I was stunned. I couldn’t process the words I had just heard.
I understood that sometimes news in a doctor’s office isn’t always cheerful, but I never thought I would hear this. I blinked at my cardiologist. He just kept looking at me. I should probably say something.
“What?” is all that I could manage.
He smiled at me reassuringly. “I really think that it would benefit you to follow a vegetarian lifestyle,” he said again. I had heard him correctly. I tried to process. Well, at least he didn’t say I have to give up eggs and cheese.
“Additionally,” he continued, “you should consider minimizing eggs and dairy or giving them up entirely.” Checkmate. I had spoken too soon.
Crap. Apparently the blood work he was looking at wasn’t as good as we hoped. It wasn’t bad, but I have coronary artery disease and a sclerotic valve in my aorta. The more placque deposited on the walls of my arteries the worse it is for my extended future. My blood chemistry has to be better than okay, it has to be good enough to stop placque from building up. I had tried many approaches, but I had clung to my roots as a carnivore . . . with gravy.
I sat back to listen to the lecture again. I had heard it before. I had never heard the word “vegetarian” until now, but I had heard the lecture. Then something strange happened. He stopped talking at me and talked to me. He explained how biologically and chemically substances in eggs, dairy and meat turn fat into artery-clogging placque. It made sense. He wasn’t chanting a mantra, he was explaining. I started listening.
Me? A vegetarian? It just didn’t add up. I am a meat guy. My wife would try to sneak excess vegetables to the table occasionally. By excess I mean more than one per meal. Vegetables are an importan part of any meal . . . as long as they know their role. They are a side. They occupy a small slice of a dinner plate and should never, ever ooze their juice on the necessary parts of the meal like meat and potatoes.
She also likes to put salads on the table. I eat them grudgingly because I can’t win the argument. My stance on salad is that it is not food . . . it is what food eats.
On the drive home I contemplated life as a vegetarian. I would eat meals of sides . . . green beans, broccoli and corn on a plate that have previously had two of those spots occupied by meat and potatoes. Technically potatoes were allowable in a vegetarian diet, but without meat what was the point of potatoes?
I was vaguely aware of a vegetarian section in the grocery store, other than the produce section. It is a small freezer section surrounded by people wearing hemp clothing and dreadlocks. This section holds meatless meat with clever names like chik’n and pourque that are code for not really chicken or pork. There are also various patties and “burgers” made from ground veggies and sadness. This was my future.
I texted my wife. I needed somebody to comfort me. I texted her that I was considering a major lifestyle change. She immediately texted back “What and why?” Texting has its limits and right now my wife was across town wondering what kind of lifestyle change I was contemplating.
I called her office. I told her that I needed to be a vegetarian. “Duh,” she said, “I’ve been telling you to change your diet for years, but no you don’t listen to me . . .” Wow. I need serious support and she was going all “I told you so” on me.
“We can do this,” she said. “There are lots of foods you like that we can eat. You liike mushrooms, right?”
“I love mushrooms,” I answered. “The are great on a ribeye.”
She wasn’t fazed. She knows me. “I will cook dinners for awhile. There a lots of foods we can eat like rice, beans, lentils, eggplant . . .
Wait. Eggplant? Hold everything. I forgot about eggplant. I can eat eggplant? I’m saved! Bring on vegetarianism! Eggplant and I will face it together. Not really . . . eggplant is squash that disappointed it’s parents and got all squishy.
I didn’t say any of that. It was all inner monolog. Sometimes I know when to be quiet. We agreed that she would find a recipe and make a vegetarian dinner that night. Mmmmmm. I couldn’t wait for bean sprouts and despair on tofu.
When we got home I told the boys that I would not be eating meat anymore and that they wouldn’t be eating as much. I waited for the complaints.
“OK,” Charlie said. “Can I go play?”
“Aren’t you upset?”
“About not eating as much meat?”
He shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “I don’t like meat that much, except for hot dogs and not even those so much.”
Huh. That didn’t go the way expected. Eli didn’t seem to understand so much. He was just happy when I told him he could have broccoli.
I have to admit . . . dinner was good. My wife made patties from couscous, spinach and feta cheese and fried them in olive oil. She servied the on a large tomato salad. It wasn’t what I was used to, but it was good.
In the weeks since the change the menu has expanded. I am still in mourning a little bit, but it is fading. Eggs and cheese aren’t completely off the menu, however I only eat them if they are ingredients in a dish. My crackers and cheese days and my eggs over easy days are behind me.
So here I am. Pushing 50 and becoming a vegetarian. This isn’t happening the way I had it playing out in my head. The images in my head always included less stomach, more hair and prime rib. I am embracing this change. I am embracing the change with two things in mind:
1. I want to see my two youngest graduate. I want to hold my grandchildren. This isn’t just about me, it’s about my family.
2. There is no meat in beer.
Thanks for reading. We will be back soon on This Side of The Diaper.