Amy and I just so happened to be at the same Love Your Veggies event in Chicago earlier this year. She had won a $5,000 grant from Hidden Valley Ranch for he kids' school and I was there as part of the press. What a trip indeed! The Four Seasons, dinner at Frontera Grill and a relaxing afternoon at the spa were just some of the highlights. Now we're two Brooklyn moms back to life as usual.
I'm a vegetarian. I've been one most of my life, since I was a little kid. My dad went to India and came back a vegetarian, so my mom became one too. They never said that I had to be one, but since they were doing all of the shopping, I guess I went along as well, I don't remember. All I know is that when I went to school parties, I would pull the pepperoni off of my pizza. There were a couple of years in high school when I "experimented." Never one for drugs or drinking, my vice was bacon egg & cheese Croissanwiches at Burger King, and I stopped pulling the pepperoni off of my pizza for a while. But that phase passed and I haven't had any meat since I was 17 (not on purpose, anyway – I've mistakenly eaten some a few times).
So, there's my food history. A lifetime of trying to sneakily get a sense of what would be served at dinner parties, so that I would know whether to eat beforehand. Of being told that I would be fine because there would be vegetarian options, only to be served fish. Of explaining myself at every party. No, I don't eat meat. No, no fish or chicken either. No, I'm not an animal rights activist.
To complicate things, I can't stand two of the vegetarian staples: mushrooms, and tofu. Whenever a host finds out that I'm a vegetarian, they want to cook me mushrooms. If I politely mention that I don't like them, they're flummoxed, as though there are no other options. I always beg them not to go to any trouble, because the truth is, I've spent my life eating side dishes and bread and really love them.
I don't like my eating habits to be the center of attention, especially when it makes the hosts feel inadequate. I'm always touched when someone goes to trouble for me, but it's like a spotlight is shined on me if I don't happen to like what they've made. That doesn't happen to other guests, because the other food isn't made specifically for one guest. Because of this, at this point I never volunteer that I'm a vegetarian unless I'm asked a direct question. I'm quite happy to eat hot dog buns and potato salad at a cookout. I can't stand vegetarian hot dogs, but if the cook knows I'm a vegetarian, there they are, just waiting to be eaten by me. And when I politely say that I don't like those, and the cook realizes that he just bought an entire package for nothing, I feel terrible.
Buffets are heaven. Appetizers are often a good bet. I've made a meal of cheese and crackers and fruit and been very happy. I would never think less of a host for not serving something I like, as long as I'm not put on the spot about what I'm eating. And desserts? I can finally relax, knowing I'm unlikely to be served mincemeat pie.
The thing is, I know I don't speak for most vegetarians. It's more likely that I speak for picky people in general. But either way, all I really want is to not have what I'm eating scrutinized. If you genuinely want to go to trouble for me, I appreciate it. But remember that you're not cooking for an entire group, you're cooking for me. Besides, I didn't come for the food, I came for the company.
Editor's note: Amy lovingly bestowed her seal of approval on my zucchini parmesan hummus, proof you can make something vegetarian without nary a mushroom or tofu.