During the course of my life, I’ve known plenty of vegetarians. And while some of them fit neatly into my vegetarian mood board—which also includes pictures of Cambridge and hot yoga—others don’t. For instance, one vegetarian friend of mine is big into drag racing and has a sweet Camaro. When I learned he doesn’t eat meat, I said, “The Venn diagram overlap of drag racers and vegetarians must be basically you.” He replied that I’d be surprised. And I’m sure I would be. But not as much as I was about a year ago when my wife, Heather, announced she was going vegetarian. Which meant, for all practical purposes, so was I. What am I going to do, make my own separate dinner every night? Even Wade Boggs doesn’t love chicken that much.
There are a lot of reasons why people forsake meat. The whole idea of what meat is, and how it arrives on your plate, is totally gross and disturbing if you stop to ponder it, which is why I don’t. But I think Heather’s motivations are mainly personal, given that her dietary switch seemed to coincide with the appearance of a pro-veggie book called How Not To Die on her bedside table. I haven’t read it, mostly because I resent the threat implied by the title. If I’m going to let a book scare me, it’s going to have demented clowns in it, OK? And, besides, anyone buying that book has managed to not die already. Nice try, book!
Nonetheless, I’ve been eating a lot of squash these days—if you think of gourds as an autumn foodstuff, I’m here to tell you that vegetarians are DTS (Devoted To Squash) on a four-season basis. Also: nuts, kale, beans and eggplants. So, with that kind of diet, I must be really skinny now, huh? Well, no. Because it turns out that beer is also vegetarian. So is pasta and ice cream. And cheese. Scientific fact: Brontosauruses were vegetarian, and the paleontologists agree that very few of them had abs.
I actually enjoy a good salad and wasn’t eating rib-eyes every night anyway, but when you give up lifelong dietary staples such as chicken and pork, they come to assume mythic stature in your gastronomic memories. So I decided to see if I could fool my taste buds with a couple of the more ambitious items in the food-imposter section of the grocery store: jackfruit and shirataki spaghetti. Jackfruit is supposed to do a credible impression of pulled pork. The shirataki addresses pasta’s calorie problem, in that an instant ramen-sized package has a mere 30 calories. I decided to put them together—Jackfruit Company teriyaki jackfruit and Pasta Zero shirataki spaghetti—for a delicious, meaty noodle stir-fry. Minus the meat and noodles.
The Pasta Zero package informs me that, “Spaghetti-shaped shirataki, or ‘white waterfall’ pasta, has been enjoyed as a health food in Asia for over 1,000 years.” It’s made from the root of the konjac plant, whatever that is. Furthermore, “When first opened, spaghetti-shaped shirataki has a mild earthy smell that is eliminated with draining and rinsing.” It’s probably a bad sign when your food gives you a heads-up that it’s gonna unleash the funk.
I tentatively slice open the package. The odor reminds me of the basement of the house I grew up in, which had stone walls and a dirt floor that was usually ankle-deep in water that had been there since 1803. The musty smell would hit you about halfway down the stairs, which ended abruptly about two feet above the floor. On a good day, our basement smelled like Bill Walton’s jock strap. On a bad day, it smelled like spaghetti-shaped shirataki.
True to its promise, though, the Pasta Zero sheds its musk with a rinse. It’s a subdued foil to the jackfruit, which looks like crock-pot pulled pork but tastes like someone drowned an artichoke in soy sauce. It’s not that teriyaki jackfruit is bad, but it’s unnecessarily disappointing simply because it’s impersonating a much more delicious food. If you’re good enough to eat, jackfruit, then just be yourself. I mean, would you rather that I gave you a real $5 bill or a counterfeit hundred? Sure, maybe the hundo has Jean-Claude Van Damme’s face on it and says, “In fists we trust,” but that’s not gonna buy you a pint of Chunky Monkey at Star Market. Gosh, sometimes I wonder how I got so good at analogies. And then I wonder whether that last sentence will fit on one line, because it would be really unfortunate if “-ogies” gets broken off from the rest of it. Am I rambling? That’s just the jackfruit talking.
Liar-ass jackfruit aside, I’m not too miserable with this vegetarian kick. But I do notice that when the Green Chef food box arrives on the front steps, I feel a brief pang of disappointment. Mmmm … more kale. Oh, well. I’m reminded of a guy I knew who was on a strict low cholesterol regimen, back when we thought bread was great but eggs were evil. His diet was mostly vegetarian by default, with the added insult that he couldn’t eat cheese. “I don’t know if eating like this is really going to make my life any longer,” he said. “But it’ll sure seem like it.” ◆
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