetarian in the south.  I heard the horror stories, but didn’t believe it. And now, Im cursing the heavens that I didn’t pack more peanut butter. Over the past two weeks, beyond sustaining on a diet of mostly baked potatoes, Ive been the butt of jokes and the laughing stock of most conversations. I can always feel bewildered stare of someone pointing me out to their friends as the wierdo, hippie, animal loving, crazy chick who cant kill anything. And there is no point in trying to explain why Im a vegetarian. No one cares… mostly they just cant believe that I don’t love the taste of blood or have the urge to murder. One person even tried to reason with me by explaining how much fun it is to kill… I just gotta try it. All the while, the eyes of the mounted stuffed boar and alligator hanging beneath two guns on her living room wall stared at me.

Its gotten to the point where I try not to tell people about my eating habits, and dread the moment when dinner comes up.  I hate fitting the stereotype of that typical, urban northerner who chews on lettuce and does yoga. Thats not at all who I am: I hate vegetables and exercise. But these people don’t see that: They have no clue that for years I ate on only paper plates, cause I figured it was less bothersome than washing dishes. They have no idea that sometimes I don’t shower for a couple days, but not because Im trying to make a statement, or save water.. more because Im just lazy and I hate how cold the bathroom is when its time to get out. Im just a small, friendly person from Minnesota who has made a choice to not eat anything I know I cant kill myself (which leaves me with mostly vegetables and candy).

But last week, I had enough. We went out on a boat with some New Orleans fisherman, and during the 4 hour journey, I always had an oyster within 2 inches from my face (coming off the outstretched hand of a very excited Vietnamese woman who kept on loudly asking why I wouldn’t eat it. “You’re not vegan are you?! God, I hope she is not vegan…”). I was also really sea sick. So to recap: we’re in the middle of nowhere off the gulf, fish smell everywhere, everyone yelling at me about why I wont eat the seafood, and trying my best not to vomit. It wasn’t my best moment.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of this, I politely told the woman that no, I wasn’t vegan, but I was vegetarian… and on top of that, I was feeling sick, so I wouldnt be eating anything on the boat. She stopped for a second to take it in. And in that moment of silence, I thought hopefully that everything would be ok. Then her eyes lit up with excitement and she turned enthusiastically to her fellow fisherman: “I knew it! Hey Shari — Mirra is a vegan! Thats why she wont eat anything! She’s a vegan!”

Unfortunately, Shari couldn’t hear her over the sloshing of the waves, so it had to be repeated — louder and with more passion. The main fisherman also wanted to know what all the raucous was about. So it was repeated many more times before everyone got it and the boat was immersed in laughter. Since I hadn’t yet eaten anything, the fishermen spent the next hour suggesting places on land where I could get a chicken sandwich — at which point I had to remind them of my predicament, and the laughter would start again. Then seafood gumbo was suggested… then a po boy…It was a vicious, vicious cycle.

After the excitement had died down, The first woman asked if I liked Vietnamese food as some of it is vegetarian. My heart skipped a beat. I told her that I loved the stuff, and she began to recommend a great restaurant about 15 minutes from where we met.  I couldn’t wait and suggested we go there for lunch. The thought of a mock duck noodle dish with cilantro, sprouts and onion, (or even sauteed vegetables over rice) filled my mind and made my mouth water. But after much discussion, we ended going to a oyster bar and grill close by, where my only choices were grilled cheese on white bread or baked potato. I sighed in defeat and chose the latter…which came out with bacon bits sprinkled on top.