Esfir’s reasons why not*  »

My parents are about as aggressively Russian as one can get without actually being Lenin, Putin, or one of those awesome cab drivers that you see so often in large metropolitan areas. This is not to say they don’t try: My mother often preaches to me about how important my Russian heritage is, while my father does his part by wearing several gold chains at once and buying trinkets from the Nubian Prince collection at Ross. (Thankfully he traded in his Fila track suits, and now his bling and voluminous chest hair peek out from above a Ralph Lauren polo from last season.)

But no matter how much I poke fun at them, there’s a lot my parents have had to deal with over the years. First there was the gay thing (“Why we come to San Francisco? Why we not know what Rainbow Flags mean?”), then there was the crazy liberal thing (“You want legalize prostitution, man?” my father asked me on the telephone last year. “Listen, you supposed to be born in seventies, man. I tell you, you a hippie, man. Free Love tralalalalalalala. Stupid, man.”), both of which they eventually came through with great aplomb. But their open-mindedness and newfound political correctness took a nosedive off a cliff when, five years ago, I told them that I had chosen to be a vegetarian.

“Listen,” my mother said, attempting to keep an even tone as her dreams once again came crashing to the ground. "You already blind, gay, and Jewish. Why you need be a vegetarian!?" My father, to his credit, decided not to intervene. Instead, he lifted his gold Star of David out of his shirt, clasped it in his hands and pointed it at the sky, as if he was asking some kind of god to give him the strength to carry on. Then he just walked out of the room.

Things have been tense since then. My mother often sends me emails filled with articles linking vegetarianism to one or another horrible disease. She blames most minor ailments I suffer from on my refusal to eat animal flesh with such a fervor that one might think she was a fully licensed doctor instead of a fully licensed cosmetologist. And she and I often have conversations about why being a vegetarian is a lifestyle choice that is not only unhealthy but also socially unacceptable. In fact, my mother has drawn several logical conclusions to prove her point.

1. Vegetarianism hurts people’s feelings:
At my 21st birthday party, which was held at a Chinese restaurant (surprise!), I declined a piece of beef that my mother was trying to force onto my plate with all the subtlety of a brick being thrown through a window in broad daylight.
“No, thank you.” I said.
“Take it! Is important,” my mother hissed at me.
“Cook made all this food if you not eat the meat he see and get upset. Then he go home and cry because we so insult.”
“Then why don’t you eat it?”
“Just leave it on plate! You no care about no one! You people mean!”

2. Vegetarians are impolite:
“What if you go to someone house and they offer you meats. What you say?”
“No, thank you?”
“How could you! I cannot believe I raise such embarrassment!”

3. There are no health benefits to being a vegetarian. Nope! None whatsoever!
“You know who is vegetarian? Paul McCartney first wife! You know where she is? Die! She die and she a vegetarian. You need to read internet, Mark. Vegetarians lying to you! Vegetarian not healthy!”

4. Beef and lamb are vegetables.
I don’t even need to say anything here. You know that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the mom offers the vegetarian a rack of lamb and is surprised when he doesn’t eat it? Yeah, that’s all true.

5. Plants also feel pain so perhaps we should stop eating altogether.
“Mom, I don’t think that’s a valid argument. Science—”
“Ah, what do science know? Last week Pluto is planet. Today is poof. No more planet! That is science.”
“Why is that your argument for everything?”
“Because I am right. Americans believe everything they hear. You go look on internet.”

This is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list. On a weekly basis I may get assaulted with one or more of these gems of wisdom, and often my mother will outdo herself with something so outrageous that it makes my head explode (“You know I read about sex cult where they all vegetarians so you should be careful about what kind of people your friend because you might get STD.”). It still amazes me that even after five years of my not eating meat she can still find so many reasons why being a vegetarian is such a bad thing.

Even if it wasn’t inherently bad to be a vegetarian (and my mother will assure you it is), if asked why people become vegetarians my mother would happily look you in the eye (or the chin, as she is an adorable four feet and eleven inches) and say, with the poise and conviction reserved only for the very confident and the very criminally insane, “To make parents sad and humiliated.” **

*Yes, I did totally steal the title from a TV show starring Heather Graham that only aired for one episode. No, I’ve never seen it. Why do you ask?

**At this point I would like to point out that my mother is not insane, criminally or otherwise. Especially if she reads this. The woman is a goddess, okay? A goddess. I am such a horrible son!

Mark enjoys the Gilmore Girls, hamsters, and long naps in the afternoon. He is the proud owner of a legitimate college degree and looks best in black and white. He is not actually Judge Judy. We think Mark could whip all our asses at Defensive Omnivore BINGO!

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