Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twigs and Berries: A Tale of Retaliation on the Elementary School Playground

It’s not easy being a vegan. There are a lot of misconceptions out there floating around. The first major misunderstanding is that people think I’m on a life-or-death mission to convert them to an animal free lifestyle. In my perfect world, it would be great if we all participated in veganism. However, I realize that this option is neither attractive nor even feasible for many people. For instance, people that suffer from diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome are advised to adopt a diet that is higher in protein and lower in total carbohydrates. So I’ve always held to the idea that people will choose the option that best fits their health and lifestyle needs. Far be it from me to try and influence anyone wrongly.

The second misunderstanding is that meat-eaters assume I don’t enjoy eating. Nothing could be further from the truth. I absolutely love to eat, and I strive to eat really good-tasting food. I’m not going to lie. There is a lot of absolutely terrible vegan food out there, mostly within prepackaged food. I remember the first vegan “meat patty” I got my hands on. I was in week two of my new eating lifestyle and was perusing the frozen food aisle at my local grocery store. I ended up buying two boxes of them, each containing six patties comprised of brown rice, pinto beans, and mushrooms. It sounded like a winner, but when I got home, the taste was something else. I remember staring down at the inedible hockey puck of mashed bean curd, with one neat bite taken out of it, and wondering if this was what veganism was all about.

“I will grow to love you,” I said mournfully to the patty on my plate.

Then comes the biggest misconception of all. I like to call it the Inevitable Question. I know what you’re thinking it could be, and you’re wrong. The question is never “So what do you eat?” This would be an appropriate question, one that deserves serious attention because it’s an opportunity to showcase just how diverse a vegan diet can be. But no, I do not get asked this.

The question always goes like this: “So…do you just eat twigs and berries then?”

Yes. I eat frickin twigs. Way to go, genius.

Wait. I take that back. I have eaten a twig. One time. And it wasn’t so much voluntary as it was retribution against an evil deed I had committed against an innocent.

Let me explain.

In fifth grade, there was this annoying kid who sat in the back of the classroom. His name was Jeremy. I only ever saw him do three things: Sniff his armpits, pick his nose, and flick boogers onto unsuspecting classmates’ backs. His biggest crime was that he talked incessantly, at top volume, about nonsense crap.

Looking back on it, he was your typical irritating ten year old. But none of us liked him.

One day at recess, a few of us came up with a plan. It was a plan I was not particularly proud of at the time (nor am I to this day), but the idea of it all was too hysterical to pass on up (and it still is). Our evil plan was based on the fact that all of the outside school restrooms were being renovated at the time, so several porta potties had been placed on the outskirts of the playground for temporary use. We just had to wait for the right moment to happen.

When this poor kid briefly ducked into a porta potty one fine afternoon, we seized the day and locked him inside. We stuffed the lock and handle opening full with fistfuls of branches and twigs that we had been collecting over the past couple days in anticipation of this very opportunity. There was no way he was going to get out by himself.

But wait! Just like a bad infomercial, there’s more. We immediately forgot all about him and ran back to class when the recess bell rang five minutes later. We left him alone and defenseless in that disgusting porta potty. It wasn’t until the teacher started asking the whole class where Jeremy was that we remembered what we had done. Of course, none of us spoke up out of fear of getting into some serious deep shit, so we kept our mouths shut and our eyes guiltily glued to the tops of our desks.

Jeremy was eventually freed, three hours later, by a groundskeeper who was about to mow the soccer field when he heard the banging of small fists against hollow plastic walls. Jeremy was unharmed, a bit stinky, and aching for revenge. But he didn’t rat us out, even though he knew the six of us that did it. I immediately felt bad that he refused to give names, because I knew I deserved some kind of penalty for my poor behavior. On the other hand, I wasn’t about to turn myself in. So I approached Jeremy and asked what he thought would be an appropriate punishment for me.

He was quiet for a moment. “You should eat a twig,” he responded finally, “Because you used all those sticks to jam the lock of the porta potty.”

I was horrified. “A whole twig?” I asked, incredulously.

He conceded. “Well, maybe just a bite.”

How could I back out now? Grating as he was, no one deserves to be locked in one of those things and then forgotten about for several hours. But what was my other option? Let the guilt overcome me until I turned myself into the principle, who would then notify my mother, ending with me subsequently grounded until I was 47 years old?

I had no choice. I had to eat the twig.

It was the cruelest, toughest, most grimy lesson I’ve ever had to swallow. The ultimate message here being, “Don’t act like a shit, or you’ll be forced to eat a dirty twig.”

So no, my dear carnivores, contrary to popular belief, we vegans do not eat twigs. No one does, at least not willingly. Twigs are simply not fit for human consumption. Gastronomically, there is nothing redeeming about its rough, woody texture, nor the bits of grit that flake off from the exterior when you try and bite off a piece.

The flavor is absolutely terrible. It tastes of oversight. It tastes like little boy vengeance.

This I something I can personally attest to.

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