Lifestyle

A Vegetarian’s One-Night Stand with a Cheeseburger

Until last week, I hadn’t eaten meat in almost seven years. During those years, I gradually evolved into a way of eating that I call “vegan-adjacent,” which means I don’t eat dead mammals and I very rarely consume products made with their milk. Fish finds its way onto my plate once every few weeks or so. Not totally vegan, but more “vegan-adjacent.”

So how did I come to eating a cheeseburger last week? I was invited to an old friend’s casual backyard cookout last weekend where the menu was burgers, roasted vegetables and a delicious pasta salad. I would have been perfectly happy enjoying the pasta salad and veggies. But I wanted to see how the burger would taste after all these years. Would it be revolting? Would it be fine? Or would it be so overwhelmingly satisfying that it would awaken a ravenous dormant carnivore lurking in my loins, waiting for this day, propelling me to the nearest steakhouse or butcher as soon as possible?

As many people know, I’ve been sober since 2002. In that time, I really have not had any compulsion or even fleeting desire to have a drink because I know what happens when I get a taste. I’m an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a disease. Even when an alcoholic is not drinking, the disease is out in the hallway doing pushups, ready when you are to be back in business. Before I finally got sober, I tried once before for six months. When I had the first sip of my first drink when I relapsed, I could feel my body immediately getting comfortable with a familiar but cunning old friend. Sober people often say that the first thing you lose when you relapse is your desire to stay sober. That was my experience, too.

But meat isn’t alcohol. If I overindulge in bacon, I’m not going to blackout, hurt or kill anyone or end up sleeping with someone I wouldn’t sit next to on a bus (although high cholesterol, fat, heart disease, cancer, gout and other fun side effects of excessive meat consumption can kink things up). Unlike stopping drinking, my reasons for not eating meat were not related any immediate health or wellness issues. My reasons had more to do with long term well-being. What started as a vegetarian experiment turned into a very workable solution for me. Additionally, as a dog owner, I had a very hard time rationalizing the slaughter of sentient beings when balanced, healthy and delicious options were available elsewhere. (I don’t like to preach about vegetarianism or veganism, but people often ask about why I’ve retreated from animal food. So there you have it.)

When I sat down next to my sister-in-law in our friend’s backyard last weekend, she looked at me and then looked at the burger on my plate like it was a martini and then looked at me again. I said, “It’s totally fine. I feel like having one.” The truth is that I didn’t necessarily feel like having one. My approach was one of indifference. I just wanted to see if I had missed it or if I would feel like I had been missing anything at all. So I ate it.

The burger was fine. Delicious, actually. My hosts bought quality meat that made for a really good burger. I fixed it up the way I always had with a slice of tomato, a slice of onion, lettuce and a little ketchup. I really enjoyed it. But my enjoyment of it did not compel me then and does not compel me now to relinquish my vegetarian ways and start eating meat again. I hadn’t missed it, and I still don’t. There’s no need to count days again and go to a Carnivores Anonymous meeting. It was kind of like running into an old friend between flights at an airport, enjoying the visit, then parting ways with no plans to rekindle the relationship. The reunion ended with a sincere “Great to see you again. Take care.”

Again… this isn’t like revisiting alcohol, which is a very different chemical that ruins lives when it’s poured into the wrong people (like me). Trying that again would be an unnecessary flirtation with disaster. This was just a burger – and a particularly good one. But after eating it, the truth is that I have no desire for another one.

Side Note…
Before last weekend’s little “relapse,” the last meat meal I had was a damn good cheeseburger on New Year’s Eve in 2009. I always loved a good burger. Who doesn’t? I recently discovered the incredible meatless, plant-based burger patties from Beyond Meat at Whole Foods. They’re 100% vegan with no GMOs and packed with 20g of plant-based protein. When I bought some, I went all the way with cheddar style vegan cheese from Daiya and vegan buns. The verdict: They’re holy shit good. If you love burgers but are interested in a vegan alternative, here’s your cue. I’m hooked.

12 Comments

  1. Bravo George – have been down the same paths. I just picked up a new (to me) cookbook – ‘Flexitarian’ eating, circa 2007; works well. We are largely veg with the occasional fish and bird, little cow or pig. Your description of the alcoholic off-site doing push-ups is apt. Can’t really let that happy host into the party ever again, nice as he (or she) is.
    That said, making a Rachel sandwich sometime this weekend with smoked turkey breast. Zeus forgive me.

  2. Lincoln Kerney Reply

    Nice. Nothing better than a good burger. I, too, am a dog lover. But, alas, I am a confirmed carnivore, as are my dogs!

  3. Lawd, George. We lose you to the Midwest for what–a handful of months–and you’re already copping to some cow? The concern in Gotham is palpable.

    “Meat is not alcohol,” you say? For some it may well be. It’s funny (but not ha-ha-funny) that I’ve had conversations with friends and family members and when you suggest they try going without meat for a week, they often get angry and/or defensive. Even when apprised of how much potable water goes into production of all cattle products (Fun Fact: production of 1/4 lb of hamburger meat requires 150 gallons of water. Source: USGS.gov), it’s remarkable how many simply don’t think they could–or should–live without it.

    The U.S. produces 26.9 Billion pounds of the stuff per annum, 2.6 Billion pounds of which is earmarked for export (Source: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association). At some point, we will have to choose between tap water and animal production–at least at the scale we now do for what is clearly an unsustainable foodstuff.

    I’m pretty sure most people who love beef don’t care about those stats, but for those who dabble in it, they’re worth considering. Yes–vegetable matter requires water to grow, too–but the agricultural advantage for plants is that precipitation and other natural groundwater resources help them thrive.

    But I get the positive association with the eating of a burger. Perhaps some of that owes to the years spent with family and good friends, gathered in a back yard around a grill. Love makes everything taste better!

    Beyond is a damned good product. I’ve worked with all their offerings, and they are delicious!

    • Amen! As I said, I don’t miss it. And another fun fact… meat consumption in the U.S. is down. More and more people are cutting down or going without altogether.

  4. Entertaining and informative article, as usual. Your reasons for going vegetarian are very similar to mine, 5 years ago now. And, like you, I think it is a great idea but I don’t preach it. Also, apparently like you, one of the reasons I gave up meat is that I was most attracted to the wrong kinds! The big, fatty, juicy, cheeseburger-type meats. So, thank you for the meatless patty recommendation. Done right, they are a surprisingly good, even superior, substitute.

    Still disappointed you left Manhattan right when my son (and I, for visits) got there.

  5. “When I sat down next to my sister-in-law in our friend’s backyard last weekend, she looked at me and then looked at the burger on my plate like it was a martini and then looked at me again.” – ROFL, great imagery 🙂 great post.. thanks!

  6. Beyond Burgers are sensational! The first time I tasted one I went berserk with joy. I went vegan for the animals, not for me, but it’s nice that we have some sensational fare in grocery stores these days.

  7. Hi George – Glad you discovered Beyond Meat – truly a wonderful and delicious alternative to beef – and their “burgers” even cook and visually look like a beef burger!
    And, be sure to check out on Saturday, June 3, the annual Cleveland VegFest 2017.
    This all day event, attended by over 7000 in 2016 – is an amazing celebration of the vegetarian and vegan approach to cuisine and life! Hope to see you June 3 at the downtown Cleveland Convention Center!

  8. Interesting that you contrasted it with alcohol … good to see you kept true to being a veggie even after a brief dance with mammal flesh once more!

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