You keep using that word. I do no think it means what you think it means.

So here’s some trivia: I became a vegetarian over the summer.  No fanfare, just finally decided to listen to what my body’s been telling me for 25 years.  My body doesn’t want meat, and has been very clear about wanting me to give it up.  The trouble is, I really like meat.  So I’ve eaten less of the stuff, but I wasn’t ready to go off of it all together.  But then I was.  Who knows why I decided it just then, but I did.

I’m not one of those converts who tries to convince everyone else to follow her path.  I do have to remind people all the time about my personal decision, however.  After all, they’ve known me for years.  They’ve seen me chow down on burgers and pork chops and extra helpings of bacon.  It’s understandable that friends would forget.

But then there are the people who just really don’t understand the concept. Most people assume that when I say “vegetarian,” I really mean “I don’t eat red meat.”  They are so surprised when I turn down offers of both chicken and fish.  Last I checked, both of these count as “meat,” yes?

A friend and I went to a food truck. As we walked there, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure there would be any options for me and told her that I’d gone veggie since the last time I’d seen her.  She laughed and said it was a great coincidence because she’d become vegetarian, too!  Cool.  Then she turned to the vendor and ordered a lamb sandwich.

(spit take)

When she saw whatever response I couldn’t keep off my face, she said, “Not all the time.”

Which I love, I have to admit.  It’s one of the funniest things anyone’s said to me in a long time.  It isn’t, however, the definition of what it means to be vegetarian.

Yesterday I was out of town and for much longer than I’d planned.  On my way to the train station to get my tired self back to Brooklyn, I discovered a little coffee shop/restaurant just at the moment I was feeling that I’d fall over from hunger.  I went in and tried to find something I could eat.  The lovely, motherly woman behind the counter promptly showed me all of the meat dishes she had on offer.  I kept saying I was a vegetarian.  Finally she seemed to get it.

“Vegetable soup!  I have vegetable soup.  That’s good?”
“That would be wonderful … but it doesn’t have any meat in it, right?”
“Oh, I can put meat.  You want meat?”
“No meat.  I’m a vegetarian.”
“Vegetarian.  Okay, vegetarian.”

So she started ladling up some soup for me.  I noticed that it took her a very long time to fill my bowl, but I thought that was because she was carrying on an extremely animated conversation with the people sitting at the far end of the counter, and I figured she was distracted from the soup pot.

And then I sat down to enjoy what looked like some seriously good soup.  It was seriously good … it was also not vegetarian.  From the first spoonful, I knew there’d been a mistake, I could taste beef in the broth, and with the second I had a serious chunk of beef in front of me.

My hostess must have seen me looking askance at my spoon.

“You don’t like it?”
“This is meat.”
“Yes,” she gave a sad nod.  “I tried to pick out the meat.  I missed that piece.”
“But I’m a vegetarian.  I can’t eat this.”
“Oh, I think that’s the only piece of meat in there.”

Um, yeah.  She reminded me of my grandmother’s reactions when my sister became a vegetarian.  My grandmother cooked lots of vegetables.  All the time.  And in every giant pot of them there would be a few pieces of fatback.  She never could understand why my sister couldn’t just pick those out and eat everything else.  But that was 30 years ago.  Surely by now folks should really just get it already, yes?  Never mind my sister. People have been vegetarians for a long time.  A. LONG. Time.  Really.  How is it possible that the idea of vegetarianism is still surprising people, still unknown and (seemingly) unknowable?


Thanks, of course, to Inigo Montoya for my title … even though I’m pretty sure this word means exactly what I think it means.  It’s my listeners who need to check the dictionary!

And don’t you forget to check out more of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.
Yesterday we kicked off this year’s challenge with almost 300 slicers! That’s slice-of-life madness!
And you’re not to late to dive in yourself. Start slicing, friends!

SOL image 2014


12 thoughts on “You keep using that word. I do no think it means what you think it means.

  1. woaca2008

    I know “vegetarians” who eat fish — do those people think fish have less of a consciousness than the animals that produce meat and poultry? My body hasn’t yet told me it wants to be vegetarian, though it has given me other dietary messages in the past. But I love this story — that inability to understand that “not eating meat” means “not eating anything that has been cooked with meat” and “not eating anything that requires killing sentient creatures.”


    1. On the flip side, I went to Subway for a “vegetarian sandwich” my first night in Providence … and they tried to sell me bread with lettuce and cucumbers. When I balked and suggested the addition of cheese, they reminded me that I’d said I was a vegetarian. When did cheese become meat? I never said I was a vegan!


  2. Love your story! I have had so many similar experiences, I had to laugh. 🙂 I was a vegetarian throughout most of high school. It nearly killed my mother. Seriously. You would think that I was a hippie drug wielding rebel. Thanks for sharing!


  3. LOL! First, I love the title. I have to say, though, I’m shocked that NYC had people who had zero clue what it means to be vegetarian. I could imagine some places in the US that might have issues…. but that wouldn’t be what I expected!


  4. Funny that people still have these reactions to a vegetarian. I used to keep Kosher for the first 18 years of my life when I lived under my parents’ roof and the first year of college. It was impossible for most people to truly get it that I ate differently from them. Oh well. I get it. Congrats to moving to healthier!


    1. Thanks, Bonnie. Yes, I guess this is healthier. And maybe that’s why my body has been demanding that I stop eating meat. I’m still waiting to feel in some way different …


  5. This just cracks me up! Most of my family is vegan, so I can really relate to the confusion so many have about the whole strange concept of not eating animals products.

    That poor lady made me think of my mom who tried so hard to feed her grandkids, but just couldn’t get past the thought that they wouldn’t eat sausage, because “everyone eats sausage!”

    It’s getting better..


    1. Yes, your mom sounds like my friend’s mom who was happy to cook a vegetarian meal for me … and who put bacon in it because, “It’s just bacon, that doesn’t count, right?”


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