Monday, September 29, 2014

**Please Don't Come Back

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2014] © 2014 

It’s an old joke: if you only ate healthy food, would you live to 100, or would it just seem that way? A close friend of many years, Gina, regaled us at a recent birthday lunch at Sammy’s about the Dinner Guests from Hell whose dietary requirements were so draconian she feared serving her first ever company meal of carrot sticks and water.

Now, Gina is actually a pro at feeding picky eaters. Some five years ago, her son and daughter-in-law decided to transition from being vegetarians to vegans. I wish I had recorded the hilarious stories of her first year or two of disastrous vegan meals which provided endless fodder for lunches at Sammy’s. But five years later she’s a pro.

Her latest story, told over the complimentary birthday “messy sundae” (definitely not vegan) at Sammy’s should have earned her the Vegan Cook of the Century award.
An old college friend had contacted her earlier in the week that she and her husband would be in San Diego for  a few days and hoped to get together. BTW, roommate noted, she should mention that her husband had gone vegan, and she, for reasons involving both practicality and marital solidarity, had joined him.

Gina was thrilled to reply that she was now an accomplished vegan chef. Come on over!

The emails begin arriving soon after. Turns out college friend’s husband has kicked it up a few notches. In addition to being strictly vegan, hubby has electively added numerous other restrictions, including no consumption of added fats or oils, or foods with inherent fats or oils, like, for example, nuts.

Further, the emails continued, wife did not eat bell peppers, husband would not eat cilantro. No coffee. No alcohol.

As Gina had long since learned, a vegan diet is strictly plant-based: No meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. Not even honey which comes from bees. (I find this one puzzling; it’s not like you’re eating the bees.) No dairy (milk, cheese, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, etc). No eggs. And with these guests, no baked goods, no salad dressings with oil. Any vegetables, it was noted, must be sauteed in water or vegetable broth. 

As Gina rejected recipe after recipe from her vegan cookbooks, she began to feel a touch of desperation. But finally she created a menu: ersatz chile rellenos filled with some vegan glop instead of cheese, and a “shepherds pie” lacking anything an actual shepherd might herd but instead containing a textured soy protein base (in lieu of hamburger) topped with butterless creamless mashed potatoes. A fruit salad – no honey! - would add some color. She frankly wasn’t sure how the entrées were going to taste but she was sure her tried and true Vegan Chocolate Raspberry Mousse (melted vegan chocolate chips, silken tofu, raspberry extract, and a little vanilla) would be a hit. In lieu of the now-taboo nuts, she’d top it with fresh berries. Fortunately no mention on the War-and-Peace-length list about chocolate. Whew!

When her guests arrived, it was clear that however supportive the wife was being about this new lifestyle, she was not having fun. In fact, she had the distinct look of a woman taking Valium (which is hopefully vegan). Dollars to donuts, wife has a stash of bacon dip and Little Debbie snack cakes hidden in the garage back home.

Wife mentions that this was a test trip of their new food plan before commencing more extensive travel. Given that they were potentially planning to visit Europe, a place known to have fat, Gina queried the husband over dinner if, while they were abroad, he would consider some flexibility in his dietary requirements. Husband’s answer was instantaneous and unequivocal: No.

I should mention here that these restrictions were largely elective: no allergies to any of these foods. But husband had had a heart scare and had determined that this regimen was his best chance at longevity. And apparently this diet had indeed reamed out his arteries and made him the pride of his primary care doctor’s office. He was now solidly on track to have many more years of a despondent wife and friends who hate them.

Gina clears the table. Dinner had provided sustenance but on the flavor scale had hovered around a two. Or maybe that was a minus two. But she knows the dessert is a winner. As she proudly serves the four beautifully decorated dishes of vegan chocolate raspberry mousse, she is dismayed to see the stricken look on the wife’s face.

“Oh, dear!” says wife. “Did I forgot to mention that George doesn’t eat chocolate?” She adds, apologetically, “I do, but not after 6 p.m.” 

“So,” I said to Gina as we slurped down the last of the sundae, “did you pour it over their miserable heads?”

No, alas, she didn’t. Too nice a person. Good thing they weren’t eating at my house.


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