COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill

Cafe Ingratitude

G rowing up in a central Texas family that ate meat at almost every meal, a large percentage of it wild, I was entirely unaware of vegetarians.

Until I left home for college I believed everyone ate meat, and plenty of it. I remember being almost as shocked at vegetarianism as I was when I found out there were people in the world who didn’t own and shoot guns. At first I refused to accept either concept, on the grounds that no one would voluntarily forfeit happiness, at least as I defined it. Maybe I was just sheltered, or maybe we all tend to think everyone is just like we are, until we learn otherwise.

Not that I have anything against people who are not like me. I figure the vegetarians are making more steaks available for the rest of us, and people who don’t shoot are not to be blamed when I can’t find the ammo I need, especially .22 shells. Still, I think we all have a little trouble relating to those who do things differently than we do. Some of us have a lot more trouble in that area than others.

Those of us who shoot, for example, sometimes encourage non-shooters to give guns a chance, but we aren’t demanding. We are willing to instruct, but we don’t insist. Likewise, people who eat meat are not adamant that vegetarians should relent and accept our carnivorous lifestyles. We might offer to buy someone a hamburger, but we don’t force our culinary opinions onto them. As Yogi Berra once said, if folks don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.

The reverse, however, does not always hold true. Some of those who don’t like guns often demand that the rest of us give up our firearms. Their reasons are many, and varied, and universally wrong. And some vegetarians think no one should eat meat, ever, for reasons that don’t seem to make much sense. They claim to experience better health than meat-eaters, and they may be right, but that seems a poor reason not to enjoy what health we have, while we have it. Besides, if bacon were as horrible and life-shortening as some claim, I should have died in 1768.

So the big difference between vegetarians and the rest of us seems to be tolerance. Carnivores typically tolerate vegetarians, but vegetarians are often most intolerant of carnivores. A good example is what is happening to Matthew and Terces Engelhart.

For many years the Engelharts were vegetarians. They believed so strongly in their meat-free lifestyle that, in 2004, they began a chain of veggie restaurants in California called Café Gratitude, offering vegetable-only fare. Celebrities and Hollywood types praised the Engelharts to the heavens, endorsements were plentiful, and during the past decade the Café Gratitude chain became a model of gustatory progression, according to the granola lovers.

None of this had any effect, it should be noted, on those who eat meat. If someone wandered into a Café Gratitude looking for a chicken fried steak, and found only garden truck, he or she likely just quietly slipped out and found a steak house. No harm, no foul. No one protested. No one complained. No one cared.

Until the Engelharts started a blog, and made the mistake of reporting in the blog that their observations of nature had swayed their culinary choices to include meat. It was discovered they raise livestock on their farm, and keep a freezer full of beef and other animal products for consumption. Not that they tried to push their views, of course, they were just being honest about what they ate, in their own home, behind closed doors.

The lid blew off. Protesters immediately began to gather outside Café Gratitude restaurants, brandishing signs, and shouting vicious threats and unrepeatable insults. The vegetarian crowd was positively incensed. The Engelharts even received death threats engendered by their heinous crime of eating meat. And admitting it.

Now, it should be noted that the menu in the Café Gratitude restaurants did not change a whit. The same vegetables, no doubt artfully and tastefully prepared, were still offered in the same way. The prices didn’t even change. The only thing that happened was that the clientele learned of the Engelharts’ personal eating habits, which were diametrically opposed to their own.

The storm, as yet, doesn’t seem to be in danger of abatement. The Engelharts have become a pariah among the culinary elite, and business has suffered accordingly. They have sold some stores, and may have to sell the rest.

Diet is a personal choice, and that choice is made on a variety of beliefs and observations, but one thing should be clear to all of us. No one else should be required to make the same choices I make as to what I eat. If we all liked the same food, it would have disappeared from the earth long ago.

And tolerance is expressed, not in what we complain about, but in what we ignore.




Email Kendal Hemphill at contactus@fishgame.com


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