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Bite Me

Fed-Letter Day

Over the holidays, I received this charming missive from Julie: "I read your December 5 'Smoke Free or Die' with interest, and I agree that legislating a smoke-free policy is terrible for Denver businesses as well as the unfortunate patrons who just want a place to eat, drink and have a good time.... But that's not my beef with you, so to speak. What I'm writing about is all this vegetarian-bashing you do out of the blue, relative to nothing. Yes, I'm one of those. I could tell you how I've never once advised anyone on their diet, let alone been a fanatical busybody. (Why should I possibly care what you put in your mouth? Your body, your consequence.) I could describe the endless shit I've taken for my food preference from meat eaters; the road tripping through entire states that don't sell anything that isn't carcass-laden; the sudden hyper-sensitivity to my need for protein by the entire world and the inquisition as to how I get my protein by same; the incredibly annoying and astonishingly common assumption that my food preference is a judgment of anyone else's food preference, politics, lifestyle, you name it; and, of course, the random name-calling, labeling and ignorant assumptions that people such as yourself display.

"I'll just give you an observation: You seem to have become what you say you hate -- judgmental, humorless and rigid, someone who is suspicious and contemptuous of anyone who's different from you. Someone who believes that you, and no one but you, has the secret to living right. Hey, maybe Smoke-Free Denver has an opening -- they could use a guy like you."

Ouch. For the record, Julie, I don't think I give vegetarians quite the stomping you accuse me of. True, I poke fun at the superior, militant variety who insist they're better than me because of their dedication to this Apollonian ideal of never eating anything with a face, but on the whole, I have no problem with folks like you, for whom veggie-ism is just a choice. As a matter of fact, I respect you for that choice, because, believe it or not, I was one for about two years. Granted, this was back when I was a much younger man, convinced -- in the full-flowering, Pavlovian naiveté of youth -- that such gross public displays of political and social awareness would improve my chances of meeting political, socially aware girls and getting laid...but there it is. I was a vegetarian.

Not about a Restaurant

Thankfully, it didn't take. My parents fared better in making the switch, going from a die-hard, suburban, meat-and-potatoes diet to a mostly vegetarian one for health reasons (my father is fighting MS), and they've been at it now for probably five years.

In truth, I have a much bigger problem with people who sanction the wholesale slaughter (and regulations-be-damned rush to massive, bloody murder) of animals by demanding ground beef at 99 cents a pound without ever making the connection between cheap meat and the cow that died to feed them. I loathe the fast-food-nation mentality in which confinement ranching and machine butchery are seen as the only reasonable solution to the problem of satiating the bottomless, gaping maw of consumer need. And while I still believe that we eat cows because cows taste good and that the only reason for a goose to exist is to be a little foie gras factory, I think wasting any part of an animal should be a capital crime.

Any critter we eat gave its life so that we could be fed. The best cooks understand this, and they strive to make meals worthy of the sacrifice. They realize that phoning in a weekly meat order is a lot like calling in a hit to the stockyards. Sure, they say they want eighty pounds of ground beef, twenty pounds of tripe, a whole tenderloin and two top rounds, but what they really mean is "Vinny, go whack me a cow." Good cooks take that responsibility seriously; bad ones end up working at a Carl's Jr. in hell.

And all this, I suppose, is why it's good to be on top of the food chain. Let's face it: If sharks had legs, they'd be running us down in the street and eating us with very little concern for ethics.

(I also sent a personal e-mail to Julie and received this in return: "I just got back to town and was surprised to see you replied, and even more so to read your thoughtful response. I'm sorry I got so belligerent. The day before I read your article, I was 'outed' at work as a vegetarian in this really ridiculous scene that ended with my boss conceding that it's okay -- he's got gay friends, too, and as long as they don't talk about it, he's okay with it. His intention was to sound accepting, but geez." No kidding. Her boss has to be my favorite sitcom-perfect idiot of the year.)

Letter writer Gary also had meaty concerns: "What has happened to this restaurant world in one week? The new Pour House Pub was the first to inform me that they don't do rare burgers. Then I read on the menu at Champps that the least they will cook a burger is medium to medium-well. I can't have a medium burger? Has this been going on for a while?"

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