It started when a friend said he was “going vegan.” I have several vegan friends and they are not much of a bother, but they do seem to bring more to the table than just their dietary preferences.

Vegan is the term used to describe the strictest vegetarian, one who eats only vegetables or plant-based foods. If you also eat eggs, you’re an ovo-vegetarian and if you add dairy to the equation you assume the title of lacto-ovo vegetarian.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

Vegans seem to think they are the “real” vegetarians, in the same way a person from “the County” is the only real Mainer in a group; the rest are from Massachusetts, even if they’ve never set foot in the Commonwealth.

Full disclosure: I was never a vegan, but I did avoid eating red meat for about 10 years, until I began to suffer out-of-body experiences where I found myself eating a double cheeseburger at a McDonald’s.

A friend once told her mother that the guest she was bringing to dinner was a vegetarian, and her mother replied, “That’s OK, I’ll make a pot roast.”

People think Buddhists are vegetarians because Buddha urged his disciples not to harm or kill living creatures. However, monks also took a vow not to take anything not specifically given to them. That’s why in countries whose inhabitants practice the orthodox Theravada Buddhism, you see the “Parade of the Monks,” lines of saffron-robed men, bowls in hand, collecting food before dawn that will be brought back to the temple and eaten at their daily noon meal. Even though the monks are Buddhists, if their bowls contain meat they’re supposed to eat it to recognize the merit earned by the householder feeding the monks. Better to ease their suffering than to break a vow, is the way the logic goes.

I think of those monks whenever the discussion turns to vegetarianism.

During my stint as a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I was asked why I didn’t eat meat. It wasn’t for health, or on moral grounds, but those were the issues my admission wrought. The answer was that I had lost my taste for steak or roast beef.

Back in the ’80s, I worked in the natural foods field, when rice cakes, tofu and imported diets were sweeping the land. One of those imported diets was macrobiotics, based on brown rice and seaweed. It happened when I was visiting the macrobiotic headquarters in Cambridge and was passing a cubicle from which I overheard a man ask, “Now, how much salt did you put in the rice? It’s very important.”

And that’s when I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that what or who was in charge of these matters (God, nature, pick one), would not create a system in which how much salt was in the rice was a life or death matter. Yet, the macrobiotic, vegan, lacto-ovos who went about their lives burdened under the weight of their diets looked like they hadn’t laughed since the final episode of M*A*S*H.

A zen master was asked about life and how to live it. He said, “Simple. When hungry, eat; when tired, sleep.”

And if all else fails, have some pot roast.

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