September 6, 2011

For vegans, a french fry sandwich can be so much more than a sandwich

I should start this by making clear that I like my diet. I do not feel deprived. I do not suffer from lack of protein nor feel pained that my days of cheeseburgers and traditional milkshakes are over. I do not crave bloody steaks and when I look at a glass of milk all I see are the streams of puss I know it is laced with. In fact, I eat better now and enjoy food more after giving up animal products than I ever did when I unconscionably consumed them.

That being said, there are moments when I miss the conveniences of eating like everyone around me.  And unless they have cut meat eaters out of their lives entirely, this is a sentiment that I imagine most vegan and vegetarians share and  is also one of the reasons the veg community seems to bond so easily.

Eating is one of the most important activities in our lives and finding likeminded eaters takes away the stress of choosing restaurants or constantly facing questions like, “so what could you possibly eat then?” or “don’t you miss cheese?”

However, as it stands, most of the people in my life eat do not share my views on food choices, (i.e. they eat meat). I only have a handful of vegetarian friends and even fewer who are vegan.

And though I remain critical of their diets, I do not want to cut meat eaters out of my life and I try my best not to be the obnoxious vegan friend so they don’t want them to cut me out of their lives either.

I admit the occasional rant (albeit screaming match) does come up from time to time and I often cannot help but noticeably cringe when roommates come home with Costco-size bags of frozen — who knows where it came from — chicken. In general though, I do my best to bite my tongue about their food choices, resist forward too many PETA emails, and when we go out to eat be accommodating.

This last point, however, often leads to sighing at menus with sparse vegan options and uncomfortable whispered interactions with waiters— so as to not make anyone awkward — asking if the salad dressing has dairy.

For my older sister working in the corporate world, which often involves business trips, this gets even more complicated. I cannot tell you the number of text messages I’ve received requesting I look up the menu of a Texas Steak House to help her pick out a veg option among the pork salads and steak soups.

The point is: being, or eating, different or feeling excluded from a meal with family of friends — even if deep down you know you don’t want it — is hard.

And for a college student, late-night early morning munchies brought on from a long night of drinking make eating different even harder.

And in Chile, where the long night of drinking is even longer and accompanied by dancing in sweaty clubs and the late night munchies option are even cheaper and more abundant, the feeling of exclusion can become down-right depressing.

That was, of course, until I was introduced one night to the Papapleto — a vegetarian version of Chile’s Completo hotdog.

A Completo, one of Chile’s most popular national foods, is a hotdog covered in guacamole and smothered (and I am not exaggerating) with what looks like over a cup of mayonnaise. It is a food item, like the Costco chicken, that I cannot help but shudder at when I see someone eating.

With a Papapleto, on the other hand, the hot dos is replaced by French fries — quite a lot of French fries.

(“Papaleto Pride” tattoo from Chilean animal activist)

Nowhere but in Chile, where the tradition is to always fry rice before cooking and bread is bought by the kilo, would the vegetarian option replace a meat-protein with a fried starch. It is amazing and delicious and the fact that it exists is part of the reason that I love this country.

I will not attempt here to pull the vegan card and defend this French-fry filled sandwich as a healthy alternative to its hot dog counter-part. That is not the point.

The point is that for vegans and vegetarians, when so much of our time and energy is spent reading ingredient lists, thinking about and defending our food it can be an incredible relief to let go and join friends in a meal only acceptable to eat drunk. Every once in awhile we need to have, among all our MSG and gluten-free vegan choices, the option of a sandwich mainly composed of french fries, the option to eat unhealthy crap just like everyone else.

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