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Betsy Block

Stories without recipes

The Unlikely Vegetarian

Coming in July 2008 from Algonquin Books:
The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World

If you'd like to receive (infrequent and very short) e-mails when I have pieces in real publications, and when my book comes out this summer, sign up here.

So there I am, lying on the couch citing some terrible statistics about bisphenol A, a chemical found in all sorts of cans and bottles (a topic I cover in my book), when 12-year-old Zack says, "Your generation has really messed things up." (He means the president and Congress. Andy and I have to agree.) "But at least people like me are doing the right thing by going vegetarian."

I nod encouragingly. "That really is great." I smile. And then I laugh, because Zack has been a vegetarian for - let's see, at last count, three hours. It began over a Chinese dinner out with friends. He was digging into his wonton soup when he came to the wonton itself and decided not to eat it.

"What happened?" I ask.

"I dunno, I just wasn't that hungry, and I've been thinking about becoming a vegetarian for a while." (He's been hearing me talk about the evils of most meat since I finished the meat chapter of my book about a year ago; I guess that sometimes, appearances to the contrary, he actually listens to me.) "I just decided to give it a try. And that pink meat" - that would be the sliced pork in the soup - "was too weird."

Back at dinner when he'd first told me, I waited a few minutes to let the big news sink in, then I asked if he'd be willing to try tofu. He said he would. At which point I had to wonder whether someone had slipped something into the scallion pancakes. But mostly I acted casual, at least for me, which meant telling everyone to stop talking immediately so I could make an important announcement. Other than me, though, no one seemed to care too much. No matter. As his mom, I'm proud, excited, and maybe just a little bit annoyed, because what's he going to take in his lunches? He doesn't eat cheese or nuts.

So a little while ago when he came over to me and said, "Mom, as my vegetarian consultant, can you help me make my lunch?," naturally I thought he was just working it, but he insisted he really did want my nutritional advice. I suggested he include some of the raw vegetables I had lovingly washed and cut earlier today, along with a hard boiled egg, some fruit, and maybe a slice of the amazing multigrain bread Andy made today.

Instead, he packed a white flour bagel with cream cheese, a soft dough pretzel, and a nectarine. (I was feeling generous this morning, so when we were grocery shopping I let the kids choose one non-organic, internationally-derived fruit. I regret it now, of course, but you'd think I offered them a nonstop chocolate fountain in the TV room. Poor things.)

Zack's vegetarianism could make for a long week or two.

Monday morning postscript: "You know what?" I say to Zack as we're talking about meat-free living. "I'll join you." I've been a vegetarian before and I'd love to be one again - sort of.

"Really?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say encouragingly. "Just not tonight." That's because later today I'll be making chicken soup from the homemade stock in the fridge, filling it with lots of vegetables and wild rice and mushrooms.

"That's okay," he says, "I'll just pick around the chicken."

"It's chicken stock," I point out.

"Oh," he says, frowning. "Does this mean I can't have most of the soups I like?" I nod. "It's not easy," he says, defeated.

"Having second thoughts?" I ask.

"Doesn't everyone?" he replies, then off to school he goes.

Saturday Morning Update
Zack and I went to a diner for breakfast today. "Unfortunately, I still remember that corned beef hash I had here last time," he said, shaking his head at the thought that he couldn't have it again. "But I want to keep going with this for at least one more day." Which means that he would have been a full-fledged vegetarian for one whole week of his life. And which also means he would feel justified in turning back into a corned beef hash eater if he so chooses. A thought that brightened his day considerably.