Mostly Vegetarian

MEAT

“Meat!”

My brain was screaming for meat as I continued on the elliptical machine, straining with the pace at the highest setting. I was dripping with sweat, my heart was thudding wildly. I watched the red digital numbers on the screen, my heart rate showing at 158 beats per minute, my ‘Calories Burned’ numbers raising by one every six strides or so, the timer ticking closer toward my goal. I still had ten minutes left.

Before this, I had lifted weights, focusing on chest and triceps, and I looked forward to the muscle burn that would set in. Between the weights and the elevated heart rate, and the fact that this was my third day of hitting the gym in a row with this intensity, my caveman tendencies were kicking in again.

“Meat!” my brain screamed again, and little cartoon images of KFC chicken breasts, turkey sandwiches, and honey-glazed ham began swirling around my brain, all with little smiley faces plastered on them.

“I don’t eat meat,” I reasoned with my brain, but my heart was pounding too swiftly to do much good. I was ravenous for protein, and desperately wanted to sink my teeth into cooked animal flesh.

“Meat!” It screamed at me a third time, and I practically salivated at the idea of an extra-crispy chicken breast, barbecued.

My heart cried back one more time. “No. No, no, no. That is a chicken! Not some food category called chicken, but an actual chicken! It was a walking, clucking creature covered in feathers, and it was probably kept in some terrible cage on some industrial farm somewhere, where they fattened it up without giving it space to walk or even healthy food, and then they cruelly slaughtered it. That is what you’d be eating!”

“Meat! Extra-crispy meat!”

“No!” My heart was outraged. “That extra crispiness? It’s breading that has no nutritional value that they deep fry! And they just roll it over the skin. Actual skin! They pluck the feathers off and fry the skin!”

“Ooh, a cheeseburger!” My brain yelled. “Doesn’t that sound yummy? Ketchup, pickles, onions, cheese, a nice thick bun, and meat!” And I could feel my stomach rumbling in response.

My heart was calm in its response. “And that is the actual muscle lining of an actual cow, another living creature. We can get our protein from other sources, easily.”

“But, meat! Meat! Come on, I know we are usually vegetarian, but we’ve taken breaks before.”

The heart ignored this reasoning. “Only by shutting down our very ethics. There are black beans, whey protein, peanut butter… so many great protein choices that didn’t once have a heartbeat.”

“Pulled pork sandwiches! Sweet and sour chicken! Steak!”

“No, no thank you. We can be patient.”

“Bacon! Bacon, you dumb bitch!”

My stomach made an even louder gurgling, audible to those working out near me, and I gave an embarrassed shrug. I technically still had five minutes left, but perhaps I should stop now and get some food.

I stepped off the machine, heart still thudding, and grabbed my towel to wipe my brow with, then rushed over to the counter to purchase a whey protein bar.

“Meat! Meat! Meat!” my brain screamed at me, but I unwrapped the bar and swiftly devoured its sugary goodness in three giant bites, shoving it down my gullet at an unhealthy level. Barely tasting it, I felt my digestive system give an immediate sigh of relief.

My heart slowed, my head quieted, my stomach relaxed. I sat on a nearby stool and felt hungry still. I needed a meal, something with sustenance. I needed carbs and protein and fat.

I planned out my meal in a hurry, and my heart felt grateful that I was vegetarian.

Well, mostly.

Hangry

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Knowing that I would be famished when I finished my workout, I took three dollars into the gym with me, leaving the rest of my belongings securely locked in my car.I hadn’t been to the gym in several days due to work, so I had planned in advance to hit this workout hard, and I hadn’t eaten in six hours, a thick turkey sandwich at lunchtime.

I hit shoulders first, working them to fatigue, then core, then back and triceps, finishing tired. After 30 minutes of stair-climbing at the end, I was ravenous. I walked over to the small protein bar selection at the gym and grabbed something with peanut butter and 30 grams of protein, then waited in line.

About 90 seconds later, I handed the bar and my three dollars to the attendant. “Hey, how was the workout?” he asked.

“It went great. I’m starving now.”

The guy took several seconds to line the red line up with the bar code on the protein bar. “Okay, looks like that will be $3.21. You got 21 cents?”

I looked back behind me at the box. “It says that bar is $2.75.”

“Hmmm… Looks like the computer says it is $3. Plus tax, of course. The label on the product must be wrong.”

“Can you spot me 21 cents?”

“No, sorry, man. Do you have more cash?”

“I’m parked ¬†2 blocks away.” I sighed, grumpy, getting hangry now, and returned to bar to the box. I grabbed a different bar from the same shelf, also labelled $2.75, and turned back around to find a line of three people in front of me.

Over the next four minutes, I was fuming, tempted to rip into the bar and just eat it. A woman had questions about membership, a man needed to check the lost-and-found box, and another man needed to rent some equipment. Finally, it was my turn again.

“Choose a cheaper bar?” he asked, nonchalant. He tried scanning the bar under the little red light, but it wouldn’t take. He tried a second time, a third time. He straightened out the wrapper and tried again, flipped it over, tapped the machine with his hand. “Hmm. The scanner doesn’t seem to be reading this. I can call for help or you can choose another bar.”

I looked at the two people in line behind me and pictured doing this all again. Instead I smiled on the outside, while snarling on the inside, and said, “No, thank you”, and stormed out.

My stomach moaned in hunger and my muscles ached as I drove the two blocks to the grocery store down the road, parked, and marched into the service deli. Two women stood a few feet away, talking and laughing about something. I waited several seconds before I smiled and waved. “Hi, can I order?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there!” One of the women walked over, smiling. “How can I help?”

“I would like your two-piece chicken meal, please, with potato salad and cole slaw.”

“Oh, the two-piece. How nice. I haven’t sold one of those in hours. Which kind of chicken would you like?” She stood there, with her hands folded.

“Um, I don’t care. The barbecue.”

“Well, we usually have to warm that up, it takes about three minutes.”

“The baked, then.”

“We have to warm that one–”

“The fried. Whatever is fastest.”

“Okay, I’ll get you the fried.”

The woman carefully put on her gloves and took several seconds to inspect the different pieces of fried chicken, carefully selecting two for me. The she looked confused, bent down to check under the counter, turned around to check some shelves, walked away into the kitchen then back out. “Fran, have you seen the two-piece dishes?” But Fran was slicing some cheese and didn’t hear her.

The woman took out a small plastic plate and set the two pieces of chicken on them, then went back into the kitchen for a spoon to use on the cole slaw. “Which kind of cole slaw would you like?”

“I really don’t care. I’m just in a hurry.” My stomach was grumbling and I was getting grumpier by the second.

She took a spoon of the slaw and placed it on the plate, then stepped back to consider. “Oh, that won’t work. The salad will get all over the chicken.” I sighed as she got a small plastic bowl and transferred the slaw to it, then she placed the bowl on the plate. “Well, that’s better, but there is still a mess. Let’s see.” She was talking to herself. She got out a new plate and put the bowl of slaw and the chicken on it, then went back to the kitchen for another spoon.

“What kind of potato salad would you like?”

“Surprise me.” I said it sharply and she got a wounded look on her face as she scooped the salad into another bowl then set it next to the slaw on the plate. She surveyed it for a moment, placed a roll there, then looked back to me.

“Do you want a plastic cover on your plate, or foil?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, forcing a grin.

The woman began looked around again. “Fran, have you seen the foil?”

Fran heard this time and began looking around at another shelf. “Well, I don’t see the foil, but I do see the two-piece dishes here.”

“Oh, perfect!” The woman was excited as she grabbed a plastic try with three different compartments. She set it next to the plate and began to transfer the chicken and salads over, taking time to scoop the salads out of the bowls and into the different compartments.

It had now been five full minutes and there was a small line of people around me. I clenched my teeth. “Look, I really don’t care how the food is served. I just need food. And there is a line behind me.” I spoke slightly ¬†more sharply than I had intended.

The woman got a hurt look on her face. “I’m so sorry we are taking so long. We weren’t expecting this order and I didn’t have things ready like I should.”

I apologized, but grew even more angry as the two women, ignoring the line behind me, went on a search for the lids for the two-piece dishes, then took a full three minutes to print out the pricing label. I was clenching and unclenching my muscles when she finally handed the order to me. The label was voided out, and the word ‘FREE’ was written on it.

“It’s on us, since we made you wait so long.”

I had no capacity for compassion at the moment, so I simply smiled, grabbed the food, said thanks and headed out the door, tossing the lid and devouring the chicken on my way to the car.

I would have to go back another day and order there again, giving a tip. But I’d make sure to do it when I wasn’t so hangry.