Tamára Lunardo

Author & Editor



August 2011



30 Days of Vegetarianism, To Go

Written by , Posted in humor, life, Uncategorized

When it occurred to me that the conference in Maryland I was going to attend as part of my church’s worship team would fall within my 30 days of vegetarianism, my primary concern was that my friends were going to enjoy crab cakes without me. Well, that’s not true: My primary concern was that my friends were going to enjoy crab cakes, and my inability to delight in others’ joy amidst my own suffering was going to unmask my very bad attitude toward my fellow Christian, greater humanity, and life in general.

So, knowing my propensity toward self-indulgent moodiness and knowing that its second-best cure* is junk food, Bryan stocked me up for my trip. He even threw in a few health food items as insurance I wouldn’t starve should I find myself forced to sit through meat-laden meals.

Vegetarian travel snacks as imagined by my husband.

But he needn’t have worried. Just before we left, our worship director received this email on behalf of my real-life vegetarian friend and the temporary wanna-be, me:

I am emailing because on your registration form you selected that you have a dietary restriction and requested either Gluten Free, Dairy Free or Vegetarian meals for lunch. … In the main session, prior to lunch, we will make an announcement directing you exactly where to go to pick them up as they will be set up at a separate station. [Emphasis and embarrassment mine.]

I hadn’t even realized that there was a place for him to indicate our dietary needs, and this reply struck me as both gracious and hilarious. Needing to eat dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian does not make a person susceptible to airborne allergens, yet we would be sequestered. It was my first taste of being a special-needs eater, and it tasted like shame.

We were compelled by misfortune of time to eat our first meal of the trip in the airport, and my $11-, very simple Quizno’s lunch struck the fear of expensive vegetarian travel food into my heart. But dinner at Taco Bell that night assuaged me; I had a full vegetarian meal for $3, and I regretted not a bite of it. The moral of this mini-story is twofold: 1.) Compared to normal food, vegetarian food isn’t always more expensive; similarly compared, airport food necessarily is; 2.) Taco Bell is not the horrifying dog food you’ve always held it to be as long as you’re into bean burritos.

On our first full day of the conference, true to their word, the hosts did both provide and announce our special lunch. And it proved to be more sequestered than any of us imagined. Outside in the general lunch area, the real vegetarian and I passed a section of tables bearing meat-filled subs, continued on to a farther section which only had more of the same, trekked back toward the building, questioned a volunteer as to the secret location of the very special food, pushed against the flow of special-needs eaters who were evidently less directionally impaired than we, and finally found in a whole separate gymnasium two tables containing bread-free meat bowls, dairy-free veggie bowls (and no, I do not mean “salad”– they were bowls with giant chunks of vegetables), and, mercifully, our long-sought veggie subs. I imagine the subs would have been good even if we’d managed to find their private lair right away, but after that extended and circuitous hunt, I found mine to be very good; I might even say especially good.

But even special veggie subs only keep a girl full for so long, so I turned between meals to the energy bars my husband so presciently packed for me. First I tried the Clif Carrot Cake Bar, which I immediately decided was far too generous a title. It was a perfectly fine carrot-ish-flavored granola bar, but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? You don’t smoosh a bunch of healthy, mealy stuff together and try to tell me it’s cake. I know cake.

Slightly let down by Clif’s sneaky little misnomer but emboldened nevertheless, I ventured on to try the Lara Bar. Let me just tell you: No. I took one bite,  declared that it was awful, and then demanded my companions taste it. All but one acquiesced and the conversation turned at once into an attempt to place just what it was this strange peanut-butter-chocolate-healthy-weirdness tasted like. I offered simply, “Shit.”

Mindful of my health but through with the health bars, I decided to order a salad along with my dinner one night. It arrived in dark green, crispy glory, but at the last moment, I remembered the menu’s exact words: with anchovy caesar dressing; whole anchovies available upon request. Not just caesar; anchovy caesar, dammit. I couldn’t eat it, not with the strict parameters Bryan and I had set up for the 30 days. So I looked at it mournfully until, out of pity, one of my friends agreed to take it away from me and not let it go to shameful waste. I comforted myself by insisting they all regale Bryan with my gallant act of faithfulness should he inquire. They nodded to keep away the crazy.

Later that night, after a jaunt to D.C., I was overtaken by the combined influences of my friend’s deliciously terrible smelling McDonald’s snack, exhaustion, and basic road trippery: I wanted a Twinkie.  In fact, I would have settled for almost anything Hostess or Little Debbie could’ve offered up, minus the Snowballs, but the real vegetarian ruined it: He told me that Twinkies contain beef fat. And so not only did I not get my Twinkie, I also dreamed that night that all my guilty pleasure, convenience store snacks contained gruesome animal parts and by-products. Thank you, real vegetarian, for ruining everything good and imaginarily wholesome.

On the upside, I made it the entire time in Maryland tempted by nary a crab cake. But one morning I did come down to breakfast to find our worship director with a plate full of bacon. “I hate you, and I hate you, and I… HATE you!” I pronounced in a tone slightly less jocular than I intended.

And I learned that you can take vegetarianism to go, but you can’t take the bacon-eater out of this vegetarian.

*Number one is white wine, duh. Do you even know me?

Have you ever been embarrassed by your special-needs eating (like I was)?

Have you ever been on a kickass church trip (like I have)?

And most importantly, would you still eat a Twinkie (like I will)?

  • http://gravatar.com/lemmony Jessica Lemmon

    Outings w/catered meals are the hardest. I feel I’m risking social lepur-ship by denying the food before me, but I always pack a lunch bag full of vegan (yes VEGAN) foodstuffs. It’s easier than eating what is offered and suffering later. Good on you for making it, albeit begrudgingly. And Twinkies? Beef fat? REALLY?! *cringe*

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      I like the idea of just discreetly bringing your own lunch rather than being called out to go claim your specially prepared one. And yeah, the Twinkies are one of those things you just have to let yourself forget about, kind of like the time my friend told me a gross story about chocolate– I definitely still eat chocolate. 🙂

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy

    I just don’t have the self-discipline required to be vegetarian. Wave a plate of steaming beef burger or sizzling bacon before my eyes and my inner carnivore mounts a coup d’état to banish my herbivore to outer darkness.

    I’m very impressed, in other words.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Don’t be too impressed– I already had a lifetime of being grossed out by most meat to prepare me. Really shortened the learning curve. 😉

  • http://rasjacobson.com Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson

    Back in the day when flying was more civilized, Hubby and I decided to order the “kosher meal” option, figuring it would be much more palatable than the other nasty airplane food. Around lunchtime, our flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker: “Will the people who ordered the kosher meals please stand up?” I thought we were going to be killed. It certainly felt like we were facing a firing squad. Everyone on the plane was looking at us. It was so embarrassing. I had this out-of-body experience where I imagined us taking Sharpies and writing Bertha & Shlomo Jewenstein” on our foreheads pre-flight. It would have been a little long, but embarrassment is embarrassment.

    As it turns out, our flight attendant just wanted to let us know he was out of cream cheese for our bagels and he wanted to know if we would be okay with margarine. Margarine and a side-order of shame. Sure.


    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      I love that kosher necessarily meant bagel. Fantastic story– thanks for sharing!

    • http://ironicmom.wordpress.com Leanne Shirtliffe

      I am laughing at this…

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  • http://twitter.com/SisterSadist Cam (@SisterSadist)

    Tamara this is awesome! Good job on staying strong! Once your 30 days is up I’ll give you my recipe for the best bacon spinach side dish ever. I lie to myself and say “It has spinach! It’s healthy!” but really, bacon flavored healthy stuff ceases to be healthy stuff and instead is just bacon flavored awesome.

    • http://leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

      I think you should share that recipe with all of us, Cam!

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      I am intrigued! Only a few days left. 🙂

  • http://leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    My best friend’s husband has been gluten-free for several years now. They’re very involved in ministry and are often invited to breakfast or dinner meetings. No matter how many times they’ve asked/reminded the leadership, there is NEVER a gluten-free option for him so he ends up having to bring his own meal. Seriously, how hard is it for the church, of all places, to remember this? He hates feeling singled out by his dietary needs so he’d definitely feel your pain about the “Outcast” Lunchroom.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      That really is a shame. If a conference can take care of multiple dietary needs, I’d think a person’s own church family would remember and honor his needs.

  • Sara

    I know the outcast feeling all too well, I have food allergies. It gets easier, but then again I know that I need to do it or I could end up in the ER! 🙂 Remind me to bring some bacon-wrapped bacon to one of the playgroups! 😛

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      I think if I’d had a legitimate reason to need special food, like you do, I wouldn’t have been as embarrassed. But since I chose to do this veggie thing just for the heck of it, I felt like it was so indulgent to get a special meal at the conference.

      You know what– by the time playgroup starts back, my 30 days will be over. Bring on the bacon!

  • http://asalinguist.wordpress.com limr

    I’ve never felt embarrassed by vegetarian choices, though I have been annoyed at people’s interpretations of ‘vegetarian” (we don’t just eat plates of raw or steamed unseasoned vegetables!). Maybe that’s because I just don’t feel deprived at not eating the same thing as everyone else so I don’t really care that I’m eating something different. Or I’m just so used to it by now that it’s a non-issue.

    There have been times when I’ve been annoyed at being treated as an afterthought, though. The most notable examples were visiting my boyfriend’s relatives. Twice (different set of relatives), there was an entire conversation one night about what I do and don’t eat. The very next night, the same people would invite us to dinner and serve big steaming plates of meat with very little else. Suddenly, someone would remember and rush off into the kitchen and find something I could eat. (I never said a word – I just tried to unobtrusively eat my salad.) Both times, I was served cold salmon. The second time, it was canned. Just like tuna fish. Just sitting there on a plate, still in the shape of the can. It would not have bothered me if they hadn’t made such a show only one day earlier of asking me what would be okay.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      If can-shaped cold salmon doesn’t say “afterthought,” I don’t know what does. Love the outrageous story– thanks for sharing!

  • http://reconcilingviewpoints.wordpress.com reconciling viewpoints

    It’s a good thing that you’re true vegetarian friend wasn’t with you at the Taco Bell stop…. But, we won’t tell you how they make those beans until your 30 days is up, so forget I said anything!
    (Cover ears and repeat – la la la la la la la la la)

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Well he was there, but that’s beside the point. The internet assures me my Fresco Bean Burrito was not only vegetarian (beans made without lard) but also vegan (no cheese). And if the internet says it, it must be true. 😀

      • http://reconcilingviewpoints.wordpress.com reconciling viewpoints

        You’re right, the Fresco variety are good to go. We do mostly Fresco too…. (the kids prefer regular, but they got no culture….)

        I’m not sure if they use different beans for the Fresco or if they changed how they do beans altogether. When my wife was in HS, she had the lovely job of stirring the lard into the regular beans at Taco Bell — sort of amazing that she still will eat there now!

  • Chris

    I love this. Particularly the idea that the vegan food cart was even more sequestered than you could have imagined. Great stuff, as always.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Thanks. Yes, we had to make a u-turn or two. 😉

  • http://Thechurchofnopeople.com Matt @ the Church of No People

    I’ve never been embarrassed by my eating because I’m not picky, nor am I an idealist. I’ve never understood people I know who are willing to make the group’s plans revolve around them and their conscience when it comes to vegetarianism, or worse, veganism. I have no problem with your lifestyle, as long as you don’t make yourself a pain to everyone else.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      I will be sure to pack my own lunch if ever we meet. 🙂

  • http://christiannoob.wordpress.com The Christian Noob (n00b)

    Take a look at the following list. Almost everything in the market has some animal (hidden) in it — even GF/CF foods.

    The best vegetarian snack are nuts (not nuts as in crazy, of course)!

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Nope, can’t. I’m a turn-a-blind-eye-and-enjoy-your Twinkie kind of gal. Just as soon as I get over my nightmare.

  • http://heresyofthemonth.typepad.com/blog/ Bill Sergott

    “They nodded to keep away the crazy.”

    Absolutely brilliant. I thought I was the only one who had people do that to me! I feel a new kinship with you, Tamara (I’m nodding).

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara



  • http://ironicmom.wordpress.com Leanne Shirtliffe

    I’ve never had a twinkie. (And that’s *not* an IYKWIM comment!)

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Naturally. 😉

  • Daisy

    I am a gluten free gal. I am so totally embarrassed if I have to ask for a “special” meal. People always ask me, why, what, etc. So now I eat before I go to any picnic or party (even a wedding). I really don’t want people to say oh that stinks that you can’t eat this fabulous cookie- insert cookie in mouth- does it bother you? No ass not at all!! So I just politely decline food. And starve. Or drink lots of vodka.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      That’s terrible! At least you’ve still got vodka. 🙂

  • http://larryhehn.com Larry Hehn

    Yep, Lara bars are not food. I know they’re made of food. But they’re not food.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Agreed. What a little gem of Canadian wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1247862333 Cubbie Storm

    tragically for vegetarians, caesar dressing nearly always has anchovies in it. as does worcestershire sauce. i eat fish now sometimes so these aren’t as sad for me as they used to be. but discovering that those hostess pies are full of beef fat was a deep tragedy for me.

    trisha loves lara bars but i do not. i am not as repulsed by them as some people apparently are, but i think they’re not very interesting or cakelike. i guess for me, i knew they were going to be just some fruit and nuts mashed up together and… that’s what they’re like.

    my kickass church trips are actually entirely vegetarian. we have this amazing chef come in to do all our meals, and it’s all vegetarian. actually the first night there’s a snacky potluck and usually someone winds up bringing a roast chicken and the meat eaters go crazy, and some of the meat eaters seem to want to get out of the retreat as soon as possible once it’s done to go get some meat, but that’s just a few.

    my bougie food habits confuse me and make me feel spoiled. did you see this when i posted it on fb: http://westernfriend.org/2011/07/nurturing-the-body-and-soul-lessons-from-a-lifetime-of-eating/ ? at the bottom are all of the questions trisha and i are always asking ourselves about food. i feel disconnected from my working class roots with our heirloom tomatoes and artisanal breads, but then i feel guilty too after i come home with plastic bags full of processed food from grocery outlet from time to time even though while i’m there i feel like i’m home in some way.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Wow, those are great questions, some I wouldn’t have thought to ask about food. Thanks for sharing it and your own experience!

      • http://peculiarqueer.wordpress.com Cubbie Storm

        i get pretty angry about all of the things we have to think about about food these days.

  • http://peculiarqueer.wordpress.com Cubbie Storm

    actually, have i mentioned that i’m writing (by hand! on paper!) about all of the foods trisha and i are eating for a year. only about 3 1/2 months left. we are really spoiled!

  • Hannah Walker

    Oh how I wish that I could have come. I could have added to the fun. Not only am I (trying to be) vegan, but I can’t have chocolate, oats, coffee, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and cabbage. But who am I kidding, I have alcohol anyways. And I just want so join in on the sarcastic, inappropriate comments.
    When is the veg-out happening? I’m ready.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.wordpress.com Tamara

      Wish you could’ve been there too, although it might have killed you how often we found ourselves at Dunkin Donuts.

      I forgot all about the veg-out! Guess I’ve been too focused on beating the meat.

  • Anonymous

    I just feel like I am so in the “in-crowd” now because I know who that mysterious real vegetarian is! The fact that he remains nameless in the post, identified only by his vegetarianism, just cracks me up. Next time you write about tattoos, I think you should refer to a well-tattooed friend that also remains nameless.

    • Sarah H.

      Sorry – forgot to sign my name. That was me.

      • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamara

        Thought you were just really getting into the nameless thing. 😉

        Of course you’re in the in-crowd. Love ya.

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