Commentary: Green leaves, tofu and meatless dining

Soraya Bilbao
Soraya Bilbao

I’ve been a vegetarian for over two and a half years. Per Wikipedia, vegetarianism is “the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat — red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal; it may also include abstention from by-products of animal slaughter.”

In other words, I no longer eat anything that blinked, moved or was deemed cuddly at some point in its life prior to its unfortunate rendezvous with the stovetop.

I am not vegan, so pile on the scrambled eggs and blend away the milkshake.

A pushover for animals

This move to meatless dining was an inevitable reality in my life for the simple reason that I’m a pushover for animals.

My fondness even extends to bugs. Although I do exhibit some biases toward butterflies, ladybugs and dragonflies, I respect a hairy, scary-looking bug’s right to life (as long as it is not on me and it is not a roach).

I’m the type of person who keeps a plastic cup handy not so as to consume the minimum recommended eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day, but to scoop up any spider or beetle that may have inadvertently entered the house. I tend to employ this most effective strategy on a regular basis.

'Ugh, a spider!'

Earlier this year, one of my college friends stayed over at the house. As we reminisced about the good ole’ days, she happened to detect movement on one of the walls in the living room. “Ugh, a spider!”

I looked up and saw the spider in all of its eight-legged glory. While the bug sighting prompted others in the room to remove their shoes and look for paper towels so as to shorten its already brief existence, I jumped up from the sofa and sprinted to the kitchen yelling, “Don’t kill it! I’ll take it out!”

I came back with my pre-designated bug cup in one hand, which I store underneath the kitchen sink for emergencies such as this, and a sturdy (must be sturdy, trust me) piece of stock paper in the other.

I climbed on furniture, captured the offending arachnid, and relocated it to the great outdoors. All the while, folks watching in perplexed amusement.

The challenge of social gatherings

Living as a vegetarian has presented me with some unforeseen challenges. This is especially true when attending food-related social gatherings outside the home.

While most restaurants offer modest vegetarian menu options, there have been occasions when my food selection was limited to mozzarella sticks and garlic bread.

I elicit two kinds of reactions whenever I share my dietary restrictions with restaurant hosts.

Either they beam in delight and reply, “No worries! There are plenty of carrot sticks over at the buffet table next to the steak and lobster,” or they look at me as if I had intentionally sabotaged their food preparation plans for the evening.

As an accommodation, I am usually given the option of either a leafy pile of tossed iceberg lettuce with salad dressing or a leafy pile of tossed spinach with salad dressing. For variety, I sometimes ask for the dressing on the side.

Getting creative with tofu

Some vegetarians take to the kitchen to avoid such dining calamities. I have met a few who are pros at creating dishes with ingredients that I didn’t even know grew on this planet and can prepare tofu in ways in which the end product no longer looks or tastes like tofu (my favorite way to eat tofu).

In contrast, I consider myself lucky if I’m able to locate a can of anything edible in the pantry. I feel extra lucky — the “I should play the lottery tonight” kind of lucky — if the expiration date falls within the last decade.

Being a vegetarian is a personal choice that I fully embrace. However, at times I do get cravings for a juicy steak. I guess I’ll just continue searching the Internet for a recipe on how to prepare tofu so that it tastes like filet mignon.

Soraya Bilbao is a local freelance writer.