For many years, for more than two decades in fact, the Lesser Half and I have been … you know … shhhh!
When we started, we tended to steer clear of the V-word only because so few people had a clue what it meant. Often it seemed to get mixed up with other varieties of health-fascist jargon — macrobiotic, probiotic, raw, vegetarian, detoxification, etc. And it was mainly trotted out by people who seemed particularly prone to alternative nutritional fantasy — high colonic, for example, and Reiki, and homeopathy. In our minds at least, the V-word smacked of pantheistic sentimentality. Our sneering pride might be at stake. Would we be lumped in with crystal-worshiping “old souls” in Birkenstocks? There were pronunciation gaffs to be sorted as well. Frequently the V-word came out sounding as if it rhymed with pagan; or, losing its hard g, would get mangled into a homophone for veggin’. Not without humorous logic in either case.
Later, we avoided using the V-word because of its largely deserved association with narcissistic entitlement and celebrity culture. Too often we were hearing the term broached with creepy self-regard, as if admiration was expected, or deference to a higher, much more snuggly morality. Hardly less irritating were proclamations of improved energy levels or sense of tranquility. All kinds of imaginary diseases and allergies were declared to have vanished over night. Libidos went through the roof, or onto the roof. Hair stopped turning gray, stopped falling out. (Eventually one would almost crave, like an antidote, the mantra of do-gooding nay-sayers: “Where do you get your protein?”) At this point, while remaining very committed, we’re feeling inclined to let the whole operation slip quietly under the radar. Ya know, the Niman Ranch ribeye with shallot thyme butter sounds terrific, but I think we’ll try the braised cauliflower with risotto and truffle oil instead.
We had, the Lesser Half and I, slightly different motivations for turning our backs on meat and dairy. Hers was somewhat political, prompted initially by a film depicting unspeakable cruelty to factory-farmed animals. My own decision was two-pronged. It had partly to do with my having been a salaried athlete: flesh proteins, being metabolically acid-forming, are known to abet inflammation, delaying recovery from heavy training. But it was principally a health thing. By the skin of my knuckles I had survived — more or less — an inconvenient illness thought to “express” faster and more dangerously the farther up the food chain one grazes. My oncologist, a former carrier pilot who continued to wear a Navy-regulation flattop long after his decommissioning, gave the order, barking, “The only reason there’s no documented evidence supporting a plant-based diet is that it’s more lucrative to keep you barely alive for five years than modestly healthy for thirty. If you’re scared enough, you’ll give it a shot.” I was. I did.
Although we briefly explored the official sub-culture of V-word cuisine, trying restaurants in which this alternative was the rule rather than the exception, the project got abandoned once we realized (A) that such establishments are patronized by swarms of oversharing Stevie Nicks impersonators and (B) that very little conversation occurs within those rough-hewn walls that isn’t directly related to the V-word and its spiritual bombast. You’ll hear nothing of the prose-style of Walser, of the libretti of Jaroslav Kvapil, of Buster Keaton’s collapsing houses, of Botticelli’s contribution to Quatrocento aesthetics. Nothing of hermeneutics or the early sestinas of the Occitan troubadours. Not one damned word about the arabesque that, just two blocks away, Wendy Whalens had scorched in Ego et Tu.
Seriously? It’s hard to figure what else the extended lifespan would be for.