Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sunshine Post #28: Can Vegetarians Eat Marmite? And Other Times I Think I Slipped

Hello dears!

I turned vegetarian on November of 2006; a side effect of a martial arts retreat that I attended out of recommendation of one of my taekwondo teachers (I was stressed out and emo then. My brain cells were dying for the umpteenth time – not my brain; the rats'. Ugh.) Aside from being trained in knife fighting and kali, I also quit eating meat cold turkey (pun sort-of intended). I don't know, you guys … there's something about eating flesh that makes me queasy now. Even though I keep emphasizing that I do it for health reasons and not moral ones, it's hard not to put the "respect for life" factor in there at some point. I've decapitated way too many rats for a normal person; meat was serving as a gross reminder of what I once was: a grad student doing joyless drudgery.

The road to vegetarianism has its share of road kill, especially for one whose cultural heritages are notorious for eating anything and everything. To announce that I'm vegetarian has usually resulted in dismayed groans, and I've limited going to lunch with people, else to give me yet another nail to pound in my coffin of guilt for being such a burden. I'm very hard to feed.

I may be a gastronomic pariah, but there are excellent side effects to vegetarianism. Weight loss, great skin, great teeth (I just had the shortest dental appointment two weeks ago – I haven't had one in over a year and all she had to do was clean my teeth a bit. No meat, no cavities, yo! Woohoo!), and more energy. It's cheaper for me, too – when you've lost as much weight as I have, and when you can't eat anything that once had limbs, food stops becoming a tourist attraction to you. I feel so clean, which is timely for this stage in my life where I am hell-bent on cleaning out my life as much as possible.

Being relatively new to this dietary lifestyle, there were times when I wasn't as purely vegetarian as I thought. When desperate, for example, I would pluck out the meat from pizza and just eat the bread, or sip chicken stock when skipping a meal was the only other option. I've been slowly removing these little slip-ups, but sometimes, the world seems to be against me. Last week, while eating arugula salad at my favorite restaurant, I stopped short when I noticed something green moving among the leaves – a larvae! Eww. God knows how many of those I've already digested, since I'm always reading or writing while eating.

There are culinary discoveries that have made me wonder, as they don't seem to be meat, but they're not vegetables, fruits or grains either. To the Aussies and the Brits, is marmite vegetarian?* Are you sure? Hmm? I've had it and I don't think it's that bad – marmite/vegemite/black gold pizza is actually good. But it's from yeast, which moves and reproduces pretty quickly, as I've observed under a microscope. Yikes, yo! What have I done?

I had another dietary anomaly today. Out of curiosity and the need for WiFi, I ordered a shot of civet coffee. In my rather blunt and shameless way of describing things, I will define it as coffee beans that you pick from poop and then charge people a lot of money for. Here is the definition from the back of the really expensive jar: "Picked from the Philippine forest floors during coffee season, the Philippine Civet Coffee comes from the droppings of the palm civet, a nocturnal animal that chooses and gorges only the ripest and sweetest coffee cherries. These coffee cherries are fermented in the civet's digestive system and are dropped as whole beans. The beans are then washed, dried, and roasted, capturing the complex flavors for everyone to enjoy."

It was brought to me: hot, steamy, with the fascinating color of excrement. Ah! An expensive espresso shot. I took my first sip. And nearly choked. Whoa, yo! "Complex" is right. It's really strong and bitter; just two sips and I couldn't take any more. (Here's another thing with vegetarian yogis – we can't take as much caffeine as we used to.) "For everyone to enjoy," my ass. But back to my question – was this vegetarian or not? A show of hands, please. I mean, it went through some animal's intestines and went out its butt, for the love of God. Bleh. Regardless, I will never do it again; it's just too strong for me. Oh well. Now I know what it tastes like, I will never have to wonder anymore. It's my new thing for today – drink coffee from animal poop. (I have a daily habit of doing something new every single day. I might go racecar driving next week. We'll see. I will let you know.)

Ah. Just when I thought life was made simpler by exclusion, there are exceptions that I must consider. But to simplify everything, let's hear it for my new vegetarian rule (I might make a T-shirt out of this):

I don't eat anything that's greater than 15% homologous with my genome.

Lots of love,

* Edit: Yes, marmite/vegemite is vegetarian, since yeast is a sentient organism and belongs to the taxonomic kingdom of Fungi, where mushrooms also belong. Ah, portobello mushrooms! Without you we vegetarians will starve!

P.S. Humans share a 47, 63, 38, 15, and 20% homology with the fruit fly, the mouse, C. elegans, baker's yeast, and Arabidopsis, respectively.

P.P.S. Yes, Manila was stormy over the weekend, but I'm ok! As are all my family and friends. Thank you for the concerned e-mails. You guys are the sweetest!

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