When it occurred to me that the conference in Maryland I was going to attend as part of my church’s worship team would fall within my 30 days of vegetarianism, my primary concern was that my friends were going to enjoy crab cakes without me. Well, that’s not true: My primary concern was that my friends were going to enjoy crab cakes, and my inability to delight in others’ joy amidst my own suffering was going to unmask my very bad attitude toward my fellow Christian, greater humanity, and life in general.
So, knowing my propensity toward self-indulgent moodiness and knowing that its second-best cure* is junk food, Bryan stocked me up for my trip. He even threw in a few health food items as insurance I wouldn’t starve should I find myself forced to sit through meat-laden meals.
But he needn’t have worried. Just before we left, our worship director received this email on behalf of my real-life vegetarian friend and the temporary wanna-be, me:
I am emailing because on your registration form you selected that you have a dietary restriction and requested either Gluten Free, Dairy Free or Vegetarian meals for lunch. … In the main session, prior to lunch, we will make an announcement directing you exactly where to go to pick them up as they will be set up at a separate station. [Emphasis and embarrassment mine.]
I hadn’t even realized that there was a place for him to indicate our dietary needs, and this reply struck me as both gracious and hilarious. Needing to eat dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian does not make a person susceptible to airborne allergens, yet we would be sequestered. It was my first taste of being a special-needs eater, and it tasted like shame.
We were compelled by misfortune of time to eat our first meal of the trip in the airport, and my $11-, very simple Quizno’s lunch struck the fear of expensive vegetarian travel food into my heart. But dinner at Taco Bell that night assuaged me; I had a full vegetarian meal for $3, and I regretted not a bite of it. The moral of this mini-story is twofold: 1.) Compared to normal food, vegetarian food isn’t always more expensive; similarly compared, airport food necessarily is; 2.) Taco Bell is not the horrifying dog food you’ve always held it to be as long as you’re into bean burritos.
On our first full day of the conference, true to their word, the hosts did both provide and announce our special lunch. And it proved to be more sequestered than any of us imagined. Outside in the general lunch area, the real vegetarian and I passed a section of tables bearing meat-filled subs, continued on to a farther section which only had more of the same, trekked back toward the building, questioned a volunteer as to the secret location of the very special food, pushed against the flow of special-needs eaters who were evidently less directionally impaired than we, and finally found in a whole separate gymnasium two tables containing bread-free meat bowls, dairy-free veggie bowls (and no, I do not mean “salad”– they were bowls with giant chunks of vegetables), and, mercifully, our long-sought veggie subs. I imagine the subs would have been good even if we’d managed to find their private lair right away, but after that extended and circuitous hunt, I found mine to be very good; I might even say especially good.
But even special veggie subs only keep a girl full for so long, so I turned between meals to the energy bars my husband so presciently packed for me. First I tried the Clif Carrot Cake Bar, which I immediately decided was far too generous a title. It was a perfectly fine carrot-ish-flavored granola bar, but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? You don’t smoosh a bunch of healthy, mealy stuff together and try to tell me it’s cake. I know cake.
Slightly let down by Clif’s sneaky little misnomer but emboldened nevertheless, I ventured on to try the Lara Bar. Let me just tell you: No. I took one bite, declared that it was awful, and then demanded my companions taste it. All but one acquiesced and the conversation turned at once into an attempt to place just what it was this strange peanut-butter-chocolate-healthy-weirdness tasted like. I offered simply, “Shit.”
Mindful of my health but through with the health bars, I decided to order a salad along with my dinner one night. It arrived in dark green, crispy glory, but at the last moment, I remembered the menu’s exact words: with anchovy caesar dressing; whole anchovies available upon request. Not just caesar; anchovy caesar, dammit. I couldn’t eat it, not with the strict parameters Bryan and I had set up for the 30 days. So I looked at it mournfully until, out of pity, one of my friends agreed to take it away from me and not let it go to shameful waste. I comforted myself by insisting they all regale Bryan with my gallant act of faithfulness should he inquire. They nodded to keep away the crazy.
Later that night, after a jaunt to D.C., I was overtaken by the combined influences of my friend’s deliciously terrible smelling McDonald’s snack, exhaustion, and basic road trippery: I wanted a Twinkie. In fact, I would have settled for almost anything Hostess or Little Debbie could’ve offered up, minus the Snowballs, but the real vegetarian ruined it: He told me that Twinkies contain beef fat. And so not only did I not get my Twinkie, I also dreamed that night that all my guilty pleasure, convenience store snacks contained gruesome animal parts and by-products. Thank you, real vegetarian, for ruining everything good and imaginarily wholesome.
On the upside, I made it the entire time in Maryland tempted by nary a crab cake. But one morning I did come down to breakfast to find our worship director with a plate full of bacon. “I hate you, and I hate you, and I… HATE you!” I pronounced in a tone slightly less jocular than I intended.
And I learned that you can take vegetarianism to go, but you can’t take the bacon-eater out of this vegetarian.
*Number one is white wine, duh. Do you even know me?
Have you ever been embarrassed by your special-needs eating (like I was)?
Have you ever been on a kickass church trip (like I have)?
And most importantly, would you still eat a Twinkie (like I will)?